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Syracuse football 2016 report card: Offensive line

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This was a point of struggle...

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

While the Syracuse Orange went 4-8 for the second consecutive year, it was far from the same 4-8 the team saw in its final season under Scott Shafer. In Dino Babers’s first campaign, SU’s offense looked far more capable and the team looked more competitive overall. They also dealt with a boatload of injuries and a difficult schedule — both of which scuttled chances to improve in the win column this year.

Still, after what was an admittedly fun season, it’s worth looking back to see which units did well and which failed to, and how that impacted the Orange’s success or lack thereof.

We continue with...

Offensive line

Syracuse came into 2016 replacing a lot. Three starters — Ivan Foy, Nick Robinson and Rob Trudo — were gone, and a lot of youth was stepping into those roles. So the challenges were in place before the first snap. But then the injuries hit.

Seniors Jason Emerich and Omari Palmer missed multiple games (Emerich’s season ended very early), as did young tackle Cody Conway, who’d seen snaps in 2015. In their place, the Orange had depth, but not a lot of experience to turn to. Aaron Roberts, Evan Adams, Colin Byrne and Donnie Foster were all tossed into the fire, seeing extensive playing time. They performed as well as they could, but admittedly, they simply weren’t ready to get tossed into the fire this early.

Boston College v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The problems were numerous. First and foremost, the Orange linemen struggled to keep up with the offense’s frenetic pace at times, contributing heavily to the team’s eight penalties per game (sixth-highest in the FBS). Those false starts, in particular, regularly derailed SU’s ability to keep opponents on their heels, and also popped up at inopportune times. Without the exact numbers available, quite a few of those were in the red zone or inside Syracuse’s own 20 (both of which pose their own challenges).

Syracuse’s line also failed to really excel in run- or pass-blocking. A look at Football Outsiders’ offensive line scores tell the story of just how bad things were, too (and they’re among the only resources we have for that). Check the glossary here for a full rundown of what these numbers mean.

  • Adjusted line yards: 97.3 (96th)
  • Standard down line yards: 2.4 (123rd)
  • Passing down line yards: 2.62 (114th)
  • Opportunity rate: 30.4% (124th)
  • Power success rate: 56% (122nd)
  • Stuff rate: 20.9% (98th)
  • Adjusted sack rate: 98.1 (66th)
  • Standard downs sack rate: 5.4% (78th)
  • Passing downs sack rate: 9.5% (93rd)

The sack rate is really the only thing sniffing respectability. The rest, however, is among the worst rates in the country. We went over the issues with the running back position last week, and while there’s certainly blame to be had there for rushing struggles, you can see here where the O-line plays a significant role, too. They rarely got much push and the run game bore the brunt of that.

All of that aside, however, there was improvement here and there. Syracuse’s line did an admirable job against some of the top defensive fronts it faced. While they were constantly attacked against the likes of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville, they held up rather well vs. Boston College, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. The Pitt game, particularly, was a high-water mark for the team. In the final contest of the season, the line blocked a top-five Panthers front into submission. The Orange rushing attack had its best game of the season: 45 carries for 228 yards (5.1 yards per).

That’s one positive way to look at this line’s efforts which largely trended negative in 2016. It wasn’t for lack of effort, but rather, a near-impossible opportunity put in front of a very young offensive line. That doesn’t mean all’s excused. However, there are reasons for many of the problems (penalties aside, which I’ll still claim are largely inexcusable).

Overall, a rough year for this group, but at least it had the depth to deal with it -- which may pay dividends down the road.

Final Grade: D