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Tale of the trenches: Syracuse vs. Florida State

A look at what the large men on the field did during Saturday’s game.

Florida State v Syracuse
Robinson lived in the backfield all day.
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

On Saturday, the Syracuse Orange looked like a team that had solid line play on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Contrast that with the current thoughts coming out of the Florida State Seminoles on their offense, and it was bound to be a recipe for an Orange victory.

Let’s break this down two ways, from an offensive perspective, as well as a defensive standpoint. Syracuse definitively won both battles in the trenches, and with two very distinct methods of doing so. On offense, it was a well drilled approach, very reliant on years of cumulative work together. On defense, it was pure athletes taking advantage of a group from of Seminoles who are all out of sorts at present.

Florida State Offensive Line:

Strictly speaking, the FSU line seems to be a trash can fire at present. Not to discount what the Syracuse defense did, as they really forced a lot of these mismatches and mistakes. In that link, Bud Elliott does a great job breaking down what went wrong and how the Seminoles got in the crazy situation that they’re in. In my years of watching and covering Syracuse, we’ve had many damaged and outclassed lines, but few that were the combination of being thrown to the wolves in a new system, while still being forced drastically out of position like these folks.

That, folks, is a left tackle who is burying his head somewhere it shouldn’t. You never step inside until you know the end is committing inside. It’s Tackle-101. This wasn’t the only time that Abdul Bello was straight up beat outside. He had numerous moments where the defensive ends just beat him on a speed rush, and at least twice couldn’t get out on blitzing outside linebackers. He split some time on the right with Jauan Williams.

On the other side, the Seminoles had to start Derrick Kelly, who was supposed to be a starting guard, but is the right tackle out of injury desperation. There were numerous points you could tell he’s not used to that exterior pass rush and was either a step too slow on his kick, or just downright didn’t move.

None of this is to take away from the Orange defensive line, who constantly took advantage of mismatches against slower linemen that they were matched up against. Once the team started to dial up that speed rush off the corners and consistently put pressure on Deondre Francois. They were able to take advantage of this early and often and put on a bit of a clinic, recording seven tackles for loss and four sacks, with constant pressure on Florida State all night.

Syracuse Offensive Line:

The Syracuse O-Line on the day looked every bit the experienced group that they are. They may not have kept the quarterbacks hit-less, but there was a good amount of solid pass blocking from the Orange. They limited the pressure on a young Tommy DeVito and gave him some time to rack up 144 yards in the air over a half of play and 75 more from Eric Dungey. While a lot of it seemed on 3- and 5-step drop equivalents, it was a testament to the gameplan when the quarterbacks changed, and the ability of the line to adapt to the new playcalling throughout the game.

The line also looked improved in run-blocking for the course of the game. They were able to scrape to linebackers on occasion, seal the blocks they needed to on the interior and get enough of the ends to not disrupt what they wanted to do en route to 222 yards on the ground. Ideally you’re looking for some cleaner releases to the second level and maybe not two illegal man down field penalties. But the performance from the line was exactly what the doctor ordered. That said, the six attempts to run from “X and Goal” could have used a touch more push to get a score.

The tackles, Cody Conway and Koda Martin, had some trouble with FSU’s star defensive end Brian Burns on the day. To be fair, any tackle that comes across Burns will have trouble with him. The defensive end is a combination of size and speed that may translate to an early first round selection, should he leave as a junior. He recorded two sacks against the Orange and a total of four solo stops. Conway and Martin did as well as anyone can be expected against one of the bright spots for the Seminoles. Especially when their other options were two NFL prospects in DE Wally Amie or DT Demarcus Christmas.

Overall it was a great performance from both the offensive and defensive lines in what was a full team victory for the Orange over the Seminoles. Not bad for the first Syracuse win in the series since Floyd Little was a senior.