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Syracuse football: A view from the trenches vs. Clemson

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That was definitely an unexpected performance.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

This is part of a weekly series in which I chart the line and rewatch the game with a focus on the big men on the offense for the Syracuse Orange. All of my game charts can be found here.

Every time I go into one of these came chart sessions, I don’t know what to expect. I have some ideas from watching the game live, but there’s another level that you see on a rewatch if you don’t have to pay attention to the results of the play as well. In this case, my overall thought before was that the line played decently, could have done a better job in the pass, and looked alright in the run, but got blown up a few times.

What I found was a team that was able to pass block the three man front relatively effectively, especially on the edges, which was a surprise. The other surprise was that much of the run game was as much a result of Sean Tucker or Cooper Lutz taking it on themselves to find or make a seam and run with it as it was blocking. The first touchdown was a great example. The right side of line was engaged in adequate man up blocking, no real push or huge hole, but Tucker was able to find a seam and made two men expertly miss with some subtle misdirection cuts. There were a number of notes where Airon Servais, Carlos Vettorello or Matthew Bergeron were blown back into the hole, forcing a running back to cut. These either functioned as catalysts to a seam or the play being bounced/blown up.

The Orange attacked the game with a balanced plan this week, authoring 29 pass plays with the first team and 27 run plays. Because of the nature of the game, and the tide turning from a close game where you stick to your game plan, to “this one got away from us” within two series, there wasn’t really a point where the offense went extremely pass-heavy.

Against the weird, unbalanced front that Brett Venables trots out for Clemson, the Orange actually adapted well. While Clemson also runs a 3 man front, it’s really it’s own animal. They can dial up the nose tackle as a five technique, no one across the line until a seven on the other side and somehow still bring pressure over the guard and center with twists or stunts. The variable front can be a terror for linemen to figure out how to block and to the unit and Mike Cavanaugh’s credit, they did a great job at it. Only allowing two sacks on the day, second lowest to the Georgia Tech game, they also only allowed only 13 hurries and the unit looked very good against a confusing and very talented Clemson front.

Against the run this didn’t translate as well, as mentioned. Especially at the edges. Both Bergeron and Servais had their hands full with K.J. Henry and Myles Murphy, who, while not the absolute best edge rushers the Orange have seen, are very good and also extremely stout against the run. Add in Bryan Bresee at the tackle spot and Vettorello had his hands full as well. There were points where he was bullrushed back into Rex Culpepper, almost collapsing the pocket. there were other points, where he smartly used Bresee’s rush against him and steered him outside of a lane, a nice veteran maneuver from the redshirt sophomore.

Many of the passing issues arose from the throwing game itself, not the line play. Rex had adequate time back there to try and pick through his progressions. While the protection may not have given him days and days, he should have been able to check through his first few options. This was likely the best pass blocking performance we’ve seen out of the Orange on the season. The run game wasn’t up to the same caliber, but was adequate against a team that should have outmatched the Orange man for man. Next week, we get to see if Vettorello and Servais can contain Carlos Basham... Stay tuned.