As you all know, the Syracuse Orange have finished off their 2020 football campaign. You also know that they finished 1-10. You (probably) also know that’s not going to stop any of us from over analyzing everything that happened during this season.
The staff here at Nunes has been going through the season, position group by position group over the course of the week. You can find report cards on each of the groups, including quarterbacks, running backs, and a whole lot of folks who catch the ball. Today we’re heading into the trenches... because I didn’t spend enough time there this year.
Of all the units on the team over the course of the 2020 season, there were few that were as maligned as the offensive line. This doesn’t come without good reason. For most of the season, there was a distinct lack of quality from the group that led to an overall stagnant offense. All that said, let’s lay it all out on paper, here.
So in last year’s iteration of this exercise, I noted something; “The line had their issues, but there may be a light at the end of the tunnel... for next year.” We’re at the end of that tunnel and there wasn’t really a light. That said, there were a few reasons for it.
Heading out of the spring, there was a decent indication of what this iteration of the Orange would look like. It was thought that the unit would be a stronger option than in 2019, with almost the entire position group returning off a year where there was improvement at the end of the year. Before the truncated session because of COVID-19, the starting lineup was supposed to look something like the following:
- LT - Airon Servais / Anthony Red
- LG - Patrick Davis / Austin Chandler
- C - Carlos Vettorello / Josh Kosciol
- RG - Darius Tisdale / Wil Froumy
- RT - Matthew Bergeron / Mark Petry
Dakota Davis at the time was on his way back from injury and Florida transfer Chris Bleich was awaiting his opportunity to have a waiver granted from the NCAA. Through various injuries and general craziness, the following is what we got by the start of camp:
- LT - Airon Servais / Mark Petry
- LG - Chris Elmore / Pat Davis
- C - Carlos Vettorello / Josh Ilaoa
- RG - Darius Tisdale / Pat Davis
- RT - Matthew Bergeron / Mark Petry
Davis hadn’t recovered from his injury, Bleich never got his transfer and the rest of the depth chart was decimated. Both Red and Froumy ended up with what proved to be season ending injuries, Pat Davis picked up enough of a knock that he played in a handful of snaps all year, backup Quadir White was out for the year, and the Orange resorted to All-Everything utility man Chris Elmore as the left guard.
Starting Syracuse Offensive Line
|2022 (P)||Matthew Bergeron||Kalan Ellis||Carlos Vettorello||Chris Bleich||Dakota Davis||?|
|2021h||Matthew Bergeron||Chris Bleich||Airon Servais||Dakota Davis||Darius Tisdale||0-1|
|2021g||Matthew Bergeron||Josh Ilaoa||Airon Servais||Dakota Davis||Darius Tisdale||0-1|
|2021f||Matthew Bergeron||Kalan Ellis||Airon Servais||Dakota Davis||Darius Tisdale||0-1|
|2021e||Matthew Bergeron||Kalan Ellis||Airon Servais||Chris Bleich||Dakota Davis||1-0|
|2021d||Matthew Bergeron||Kalan Ellis||Airon Servais||Dakota Davis||Carlos Vettorello||1-2|
|2021c||Matthew Bergeron||Chris Bleich||Airon Servais||Dakota Davis||Carlos Vettorello||1-1|
|2021b||Matthew Bergeron||Chris Bleich||Airon Servais||Darius Tisdale||Carlos Vettorello||1-0|
|2021a||Matthew Bergeron||Chris Bleich||Carlos Vettorello||Darius Tisdale||Airon Servais||1-1|
You can see I asterisked the “Starters Replaced” column for the 2020b and 2020c columns. This was due to the fact that the team didn’t replace starters with the guard situation, they blew through the starters and the second string. The lack of functional backups took it’s toll as at one point Syracuse could dress less than two full lines, which included Elmore, converted from FB/TE/DT.
This season, the Orange slightly improved to 116th in the country in sacks allowed from last year’s effort of 128th out of the 130 Division I FBS schools. They sacrificed 222 yards, just from sacks alone this season. That’s not great. The unit’s run blocking didn’t look much better on the stat sheet, finishing 123rd of 127 at 92.0 yards per game. That was enough for over 1,000 yards rushing on the year, but that was as a team, not individually.
According to Pro Football Focus data, of the 37 sacks allowed on the season, 15 were attributed to coverage sacks and four to the running backs. The remaining 18 breakdown as follows: Servais, 7; Bergeron, 4; Elmore, 3; Tisdale, 2; Vettorello, 2. It’s understandable more of your sacks are going to come off the edge, and just under half of them came off the edge over fifth year senior Airon Servais. Early in the season, he was exposed as weak to an outside speed rush and teams continually took advantage of that fact. It’s unknown, but he may have been playing through an injury, with no one effectively capable to come in behind him due to injury. This may have also led to the swapping of Bergeron and Servais from LT to RT during the season to protect the quarterback’s blindside a bit more.
Individually, there were only two linemen that received “passing grades” from PFF for pass blocking on the year, Dakota Davis (63.7) and Matthew Bergeron (61.8). Everyone else with significant snaps was under the 60.0 mark, though Elmore clocked in at 59.7. The rest were less than impressive, with Servais the low of the group at 43.6. It was even worse in the running game, with Davis the highest rated run blocker at 59.7, followed by Chris Elmore at 56.0. Servais again was the lowest rated run blocker at 50.3, pointing to an overall not great year for him.
During the year, there were some issues in the middle with pass protection, especially late developing stunts, between the guards and Vettorello. By the look test, Vettorello also had some issues with a bull rush technique, losing a little ground and creating less of a pocket for the quarterbacks to work with. That said, he was usually bodied up on the right man and when on his man, looked fine. Dare I say he looked better at tackle last season than at center this season, but I rode that train last year as well.
As noted before, the group looked a bit disjointed and as if there was minimal chemistry between them, which is understandable with a group that had no spring practice and minimal preseason and replacing both their guards. It was assumed the chemistry would improve over the course of the season, however, it seemed that opposing defenses understood the ability to exploit this, constantly throwing delayed twists and stunts at the unit. As the season went on there were incremental increases in quality and decreases in completely lost looks. This also coincided with the rise in Sean Tucker’s production, which likely combined the increased run game with the inability for opposing defenses to just pin their ears back and not have to worry about any sort of contain.
Big steps forward need to be taken with this line and a solid offseason of work needs to be put in, getting these guys on the same page. Getting Bleich into the mix and getting a lot of these returners back and healthy should* make a difference in the quality of play the Orange are seeing on the year. The squad is also bringing in five quality recruits on the year and will have a college strength and conditioning year for some of the recruits from this season. Even with the bad taste in the mouth from this year, there’s a chance that Syracuse can improve on the effort from this season and right the ship for the next year.
*Disclaimer, this was my same statement from last season. If it doesn’t come true, we’ve got a lot more issues.