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Syracuse vs. Wake Forest, a view from the trenches

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It was a weird game, and a loss, but there were some bright spots on the line.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Wake Forest at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange football team suffered a bit of a setback this past Saturday in their 40-37 overtime loss to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. While I can’t be my overly thorough self and chart the game for you (ESPN replays weren’t liking me) we’ll continue the series off a combination of what I remember after the first drive and some PFF grades.

Right out of the gates, the Orange looked at home up front. They were able to man up who they needed to and got a hat on the second level for the most part when they wanted. You wouldn’t have known that the Orange were starting a true freshman in Kalan Ellis at left guard. He worked well on combo blocks and held his own during the drive.

As is standard, since things are clicking, things had to go haywire. Airon Servais pulled up limp during the first drive and was replaced for most of the rest of the game by Josh Ilaoa, who spelled him a few times last year as well. The COVID freshman got as much or more run than he’s seen in an Orange uniform. He took his lumps for it, especially on that first drive he was in, allowing some pressures up the middle that he shouldn’t have and getting stood up on the run play, but he settled back in over the course of the game. While he didn’t grade out well on PFF, I feel it was weighted to the front half of his tenure in the game and the not-great 29.9 look on pass blocking was a function primarily of that first series.

Matthew Bergeron continues his run as the best lineman on the squad. This isn’t something that has been said enough and also something somehow that doesn’t need to be said? He graded out as our second best offensive player overall at a 79.5 (78.9 Run/67.9 Pass) and passed the look test. He was blocking well on an island, as well as getting to the second level. He’s also a strong veteran presence to have next to Kalan Ellis as a true freshman.

Might as well talk more about Kalan Ellis at this point. The big Hawai’ian put in a decent shift in his debut and used his frame well in run blocking. He combo-ed well with Servais and as the game progressed looked more comfortable with Ilaoa. The latter, though I’m sure Ellis has been working mostly with him through camp, is a combination that hadn’t seen game-speed defenses coming at them until the second drive of the game and it showed. Ellis was almost passable in the pass-block game, with a 52.7, though I can remember a few times he gave up his post foot, which is something young linemen don’t do as well, as it’s a technique they’re facing that they don’t see a ton in high school. I don’t wish Chris Bleich to be out any more than he needs to, but I’m excited to see more of this man.

On the right side of the line, Carlos Vettorello had a good day against the pass, garnering the best grade on the day, with a 78.3. Not bad at all, especially since he was man-up most of the game. Dakota Davis had a shocker on the inside at 37.0, though I don’t distinctly remember anything that he was getting blown up on. That can be a wonky part of the PFF system and the grade may be adjusted later. There are also times that it doesn’t pass the look test of what you saw, but that’s a conversation for another time.

This week, Clemson will bring a stout defense and downright good defensive front to the Dome. What this means, I don’t know, but with the status of two of our veteran linemen in question (Bleich and Servais), it may be more of a trial by fire for the two young guys. Xavier Thomas has been a beast this year off the edge. Literally anyone else on the depth chart: Myles Murphy, KJ Henry, Justin Mascoll and Justin Foster are only a slight step down on the year. Inside, at least Brian Bresee and Tyler Davis aren’t there for the young guns to have to put up with, but Tre Williams and Ruke Orhorhoro are both talented tackles to head up against. It’s going to be a challenge, and we’ll see if the Orange are up to it.