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Syracuse vs. Liberty, a view from the trenches

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Improvement was the name of the game

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 24 Liberty at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So the Syracuse Orange rode the back of Sean Tucker to victory on Friday night in the Carrier Dome Stadium. Andre Szmyt finished off the Liberty Flames with a late field goal as time expired to preserve the 24-21 victory. With the run being featured so prominently, it’s only pertinent to feature the offensive line... and also, that’s what we do in this column.

From the outset, it was clear that Tucker was going to be able to do what he wanted during the game. As long as there was any push along the line, his cuts were finding daylight and his ability to seek the hole made life easy for the offensive line. It looked, against a decent defensive line, that it was possible for this front five to improve and they did. On the day, the starters were Matthew Bergeron, Chris Bleich, Airon Servais, Dakota Davis and Carlos Vettorello, with Vettorello and Darius Tisdale almost splitting snaps, 33 to 36 respectively.

First things first, the elephant in the room is Servais at center. He didn’t look horrible from a blocking standpoint, but had a major issue on his snaps. I noted at least nine snaps, of the sixty-nine plays that were run, which isn’t great. Snaps like that can fully break plays, as they did a few times, or even when the quarterback can reign it in, drastically alter timing on handoffs or routes. It seems obvious, but this needs to get cleaned up moving forward, and quick. If around 13% of your snaps aren’t great, and it’s a crap-shoot as to which ones will be fine, that consistency you need to sustain an offense really heads out the window.

That out of the way, I would say the Orange looked downright solid in the blocking game. Per PFF.com, they were above the Mendoza line of 60.0 in both pass and run block categories for the first time since the Ohio game, with the aforementioned 60.0 in the passing game and a 64.1 run blocking grade as a unit. One thing I noticed was the improvement of the “good” plays by the line, where they were actually getting movement and opening holes for Tucker, letting him find space, rather than him finding a hole in spite of the space.

Liberty brought pressure over the middle and it showed, with Servais grading out at a 52.7 run block and 42.3 pass block. I wouldn’t have been quite as harsh on him, but he was the weakest link out there. Whether that was the mixed tackle movement or other pressure from the second level was tough to determine. The other linemen all looked solid in pass protection and all but Tisdale (49.5) handled the run game admirably. I thought Bleich had his shakiest game in Orange at this point, contrary to his PFF grades (69.4/75.1), and it looked to be some communication issues with the blocking scheme. They got worked out and he actually looked better with the more stacked box later in the contest.

With a fully stacked box in the second half, this seemed to be handled decently. While it slowed the run game down, they were still getting bodies on people and moving the rock. All in all, I thought it was improvement and a growing game for the line. If they can find a way to get the snaps under control and improve communication and some assignments, it will go a long way in the positives category. More to come next week against another step up in talent, though you wouldn’t know it by their record, as the Orange head to Doak Campbell to take on the Florida State Seminoles.