The Syracuse Orange football season is back in full swing, with an opening weekend victory over the Ohio Bobcats. The return of the boys to the field also means the return of the big boys to the trenches and that means the return of a View from the Trenches.
Last year wasn’t particularly a banner year for the offensive line. A multitude of errors led to the Orange being forced to play a fullback at guard for most of the season (thanks Rhino!) and at one point dress only eight players in the position group due to injury. Not to belabor the point, but that was simply “not great” for anyone. That said, this year, it seems like the Orange unit is much healthier coming out of camp, with the only major knock being right guard Dakota Davis, who dressed for this game but didn’t play, as he was out with a lower body injury through most of camp.
Full disclosure, I was in the woods for the weekend with family, so you don’t get my normal play by play breakdown, but a general consensus from all of the highlights I’ve been able to consume. CBS not allowing a replay of the games can really cramp an overly analytical style.
Right off the bat, the presence of new offensive line coach Mike Schmidt was felt, with the run game establishing itself out of the gate and never letting up. The line is utilizing a more downhill technique and zone blocking schemes are letting the guys get to the second level more readily, putting hats on linebackers, allowing Sean Tucker and the stable of running backs a little more breathing room. The push upfield that the Orange got off the line of scrimmage in the run game was greater than anything that we saw through all of last year. Caveat: this is against a MAC front, but that MAC front is experienced and not a pushover on that account. We’ll know more about the run game after this next week, but it looks like Tucker is picking up right where he left off and the line is actually helping him out this season, which is a plus.
One thing noticed was the utilization of more option plays, be it designed runs or RPO. I said it last year and the year before, but Tommy DeVito is no slouch running and he showed it this game, with an ability to read the end and make the right play, becoming the second leading rusher on the day. That did at times cover up some blocking failures, but that’s part of what it’s designed to do as well, let the play develop and make the right choice. While Tommy’s decision making throwing has been a question mark to a degree through his career, when it came to the options, he was spot on.
On the whole, the game was a huge improvement from what we saw in 2020. By grading alone (I’ll rely on PFF.com instead of my own on this one), the team saw averages of 66.9 for pass blocking and 74.8 in the run game. To put it in context, PFF graded out last year’s team at a 54.4 in the pass and 55.1 in the run game. Both of those were well below the 60.0 Mendoza line for a passing grade. the improvement of the run game by six points over their best performance last season is something we can aspire to for the rest of the season.
As expected, Matthew Bergeron was the most impressive on both sides of the offense, clocking in at 83.2 pass blocking and a great 87.3 in the run game. There were numerous plays where he was getting separation and his assignment was well sealed and holding up someone from the next level, the ideal situation. Per the grades, Chris Bleich actually looked our weakest option out there, clocking in with a 66.2/57.5 split, though that would have been a good game by last year’s standards. We can dust that up to a year off and no snaps in almost two seasons with the transfer. There’s always room for improvement.