I’m going to lead this one off with one thing and one thing alone. There’s an excuse for a number of things that happened to the Syracuse Orange offensive line on Saturday. Accounting for about 80+ percent of the 107 penalty yards that the Orange racked up on the day is not one of those things. I’m sure Mike Schmidt is giving the entire unit a talking to. Every lineman that wasn’t named Matthew Bergeron had at least a false start on the day. That in itself is hard to fathom, and I can chalk some of that up to the scheme change and the feel for cadence against live personnel. Hell, even Coach Dino Babers insinuated in his press conference that there was some shady dealings from the Louisville defensive line (most likely call mimicking by what Dino mentioned). But even with all those things, that was a rough look at it.
Alright, now that we’ve got that out of the way, full disclaimer, I’m not doing my usual full breakdown on account of... I have a five year old and he’s going to kindergarten, so you all don’t get a full rewatch and chart because I want to cry watching him get on the bus... Your regularly scheduled programming will (may) return next week.
However, I was in the press box for it (not a great vantage point for line work) and I have re-watched at least the condensed footage. Thankfully they cut the penalties from that, as I saw enough on Saturday while seeing it live. Obligatory call for an All-22 if anyone has access to it, we can pay you fully in Nunesbucks.
I can say with full confidence that the line looked, in general, better than it has the last two years via the eye test. That said, that’s not a huge ask, since those lines were decimated with injury and didn’t look that great. The chemistry seemed solid and the only real breakdowns were 1v1 issues in pass protection and scheme/assignment issues in the run game. It’s said that the biggest gains are had between your first and second game. Let’s see if that’s going to happen with the line. If it does, the Orange are going bowling. Mark my words.
In live play there were some more nits to pick...
On Tucker’s first touchdown screen, Chris Bleich is heading out as a lead blocker on the screen, releasing his man, but the one he’s responsible for picking up just sprints past him and gets a hand on Tucker after only a nominal gain. Thankfully Sean Tucker is not one to go down on first contact. I’m sure there’s a stat to support that, since he’s rarely if ever gone down as such, but the screen blocking in general could use a bit of a scrub. At one point in the first half, a designed WR screen was blown up by Bleich not even punching to delay the guy in front of him and then subsequently whiffing on the open field block.
Dakota Davis didn’t look entirely comfortable in the tackle spot for pass pro, but part of that was because he was matched up on Yasir Abdullah all day, which is a tough task on anyone. Abdullah is one of the best edge rushers in the league and will be giving teams fits all season.
There were numerous times that Shrader got a little 2020 happy feet going, but it was significantly less than a year ago. I often wonder if he feels a little too much from tackle pressure. Bergeron tends to be a big ride blocker, getting his hand on the hip and running him past the pocket. This could create an issue blindside if Shrader’s feeling that as pressure instead of trusting his tackle.
Overall, PFF seemed to have it pretty right this week. For run blocking, a slightly over the Mendoza line performance for most of the line, with some glaring exceptions. Kalan Ellis led the way with a 64.3, followed closely by Vettorello, Bergeron and Bleich. However, Davis came in just under the mark with a 59.4. This is a far cry from 2021 Syracuse, where in their first P5 game (Rutgers) they had one lineman (Bleich) above that rating and all four more than four below it. I think they did a solid job of working with what they could for Tucker to do Tucker things and that played out in the stats for rushing.
Pass blocking however, Bergeron came in at a 67.3 and the rest of the squad was below the Mendoza, with Bleich ‘leading’ the pack at a 43.2 on the day. This does beat his 30.1 from last season against Rutgers or Tisdale’s 4.0 from that game, but could use a bit of work. We’ll see if this week can get a bit of pep back in the step of some of these and we won’t see a pass rush like this until the Clemson game, which will be significantly better. In general though, working through a few of these quirks and getting the penalties under control, I think this line could be quite functional for the Orange this season.