Coming into this season, Syracuse Orange football looked to be relying heavily on fresh transfers to reinforce their offensive line, which needed to replace three 2022 starters. As we are about to enter the final five game stretch, transfers have been a vital part of the line - just not the ones many people expected.
With David Wohlabaugh out for the season and Kalan Ellis practically at the same point, the right side turned towards two veterans of the system, Jakob Bradford and Mark Petry, to finally get their chances to start. Both joined the Orange after starting off at community colleges: Bradford spent two seasons at Iowa Central, and Petry one with Ellsworth, before being recruited by SU.
Now in their junior years, the duo will surely be a key part of the ‘Cuse offense moving forward - and they’re both well aware of their importance in this crucial part of the season:
“With going further in the year, you’re supposed to get better,” Petry said. “You see different fronts, you see different places, you see tough opponents, so you’ve got to grow to keep playing. And of course, it feels good to get compliments, but we’re just focused on doing our job.”
Mark is referring to a comment from Dino Babers on Monday about the offensive line improving since the start of the season. Outside of a rough outing against Clemson, the data supports that... at least in the passing game.
Petry and Bradford are both above the PFF Mendoza-line of 60 in pass-blocking grades. Bradford’s 73.0 rating is behind only Chris Bleich’s team-leading 75.8, and Petry rebounded from his two worst games with an 85.7 rating against Florida State.
As I teased in the “What to Watch for” this week, they’ll have to contend with the always-dangerous Antwaun Powell-Ryland on the opposing line for Virginia Tech. APR has five sacks and two forced fumbles over his last three games, and his individual play is a big reason for the Hokies’ recent turnaround.
“We’ve been here just waiting for our time, and now we got the opportunity,” Bradford said. “It’s rewarding, but it’s not nothing that we’re not used to, so we’re just embracing it and still playing with a chip on our shoulder.”
As for the run game: Petry and Bradford are admittedly below-average run blockers on the season, but both had their best performances in that area at FSU. It showed in the stat sheet, with LeQuint Allen picking up a season-high 110 yards on the ground.
Establishing the run is incredibly important for this particular group, whose quarterback has hesitated to use his scrambling abilities since taking a hard hit in Week 5. If Allen can continue to push for triple-digits, the passing lanes should then open up as opponents are forced to stack the box.
After previous seasons where the right side was a notable weakness of the o-line, we’d all be happy to see these guys retire that trend, starting tonight.