Graham: We knew Syracuse’s offensive line was unfinished, but it has to be better

first_imgThe word “overwhelming” probably best characterizes Clemson’s constant presence in the Syracuse backfield Saturday night.On nearly every snap, one or more of Clemson’s linemen and blitzers harassed quarterback Tommy DeVito, making him duck, dodge and flee the pocket. It’s not shocking that Clemson’s yet-again loaded defensive front had its way with Syracuse’s banged-up and inexperienced offensive line. But the eight sacks and six hits on DeVito, plus seven additional tackles for loss clarified the Orange’s most pressing issue: fixing the offensive line.Syracuse’s offensive line is not the sole culprit for its loss to No. 1 Clemson. But ignoring the truth — that SU’s offensive line is not what it needs to be for the Orange to achieve its goals — doesn’t change it. There’s every reason to believe this group, which hopes to bring back injured center Sam Heckel soon, can improve. Through three games, the Orange’s offensive line has surrendered 14 sacks on DeVito and struggled to establish the run game.“You’ve gotta have the mind of a corner in this game,” left guard Evan Adams said after the loss. “Every bad experience, you can’t dwell on it. You’ve gotta wipe it at some point and move on to the next experience. You can’t dwell on things that are unfixable.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textMax Freund | Staff PhotographerIn the opening minutes of Syracuse’s 2019 season, Liberty’s defensive front appeared to be as dominant as Clemson. But four players, redshirt freshman right tackle Carlos Vettorello; redshirt sophomore guard Dakota Davis; redshirt junior left tackle Airon Servais and Heckel, were all starting for the first time at new positions. Soon, they settled in, but still allowed two sacks.Against Maryland, without Heckel, their performance was steadier, and DeVito faced less pressure. But with graduate transfer Ryan Alexander making his first start opposite Vettorello, it wasn’t a particularly strong performance. Still, the sack total grew by four, SU rushed for 70 yards as a team and still seemed to be a few steps away from the consistency of 2018’s group.Clemson overmatched the Orange upfront. Syracuse went for power runs up the middle twice from the Tigers’ three-yard line and the line couldn’t move them an inch. Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables dialed up a myriad of blitzes to great effect. Seven Clemson players contributed to their eight sacks.“I feel like this is going to be a great growing experience because they threw so many things out there,” Adams said. “It’s definitely going to be exciting to watch film and see where we can improve.”It was the sort of night that forces you to examine why you couldn’t keep your quarterback upright in the pocket long enough to throw downfield. And after the game, Babers was quick to note that at least two of Syracuse’s sacks weren’t the fault of the offensive line, without divulging who missed an assignment.“So again, it’s not a simple offense. It’s a complex offense,” Babers said. “And everybody has to do their part. It only takes one guy to break offensively for something bad to happen.”Eva Suppa | Digital Design EditorSyracuse had fielded one of its better offensive lines in recent memory in 2018. Despite giving up 37 sacks, the Orange posted a 40.2 point per game scoring average behind the offensive line.Having four players starting at new positions this season, it was known that the offensive line was going to be a work in progress and Syracuse, Babers said, is “only as fast as its slowest offensive lineman.”“It comes down to learning a lot of offense,” Babers said at his Aug. 26 press conference. “Learning it and practicing it at the tempo you need to practice.”And, as Babers noted postgame, a sack isn’t necessarily the offensive line’s fault. Syracuse runs a complex offense — it’s a point that’s been preached early this season — and one missed assignment can unravel an entire play. Who a lineman is supposed to block is contingent on a number of factors: play call, defensive front, and any checks or audibles at the line of scrimmage.There’s reason to believe the offensive line can improve. Heckel should come back soon, moving Servais back to left tackle and putting Alexander and Vettorello in a competition for the right tackle spot. As Syracuse establishes its clear five starters and they play more snaps together, these issues will begin to fade.There are nine games left in Syracuse’s season and Babers pointed out that this team can still get to where it wants to be at the end of the season. If it wants to even get close, Syracuse’s offensive line really needs to improve.Andrew Graham is a senior staff writer for The Daily Orange where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at aegraham@syr.edu or on Twitter @A_E_Graham Comments Published on September 15, 2019 at 10:07 pm Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more