Heading into Syracuse’s season-opening game against Liberty, fourth-year head coach Dino Babers made it clear which position group was most important: the offensive line. We got our first look at the unit in the Orange’s 24-0 shutout of the Flames.
By now you know redshirt-sophomore Tommy DeVito was shaky. How much of that was due to poor offensive line play? Not much. While DeVito was sacked twice, SU’s front five held up their end of the bargain when it came to plays down the field. The quarterback and receivers did not.
Pass Protection Grade: B+
After seeing what Syracuse did to Liberty’s offensive line, it’s hard not to appreciate the fact that DeVito didn’t get sacked eight times. Yes, eight sacks for the ‘Cuse! Still hard to believe. Either way, the protection from the Orange wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.
By the way, the “but they did it against Liberty” argument isn’t as strong as you might think. Flames defensive end Jessie Lemonier was a double-digit sack guy a year ago. Overall, the Orange contained him.
Run Blocking: B–
Other than Moe Neal’s explosive touchdown in the fourth quarter, the O-Line never opened up a massive hole, particularly up the middle. Most of SU’s offensive yardage came from outside runs, check downs and outside screens.
The biggest concern in the running game was Syracuse’s inability to move the chains in short-yardage situations.
The front five couldn’t get a consistent push on the Flames, especially when they really needed to. On the flip side, fullback Chris Elmore helped lead the charge for two goal-line touchdowns.
Syracuse played a solid game up front last week, but that might not matter against Maryland. The status of veteran lineman Sam Heckel is still unclear. He left Saturday’s game in the first half. If he can’t go, expect Airon Servais to move back to center while grad-transfer Ryan Alexander occupies the left tackle position.
We saw Alexander at times in week one. The plan from Babers is clear: work the guys in and figure out what the best unit is. Unfortunately for SU, the Heckel injury might delay the process.
Saturday’s game wasn’t perfect, but there were more positives than negatives for the group that coach Babers calls the key to the season.