At this point of the season, pointing out of the shortcomings of the Syracuse offensive line has become tiresome. The line has played a significant part in holding back the offense and it was hoped that a game against Holy Cross and a bye week leading into the North Carolina State would help the unit fix some of their issues.
Early returns say those issues have not been resolved.
The Orange only gave up a single sack to Holy Cross and, with that sack removed, picked up 145 yards on 35 rushing attempts, good for a 4.1-yard average. If SU amassed that level of rushing success over the season with sacks included, they would be about two-thirds down in the yards per carry rankings in the nation.
And that was with a sack removed against an FCS opponent.
Things were much worse against the Wolfpack. N.C. State dropped Tommy DeVito eight times for 52 yards. Setting those aside, Syracuse got 93 yards on 29 rushing attempts for a 3.2-yard average. While the ‘Pack has one of the better defensive fronts in the nation, those stats are ugly. By the end of the night, DeVito was protecting an injury and seemed to lose his fundamentals at times, throwing off his back foot with no defenders near him, perhaps due to injury.
So, how does the back half of the schedule look for the Orange and their chances to right the ship? Below is how each team left on the SU schedule stands on the season in rushing defense with sacks removed and listed separately:
- Pittsburgh – 176 rush attempts for 760 yards, 4.32 yds/att; 27 sacks
- Florida State – 241 rush attempts for 1,137 yards, 4.72 yds/att; 17 sacks
- Boston College – 250 rush attempts for 1,178 yards, 4.71 yds/att; 5 sacks
- Duke – 204 rush attempts for 910 yards, 4.46 yds/att; 17 sacks
- Louisville – 227 rush attempts for 1,100 yards, 4.85 yds/att; 13 sacks
- Wake Forest – 214 rush attempts for 1,034 yards, 4.83 yds/att; 14 sacks
For a comparison, with sacks removed, SU’s offense has 209 rushes for 883 yards, a 4.22yds/att average and 26 sacks allowed.
So, is it good news for Syracuse that they are facing some teams that are fairly permissive on the ground, or bad news that these teams will be looking to get their run defense in order against a below average Orange front?
With the evidence at hand this season, it feels like the opponents’ defenses will have a “get well” game against SU, whose “ground attack” is almost an oxymoron this season.
Certainly, “Pass protection” is one.
Among ACC teams, only Miami has allowed more sacks or more yards lost by sacks than the Orange. The Hurricanes are last nationally in both categories. SU has given up the fourth-most sacks in the country and trails only Miami in yards lost on them.
Looking at Friday night’s matchup with Pitt, things could get ugly fast. While their offense is not high-powered, the Panthers are tied for second in the nation in sacks and are well-rested, coming off a bye. It seems that the Orange should focus on running the ball to both protect DeVito and shorten the game.
Then again, maybe that’s what they should do for the remainder of the season. Perhaps SU should shorten games by leaning into their strong special teams and their defense’s ability to force turnovers, trying to win games with a field position edge and keeping the opponent’s offense off the field by limiting their number of possessions.
It throws “Orange is the new fast” out on its ear (just for the rest of this season), but if the offensive line struggles that much, limiting their exposure by slowing things down may help the team win. The team can even stick to some principles of their normal offense.
They can still hurry to the line to prevent opponent substitutions, then look to the bench for the play call. Bleeding the play clock will give the offensive linemen a few more seconds of mental focus on their assignments for the upcoming play. Running plays will help keep the clock moving to shorten games.
It’s only halfway through the season, but the clock is running out with every loss and bowl hopes get slimmer and slimmer. Maybe desperate times to call for desperate measures.