In his first four years at Syracuse, Dino Babers has shown some things fans can simply expect from his offense.
The quarterbacks will zip the ball around a lot, as last season’s 34 attempts per game is the lowest mark of the last four seasons. As a function of that passing frequency, a wide receiver will put up an explosive stat line by the end of the season, as Jamal Custis’ 906 yards and six touchdowns in 2018 are the lowest marks in those statistics for a leading receiver in Babers’ tenure at SU.
The 2019 season, however, was marked with something also familiar to Orange football fans. The offensive line was all too frequently punctured by opposing pass rushers and foes tallied 50 quarterback sacks. It is not something unique to last season, as Syracuse has given up 157 sacks in four seasons, an average of 3.2 sacks per contest.
Last season’s group was marked a combination of injuries, inexperience, a graduate transfer leaving the team midseason, and players being forced into spots where they were not comfortable. The team went through camp struggling to identify its best five players on the line and the chosen ones had a difficult time developing continuity. Orange quarterbacks ate a lot of turf as a result, but the offense as a whole had issues as a result of the difficulties the line went through.
The good news is four of the five players who started at the end of the season return to the squad. Redshirt senior Airon Servais has started all 37 games in the last three seasons and is expected to anchor the line at left tackle. Redshirt sophomore center Carlos Vettorello and redshirt junior right guard Dakota Davis each started all 12 games in 2019, with the former sliding in from left tackle to center for the last three games and Davis holding down the right guard spot throughout the campaign. Matthew Bergeron started the final five games at right tackle as a freshman. So, there is promise for continuity and melding the individual parts into a cohesive unit.
But, not all was on schedule for the offensive line to have time to blend together.
Dakota Davis was dinged up in the limited spring football session. Hopeful starter at left guard, redshirt sophomore Chris Bleich, was unavailable due to his eligibility being up in the air following his transfer into the program from Florida. Bleich started eight times at right guard for the Gators last season, but is likely headed to a redshirt season. Some believe the NCAA will allow him to be eligible due to COVID-19, but Bleich committed to Syracuse back in December, months before the pandemic.
Senior Patrick Davis and redshirt junior Austin Chandler, who have both been in the program for three years, but have modest amounts of in-game experience, were competing for the left guard spot during the abbreviated spring practice. Darius Tisdale, who completed a redshirt year after transferring in after two years at junior college, filled in for Dakota Davis during that same time.
While those players did get a taste of practice work with the first team, one spot is fully up in the air. Beyond that, Servais the only expected starter with more than one season of significant playing experience.
As players trickle back to campus to begin quarantining and working out in small groups and we dare to dream about games, hopes for a return of that high-speed offense center on that player and the four teammates who flank him.