The opening week of the season always presents its share of problems, but there’s one area across the board that is in major need of work.
The offensive line.
Only a handful of teams escaped Week 1 without questions at the position. Wake Forest was abysmal. Miami was not much better. Syracuse and Virginia Tech had breakdowns in goal-line situations. Louisville struggled in pass protection. Clemson had zero yards rushing in the second half.
Not even Florida State was immune. The Seminoles returned four starters and were touted as the best offensive line in the country going into the season, but they sure did not look it last week.
So what gives? A combination of youth on the offensive line (Wake), injuries forcing new faces into the lineup (Virginia, Syracuse), suspension and graduated talent (Clemson), and a lack of physicality (Miami, Florida State) all contributed.
“On run blocking, I don’t think we were as physical as we needed to be, which was very rare,” coach Jimbo Fisher admitted during his press conference this week. Fisher singled out just one offensive lineman -- guard Tre' Jackson -- for his performance. The others? “We didn’t play up to our potential.”
Just how ugly did it get at times up front in a tight 37-31 win over Oklahoma State? According to ESPN Stats & Information, Florida State running back Karlos Williams was contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on 52 percent of his rushes. Last season, he was hit at or behind the line on just 24 percent of his rushes.
Virginia’s running backs also failed to find much traction against UCLA last week. Kevin Parks and Taquan Mizzell combined to carry the ball 27 times. Thirteen of those carries went for 2 yards or less. Take away the longest run of the day, Parks’ 17-yarder to open the game, and the two averaged a combined 2.7 yards per carry.
The numbers weren’t any better for Clemson, which had just 88 yards rushing in a 45-21 loss to Georgia. In the second half, the Tigers racked up a measly 15 total yards of offense, but lost all their rushing yards thanks to four sacks (Clemson gave up five in all). The Tigers are thin at tackle but do get help back this week with the return of left guard David Beasley, who was suspended for the opener.
There weren’t any bright spots in run blocking or pass blocking at Wake Forest and Miami, either. The Deacs were completely overwhelmed in a loss to ULM, allowing six sacks and finishing with minus-3 yards rushing. Even if you take away the yards lost to the sacks, Orville Reynolds had 37 yards rushing.
Miami did not anticipate the total breakdown it saw on its offensive line against Louisville on Monday night. But there the Canes were, getting manhandled up front the way they did in the bowl game last year to the Cards.
Not only were there few running lanes for Duke Johnson, freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya was under constant pressure all night and four penalties were called on the line -- including a costly ineligible player downfield that negated a long pass down to the Louisville 3.
“We didn't play with great pad level ... sometimes we were looking around instead of attacking and executing,” Al Golden said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters. “There was a period in the third quarter we stared coming off the ball better, but we started to let negative plays wipe them out.”
Syracuse and Virginia Tech had problems ramming the ball in from the goal line. After recovering a fumble at the 2, it took the Hokies seven tries to score a touchdown. After the game, coach Frank Beamer joked, “Did that look as bad up there as it did from the sideline?”
The Orange were no better on the goal line in a double-overtime win over Villanova. They had five chances to score from the 1 in extra time and were denied all five times. It was easy to see how much the ejection of quarterback Terrel Hunt impacted the ground game. Take away Prince-Tyson Gulley’s 65 yard run and Syracuse averaged 2.2 yards per carry.
What we saw in Week 1 may end up being a minor blip. But it is pretty easy to see what many teams will be working on during practice over the next few days. Shoring up the offensive line should be a priority just about everywhere.