Going into Syracuse's road matchup with North Carolina State, one of the biggest battles within the game was the one along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Wolfpack defensive line had a reputation of being stout against the run, while Syracuse was coming off a 323-yard outing against Clemson. The N.C. State offensive line had been inconsistent while the Orange have been strong against opposing ground attacks.
The game within the game went to Syracuse in both instances, as the Orange dominated the line of scrimmage en route to a 24-10 road win on Saturday. Right from the start the Syracuse offensive line looked ready for the challenge of a talented, run-stopping Wolfpack front four.
Jerome Smith reeled off an 11-yard gain on his first carry of the game, and followed that up with a 30-yard scamper on the first play of Syracuse's second drive of the game. While Smith showed power and the ability to make people miss, it was the interior of the offensive line that opened big holes all day.
Smith's 30-yard run was a prime example of the dominance of the Orange up front. At the snap, Rob Trudo collapsed to his right to seal the interior of the defensive line with Macky MacPherson. Nick Robinson pulled through the hole and hit the Wolfpack linebacker two yards downfield to create the huge crease for Smith.
When the Orange ran to the right, they had success as well. Nick Robinson and Ivan Foy were solid against the run, opening holes for Gulley and Smith.
It was a physical battle up front, and one the Orange continued to dominate despite a passing attack that struggled throughout. The result was a 40-carry, 362-yard performance for a Syracuse team that averaged over nine yards per carry.
Both Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley surpassed the 100-yard mark (Gulley on only nine carries) and scored a touchdown. Quarterback Terrel Hunt did damage on the ground as well with 92-yards and a touchdown.
Syracuse ran inside and outside with success. They were physical up front and the offensive line was dominant with easily its best performance of the season. With the game tied midway through the fourth quarter, Syracuse scored touchdowns on two three-play drives to put the game away. Five of those six total plays were runs.
Each of those drives featured a long run. Jerome Smith rumbled for 57-yards on the first touchdown drive and Gulley for 48-yards on the second.
On Smith's run, it was a mirror of the play he took for 30-yards earlier in the game but to the opposite side. MacPherson and Robinson sealed the inside tackles while Trudo pulled and took out the linebacker. Ivan Foy and Sean Hickey kept the defensive ends at bay. Smith exploded through the hole, splitting the Wolfpack safety and linebacker on his way to a 57-yard gain.
Gulley's run was to the right side with Trudo and Foy both pulling on a delayed draw. Trudo took the blitzing linebacker who was up the field and Foy hit the linebacker who was trying to fill the hole. MacPherson also took out the tackles immediately with a cut block. The result was a huge running lane for the former Pinstripe Bowl MVP as he raced down to the N.C. State five-yard line.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Syracuse front seven controlled the line of scrimmage all game long. Syracuse finished with three sacks and 11-tackles for a loss including five sacks while holding the Wolfpack to less than three yards per carry.
Jay Bromley and Marquis Spruill played on the N.C. State side of the line of scrimmage routinely as they shut down the Wolfpack rushing attack. On top of that, the Orange were able to put constant pressure on the N.C. State quarterbacks, forcing rushed throws and poor decisions.
Ron Thompson was also active in this game, finishing with a sack and regularly pressuring the quarterback. Robert Welsh had an impact with two balls batted down at the line of scrimmage along with pressuring the quarterback on several occasions including a sack.
The interior of the Syracuse defensive line was especially dominant, getting a strong push from either of the four linemen that rotated in. Bromley is playing at an all-ACC level as he added another sack and more tackles for loss. Eric Crume got a big push on short yardage plays, and ate up space well inside. Zian Jones played physical at the point of attack, using the strength in his legs to push the opposing linemen into the backfield.
John Raymon continued to be a load inside, with a couple tackles for loss and a sack. He is so strong with quick feet, and the N.C. state interior linemen could not keep him out of the backfield.
In a critical game for a Syracuse squad that is looking to navigate its first ACC schedule in order to become bowl eligible, the Orange won the battles they needed to up front. The performance shows how far Syracuse has come over the last several years in their physical play along both lines.