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Grading The Offensive Line

The Offensive Line was mess during the 2010 season. I guess that is being generous. Truth be told the offensive line took a major step backward, especially relative to the previous groups which were actually quite good, but more on that later. The problems started on the personnel end early in the season. UC returned Sam Griffin, Jason Kelce and Alex Hoffman as starters from the 2009 group, Kelce and Hoffman were both 2nd Team All Big East in 2009 at Left Guard and Right Guard respectively. But only Hoffman came back at the position that he occupied the previous season, Griffin flipped from RT to LT for spring ball and Jason Kelce moved from Left Guard to Center because Evan Davis couldn't quite grasp the responsibilities of the center position. In retrospect those moves should have been red flags. I didn't quite heed them.

Offensive Line Starters: Fresno State

Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle

Sam Griffin Evan Davis Jason Kelce Alex Hoffman C.J. Cobb

Within about two series it became pretty apparent that this group was not working. No one was playing particularly well against Fresno State, but there were two things that were abundantly clear. 1) C.J. Cobb simply didn't have the feet or agility to effecively play RT. He was a big time liability out on the edge working against Chris Carter. 2) Evan Davis wasn't ready physically to play at this level. He was moved from Center to LG because he couldn't handle the mental aspects of that position, after the FSU game it was clear that he didn't have the physicality either and moved from LG to the bench where he spent the rest of the season. He didn't play another meaningful offensive snap the rest of the year, and not without reason. Davis is the guy constantly whiffing on Logan Harrell here.

So in the wake of the Fresno debacle Davis moved to the bench full time and Randy Martinez took his place at LG and was at least serviceable. That acknowledged, the staff did nothing at all to address the other glaring weakness up front, C.J. Cobb playing RT. The group that rolled into Carter Finley Stadium in Raleigh wasn't much better than the one that gave up 8 sacks to Fresno State. They only gave up 5 sacks but the unit was obviously in dire need of a make over, and that is what we got against Oklahoma.

Offensive Line Starters: Oklahoma

Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle

Sam Griffin Randy Martinez Jason Kelce C.J. Cobb Alex Hoffman

The results against the Sooners were great. They still surrendered 3 sacks, but against a defense that ended the year with 37 sacks giving up just 3 was a great performance for this group. The line in the Oklahoma game gave Zach Collaros and company enough time to make plays and an offense that had been averaging under 300 yards against division 1 opponents exploded for 461 yards. And that group of starters was it the rest of the year, more or less.

The only other changes that took place weren't on account of injury rather than coaches decisions. Alex Hoffman was injured in the Miami game and was out of commission for the Louisville and USF games. In his stead Sean Hooey started both games and was the best offensive lineman on the field in both games.

Offensive Line Starters: Louisville

Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle

Sam Griffin Randy Martinez Jason Kelce C.J. Cobb Sean Hooey

Hooey was really nothing short of spectacular in both games. There was only one game all season where UC didn't give up a sack and it was against Louisville, a team that ranked 7th in country in sacks at the end of the year. Somehow Hooey wasn't deemed to be one of the 5 best lineman on the roster, which was a big mistake in my book. I would have moved Cobb to the bench and slid Alex Hoffman down to his natural guard spot and keep Hooey at tackle. In truth Hooey should have begun a 30 game starting streak in the U of L game, but it didn't happen. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that was another colossal mistake in the personnel department with the offensive line.

With all those issues in personnel there is no shock that the stats were terrible this year relative to past seasons. The problem with trying to evaluate offensive lines is that they don't generate stats. Coaching staffs do grade each snap on a set scale, and they chart knockdowns, sacks allowed, some do TFL's allowed, but as a fan I can't do that stuff. But there are some things that I can track, like percentage of sacks on passing attempts, sacks allowed, Tackles For Loss allowed, QB hurries and rushing yards per carry. Those four measures in totality paint a pretty good picture of how and offensive line performs in the course of a season.

Sacks Sack % TFL Hurries YPC
2010 33 .07 88 23 4.68
2009 15 .03 68 30 4.99
2008 28 .06 66 20 3.62
2007 22 .05 78 14 4.03

The numbers are pretty straight forward. In most respects the line last year was much worse than any of the groups that played under Kelly. There are some interesting numbers in there, the 30 hurries in 2009 says a lot about Tony Pikes ability to get out of pressure and to make plays simultaneously. But on the whole the picture these numbers paint is of an offensive line that was pretty good run blocking and not so good at everything else. That in and of itself isn't a terrible thing, but for an offense that was professed to be a "pass first" philosophy its a bit of head scratcher. It seems that the offensive line fits the general profile of the offense, at least statistically, it was much better when the running game was working than when it wasn't. In games where UC ran for over 150 yards UC only surrendered 8 sacks in total, 25 in the other 7 games. Overall I have a hard time going higher than a D in terms of a grade for the O-Line. The offense it totality was good, but that was in spite of the offensive line play, rather than a source for it.

Whats your take?