SYRACUSE The Syracuse University football team will be without all-conference senior left tackle Justin Pugh for one more game, Saturdays 8 p.m. matchup at Minnesota.
The Oranges offensive line has exceeded expectations in Pughs absence, and it will need one more such performance against the unbeaten Golden Gophers (3-0), who rank fifth in the country in pass efficiency defense and has the 12th-leading sacker in college football, D.L Wilhite.
Through three games, Syracuse ranks 23rd in the nation in sacks allowed per game after giving up just three sacks for a total loss of 14 yards. The team allowed 29 sacks last year.
I think weve done pretty well, our offensive stats show that weve been able to do some good things on the ground and in the air, said senior left guard Zack Chibane, who will make his 29th straight start on Saturday. At the same time, our record is 1-2. We feel there are a lot of things that we couldve done better in the first three games.
The Orange has given senior quarterback Ryan Nassib good protection despite three new starters on the line, with Chibane and junior center Macky MacPherson the only returning starters.
Ivan Foy and Lou Alexander have stepped in on the right side, and Sean Hickey has played strong in place of Pugh at left tackle.
We had a real good camp, and we all came into the first game expecting that wed be a successful offensive line, Chibane said. I think that we all saw the potential in our group and how well we could perform.
The line has helped the Orange offense get off to one of the best starts in all of college football. The team ranks third in the nation in passing offense (379.7 yards per game), 11th in first downs (29) and 15th in total offense (533.3). It leads the Big East in all three categories.
Syracuse is gaining 152 more yards, 10 more first downs and 8.5 more points per game than it did a season ago. The team is on pace to shatter its single-season record for total offense 451.5 yards per game set in 1959.
The line has clearly adjusted to the offenses new up-tempo system the pass-heavy, no-huddle attack. During Chibanes first two years as a starter, the team relied more on the run with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers in Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey.
Chibane said that the biggest adjustment for the linemen was doing more cardio training than usual, but added that he is a fan of the new offense.
I love it, Chibane said. Im a fan of anything thats working, anything thats getting the job done.
And while Chibane is proud of his lines performance so far, he will be happy to welcome back Pugh, his roommate of four years.
Pugh is expected back after next weeks bye, when the team opens Big East play against Pittsburgh on Oct. 5 at the Carrier Dome.
I cant even explain it. Justins a great player for us, hes proven himself, Chibane said. Hes helped us immensely even being out, helping the young kids, bringing them along and helping them with the mental aspect of the game. When he comes back, its really going to help our group. Not just in the obvious ways with him being in the lineup, but just having him next to me and next to the other guys. Its really going to help our chemistry.
Nassib has a chance to add to his record-setting season on Saturday, while senior receivers Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales can also reach career milestones.
Last Week, Nassib became the first Syracuse quarterback to throw for 300 yards in three straight games and tied Marvin Graves as the only two Orange signal callers to amass three 300-yard games in the same season.
If Nassib can reach 300 again on Saturday, he would tie Graves for the most career 300-yard games with five apiece.
Lemon, who set a Syracuse single-season record with 68 catches last year, can move into the top spot on the Oranges career receptions list on Saturday. He has 136 career catches and is just three shy of tying Scott Schwedes and Shelby Hill for the record with 139.
Sales posted his fourth straight 100-yard receiving game last Saturday, which broke a tie with Marvin Harrison, Tommy Kane and current receivers coach Rob Moore, for the most all time.
Syracuse coach Doug Marrone learned this week that defensive end John Raymon, who transferred to the Orange from Iowa this summer, will not be eligible to play this season.
The NCAA rule book states that a transfer must reside at their new school for one year before they can be cleared to play, but Marrone said the team was hoping Raymon would be granted a waiver to play this season. It was denied on Tuesday.
Marrone declined to provide details on the waiver, but said it was common and has been granted to numerous student athletes around the country.
I dont agree with the NCAAs decision, nor do I understand it, Marrone said on Thursday.
Sportswriter Josh St.Croix covers Syracuse University football for the Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org