Lycoming looking to boost pass protection

The explanation isn’t just as simple as schemes or techniques or personnel. The truth is, all three have played a part in why Lycoming has given up 24 sacks in its last four games.

It’s a staggering number, which has been a big part of the reason Lycoming has allowed the most sacks of any team in the Middle Atlantic Conference. It’s been a continuing work in progress for the Warriors and their offensive line for much of the season. But for every step forward, the unit seems to take a step or two back.

In a 14-7 loss to Lebanon Valley, Lycoming surrendered 10 sacks. That came just one week after allowing just one to previously unbeaten Delaware Valley. It’s been a head-scratching topic for Lycoming head coach Mike Clark as the unit struggles to find consistency.

“As crazy as it is to say, I don’t think the offensive line has played horribly,” Clark said earlier this week. “Sacks are troubling and something we talked about, but I think we’ve shown we can protect the quarterback reasonably well, and when we have it’s helped us win the football game.”

Despite the high number of sacks over the last four games, the Warriors are 3-1 during that stretch. The only loss was that setback to Lebanon Valley, in which Lycoming lost control of its own destiny in the MAC title race. Along the way it beat Delaware Valley and Widener, the last two MAC champions, and Albright, who had received the second-most first-place votes in the preseason coaches poll.

But the sheer number, 24 sacks in four games, is cause for concern.

“The last four games have been against some of the best teams in the league who have some of the best defensive linemen,” Lycoming center Casey Strus said. “We’ve struggled a bit against them, but we’ve had some good plays against them. We just have to play more consistently.”

All three wins during the stretch have been decided by three points or less, and in all three games the Lycoming offense has been able to put together fourth-quarter drives to either take the lead or extend their lead. In last week’s win over Albright, the Warriors surrendered three of their seven sacks on the final drive of regulation which lasted more than 9 minutes.

But the offense overcame three third-and-long situations on that final drive to set up the game-tying field goal from kicker Zack Czap with 18 seconds left. Lycoming eventually won with another field goal in overtime.

Third-down conversions, particularly late in games, haven’t been an issue. The Warriors have held the ball in the fourth quarter for at least 10 minutes in all five of their wins and are converting 50 percent of their third downs in the fourth quarter.

Clark, though, would like to see his team perform better on first and second down to put themselves in more advantageous positions on third down. During the last four games, 10 of the 24 sacks have come on first down.

“We converted some long things last week, and we had a good plan for those things,” Clark said. “But it’s not like we want to be unsuccessful on first and second down so we can go third-and-long. That’s a tough spot.”

“And this week it’s especially huge. When we watched film, I think (King’s) only has nine clips of third-and-4 or less,” Strus said. “The big emphasis is winning first and second down. If we can get big plays on first and second and not put ourselves in third-and-long, we’ll be OK.”

After a rough week against Widener when the Warriors surrendered five sacks to what Clark called the best defensive line in the league, he pointed out nobody was parachuting in to help the offensive line’s struggles, and they would have to continue to improve with the group they have. Lycoming has used a consistent six-man rotation on its offensive line this year, working in freshman Austin Mital at guard to spell both Mike Chaput and Matt Patterson. And when Patterson was down with an injury a week ago, Mital made his first start.

Clark said it’s easy to put all the blame on the offensive line because it is the most logical unit to go to when protection breaks down. But it’s been more than just the offensive line at times which have allowed the sacks to happen.

“There’s a lot that goes into it. Sometimes it’s the quarterback, sometimes it’s the running backs and a lot of times it’s the offensive line,” Clark said. “It’s something we’re aware of and we’re trying to fix.”