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USD offensive line has appetite for openings
Offensive linemen are known for being anonymous.
Except, perhaps, if you’re the owner of a restaurant. Think about it. When a dozen guys — each one pushing 300 pounds — walk into your establishment with hungry looks on their faces, you’re going to remember it. And when they’re starving college students to boot? Forget about it.
Part of the bond for the offensive linemen on the USD football team comes from weekly dinners enjoyed by the players.
“That’s my family,” said USD senior left guard Shane Kanie. “It’s a time for us to sit there and talk about the week. Talk about life. Every conversation is full of laughter.”
Thursday’s dinner was at HomeTown Buffet, which only has itself to blame. When you put the word “buffet” right there in the name, you’re just daring people to pile on.
The O-line was still at the restaurant when USD junior left tackle Matt Peleti phoned with a progress report: “We’re winding down right now. This place is about to close up soon. We did a good amount of damage.”
So what would they recommend on the menu?
“If you play offensive line, you really can’t be picky,” said Kanie. “Everything looks delicious. You have to sample everything because you have to know what to get seconds of.”
It’s good to know the linemen will be well fed coming into this afternoon’s Pioneer Football League game because USD (5-1, 3-0 PFL) faces one of its biggest challenges against Drake (5-1, 3-0). The Toreros have averaged 43 points in their five victories this season. All but unnoticed on a team seeking its fourth straight win is the play of an offensive line that has allowed only six sacks in six games.
USD quarterback Mason Mills has hardly been hurried. In fact, defenders have had trouble getting their hands on Mills. The six sacks have come with the line providing protection for 205 pass attempts.
“Two of those sacks were on me, so it’s really only four in six games, which is pretty remarkable for the amount of passing attempts,” said Mills. “Every one of our offensive linemen have unbelievable work ethic and toughness.”
USD quarterbacks were sacked 27 times last season, so the improved protection is noticeable.
“Truth be known the offensive line gets more blame when things aren’t going good than they’re due,” said USD head coach Ron Caragher. “Maybe the quarterback’s taking too long or maybe the receivers aren’t doing a good job getting open. You can only protect for so long for the quarterback.”
Caragher will admit that last season the line’s difficulties stemmed from inexperience, but, he said, “Those guys really started to come together the second half of last season and played together as a unit.”
Senior center Christian Fetters was the only returner on the line a year ago. But the starting unit — which includes Peleti, Kanie, junior right guard Mike Arnold and senior right tackle Pat Thompson — gained experience that is paying dividends.
“It’s great when you look at the stats and see that last week we ran for over 300 yards,” said Fetters, a four-year starter from Fresno. “But the biggest thing is seeing if we were more physical than the other team. If we’re physically dominating the D-line and the linebackers, the people across from us, then the holes will open up for the running backs and the quarterback will have time. All those stats will come with that. If we’re more physical and execute better than the other team, that’s what we look for.”
The quarterback, running backs and receivers get the headlines. And the linemen said they’re fine with that.
“When everyone sees how well Mason plays or how well our running backs or wide receivers do, it’s a reflection of our work,” said Peleti. “That’s where we get our most satisfaction, seeing the success of our skill guys.”
Added Kanie: “If (running back) Kenny James breaks a big run downfield, then we did our job up front. And that’s really rewarding.”
By Kirk Kenney, The San Diego Union-Tribune