Syracuse Football: Breaking Down Offensive Play-Calling vs. NC State

Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

After play-calling fell flat against Clemson, how did Syracuse respond against NC State this past Saturday?

Last week, we went over the frustrations around offensive coordinator George McDonald's play-calling and what needed to change going forward. In particular, we felt things were a bit too predictable against Clemson and as a result, the offense stalled out when it could least afford to (during a pressure-packed third quarter).

So did things change this week? Well for starters, we beat NC State, so that puts a glimmer of positivity on everything. But based on the in-depth play-by-play breakdown below, you may start to notice a few trends (both good and bad):

First Quarter

DRIVE 1
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:54 1st and 10 SYR 16 Run Hunt Dive 12 Yard Gain
14:34 1st and 10 SYR 28 Pass Kobena Mid-Range R 7 Yard Gain
14:06 2nd and 3 SYR 35 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 11 Yard Gain
13:51 1st and 10 SYR 46 Run Smith Dive 2 Yard Gain
12:58 2nd and 18 SYR 36 Pass Hunt Screen R Incomplete
12:54 3rd and 18 SYR 36 Pass Hunt Deep Middle Incomplete
DRIVE 2
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
10:43 1st and 10 SYR 12 Run Smith Counter L 30 Yard Gain
10:22 1st and 10 SYR 42 Pass Clark Short L 2 yard Gain
9:47 2nd and 8 SYR 44 Pass Hunt Sack R 2 Yard Loss (Sack)
9:02 3rd and 10 SYR 44 Pass Hunt Mid-Range L Incomplete
DRIVE 3
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:52 1st and 10 SYR 30 Run Gulley End L 8 Yard Gain
4:33 2nd and 2 SYR 38 Pass Kobena Screen L 5 Yard Gain
4:16 1st and 10 SYR 43 Run Gulley Dive 1 Yard Gain
3:54 2nd and 9 SYR 44 Run (fumble) Hunt Off-Tackle L 6 Yard Gain
3:13 3rd and 3 50 Yard Line Pass Wales Screen L 4 yard Gain
2:51 1st and 10 NCST 46 Pass Hunt Mid-Range R Incomplete
2:47 2nd and 10 NCST 46 Pass (Play-Action) Estime Screen L 5 Yard Gain
2:08 3rd and 5 NCST 41 Pass Clark Screen L 3 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 passes, 7 runs

As you'll notice right off the bat, we start the game calling plays just like we did vs. Clemson -- mixing run and pass -- with a focus on pass to try and get Terrel Hunt going. As you might have also guessed if you watched the game, he does not "get going" much when it comes to throwing the ball. By the end of the first though, we're seeing offensive progress... that is until we call three consecutive passes and stall out.

***

Second Quarter

DRIVE 4
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:08 1st and 10 SYR 23 Pass Broyld Deep R 39 Yard Gain
13:52 1st and 10 NCST 38 Run Smith End L 2 Yard Gain
13:30 2nd and 8 NCST 36 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Dive 7 Yard Gain
12:59 3rd and 1 NCST 29 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 5 Yard Gain
12:45 1st and 10 NCST 24 Run Smith Counter L 7 Yard Gain
12:20 2nd and 3 NCST 17 Run Gulley Dive 1 Yard Loss
11:48 3rd and 4 NCST 18 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Off-Tackle R 17 Yard Gain
11:19 1st and Goal NCST 1 Run Smith Dive 1 Yard TD
DRIVE 5
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:56 1st and 10 SYR 8 Run Smith Dive 6 Yard Gain
6:27 2nd and 4 SYR 14 Run Smith End L 3 Yard Gain
5:52 3rd and 1 SYR 17 Run Smith Dive 3 Yard Gain
5:28 1st and 10 SYR 20 Pass Hunt Deep Middle Interception
DRIVE 6
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:22 1st and 10 SYR 46 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 4 Yard Gain
2nd and 6 50 Yard Line Run Smith Off-Tackle R 1 Yard Gain
3rd and 5 NCST 49 Pass Hunt Mid-Range L Interception
DRIVE 7
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:15 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Gulley End R 0 Yard Gain
0:46 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Run Hunt Off-Tackle L 4 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 12 runs, 5 passes

A run-heavy quarter shows us moving the ball early, and if not for a couple interceptions, perhaps we tally some more points in the second. At this point in the game, carries are still heavily tilted in favor of Jerome Smith and Gulley has yet to really get going. Where Hunt has failed passing, he's excelled reading blitzes as they happen and finding holes to run through. On two plays in which the pocket broke down in this quarter, he managed to pick up a total of 24 yards.

***

Third Quarter

DRIVE 8
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
10:39 1st and 10 SYR 34 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt End L 9 Yard Gain
10:07 2nd and 1 SYR 43 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 1 Yard Loss
9:37 3rd and 2 SYR 42 Run Hunt Dive 29 Yard Gain
9:14 1st and 10 NCST 29 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 1 Yard Gain
8:41 2nd and 9 NCST 28 Pass Wales Mid-Range R Incomplete
8:35 3rd and 9 NCST 28 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
DRIVE 9
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:47 1st and 10 SYR 42 Run Gulley Off-Tackle L 55 Yard Gain
6:15 1st and Goal NCST 3 Run Hunt Off-Tackle R 0 Yard Gain
5:36 2nd and Goal NCST 3 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 0 Yard Gain
4:57 3rd and Goal NCST 3 Run Smith Dive 2 Yard Gain
4:16 4th and Goal NCST 1 Field Goal Norton N/A FG is Good
DRIVE 10
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:56 1st and 10 SYR 31 Pass Broyld Screen L 5 Yard Gain
0:35 2nd and 5 SYR 36 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 4 Yard Gain
0:14 3rd and 1 SYR 40 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 0 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 9 runs, 4 passes

This quarter was dominated by two very big plays (Hunt's 29-yard gain and Gulley's 55-yarder), and little else. We'll get into some trends down at the bottom of the article, but not a whole lot of consistent success running plays to the right side of the line in this game -- not surprising since we knew the left side would be stronger going into the season.

***

Fourth Quarter

DRIVE 11
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:25 1st and 10 SYR 42 Double-Reverse Broyld/Kobena Deep R Incomplete
13:19 2nd and 10 SYR 42 Run Gulley Dive 3 Yard Gain
12:36 3rd and 7 SYR 45 Pass Clark Deep L Incomplete
DRIVE 12
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
10:06 1st and 10 SYR 26 Pass Broyld Screen L 1 Yard Loss
9:36 2nd and 11 SYR 25 Pass West Deep L Incomplete
9:32 3rd and 11 SYR 25 Pass West Deep R Incomplete
DRIVE 13
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:05 1st and 10 SYR 20 Pass Smith Screen R 5 Yard Gain
6:47 2nd and 5 SYR 25 Run Smith Dive 57 Yard Gain
6:20 1st and 10 NCST 18 Run Gulley End R 18 Yard TD
DRIVE 14
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:41 1st and 10 SYR 47 Run Gulley End R 48 Yard Gain
3:57 1st and Goal NCST 5 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 2 Yard Gain
2:48 2nd and Goal NCST 8 Run Hunt Off-Tackle L 8 Yard TD
2:29 XP Try NCST 2 Fake FG; Run Norton End L 2PT Conv. Good
DRIVE 15
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:07 1st and 10 SYR 19 Kneel Down Hunt Dive 2 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 7 runs, 6 passes

At this point, you'd think we'd have abandoned the pass, and for the most part, we did. The six passing plays went for a grand total of four yards (with four incompletions), while the running game finally broke through to finish off a couple drives. If we're not going to pass the ball well, we've got to wear teams down between the tackles -- which is exactly what happened here. The constant pushing and shoving in the middle set up Smith's 57-yard dive, and that play subsequently set up Gulley's next two runs of 18 and 48 yards, respectively around the end.

***

Some trends/numbers to note:

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 35 runs v. 26 passes
  • First downs: 13 total (10 running, 3 passing)
  • First down play selection: 17 called runs, 10 called passes
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 9 called runs, 4 called passes
  • Just three sets of downs that started with a pass resulted in a first down or points (out of 10)
  • Second down play selection: 12 called runs, 7 called passes
  • Third down play selection: 5 called runs, 9 called passes

Overall, a better emphasis on the run this time around, which was certainly helped by early success on the ground, unlike last week. Third down plays still skewed toward the pass (as they're wont to do ), but to very little effect. Similar to the Clemson game, the team ran the ball more as the contest went on, though it made more sense vs. NC State since SU tied or led throughout. If we're keeping track of patterns, Ashton Broyld has thrown the ball once in each of the last two games, and Syracuse has run a special teams fake in each of the last two as well -- chances are Georgia Tech will be watching for both now when these teams line up on Saturday.

Other curiosities: No drive that started with a called run to the right resulted in a first down until late in the fourth quarter. Hunt completed just two passes in the entire second half, yet the offense was more productive. Just one play-action pass the entire game... No. 1 wideout Jarrod West hasn't caught a pass since the Tulane game. Any time we ran the same basic play twice in a row against NC State (four different times), the second play resulted in less yardage. Why continue to do this, then?

Anything else jump out at you? Feel free to dive in and bring up any other trends I didn't call out above. The comment section and this data is your oyster...

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