Syracuse Football: Breaking Down Offensive Play-Calling vs. Maryland

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

So, how was George McDonald's play-calling versus Maryland this past Saturday?

Last week, offensive coordinator George McDonald finally figured out how to call a game for this team... by the second half. So did he learn anything from the Wake Forest game's play-calling?

Sort of, it would appear. Against Maryland, the Orange came out running the ball and throwing bubble screens -- the only two things we know how to do. Lucky for SU, they're reasonably good at these things and their offensive coordinator has finally recognized this after nine games. Hopefully teams don't figure out how to stop these things...

On to the breakdown:

First Quarter

DRIVE 1
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:53 1st and 10 SYR 20 Pass Clark Screen L 4 Yard Gain
14:31 2nd and 6 SYR 24 Run Smith Dive 7 Yard Gain
14:16 1st and 10 SYR 31 PENALTY (False Start) Broyld N/A 5 Yard Loss
14:06 1st and 15 SYR 26 Run Smith Dive 8 Yard Gain
13:31 2nd and 7 SYR 34 Pass Estime Mid-Range M 11 Yard Gain
13:19 1st and 10 SYR 45 Run Smith End R 4 Yard Gain
12:52 2nd and 6 SYR 49 Run Hunt Off-Tackle L 8 Yard Gain
12:36 1st and 10 MD 43 PENALTY (False Start) Trudo N/A 5 Yard Loss
12:14 1st and 15 MD 48 Run Gulley End R 3 Yard Gain
11:42 2nd and 12 MD 45 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 6 Yard Gain
11:03 3rd and 6 MD 39 Pass West Short R 4 Yard Gain
10:22 4th and 2 MD 35 Run Smith Counter R 7 Yard Gain
9:55 1st and 10 MD 28 Run Smith End R 2 Yard Loss
9:29 2nd and 12 MD 30 Pass Estime Screen L 22 Yard Gain
9:07 1st and Goal MD 8 Run Smith Dive 1 Yard Loss
8:42 2nd and Goal MD 9 Pass Estime Screen L 4 Yard Gain
8:01 3rd and Goal MD 5 Pass/Lateral Hickey/Trudo Screen L 4 Yard Gain
7:12 4th and Goal MD 1 Run Smith Dive 1 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 2
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:52 1st and Goal SYR 15 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 3 Yard Gain
4:27 2nd and 7 SYR 18 Run Smith Dive 0 Yard Gain
3:52 3rd and 7 SYR 18 Pass Broyld Deep L 23 Yard Gain
3:38 1st and 10 SYR 41 Run Hunt Dive 2 Yard Gain
3:13 2nd and 8 SYR 43 Run McFarlane End R 2 Yard Gain
2:35 3rd and 6 SYR 45 Pass Hunt Deep R Incomplete

Play-Call Breakdown: 14 runs, 8 passes

Not only did we finally lean on the run to start the game, but we actually USED IT TO SET UP THE PASS. Heavy doses of Jerome Smith very early, coupled with injuries on the Terps' defense, allowed for favorable one-on-one matchups and very little pass-rush in the first. Unlike previous games, there was a variance in first-down play-calling, Syracuse didn't lean too heavily on one side of the field over another, and the Orange managed to convert on fourth down twice. Running 22 plays in the first quarter is also a major positive toward setting the tone early.

***

Second Quarter

DRIVE 3
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:11 1st and 10 SYR 24 Run Hunt End R 12 Yard Gain
13:56 1st and 10 SYR 36 Pass Hunt Screen L Incomplete
13:53 2nd and 10 SYR 36 PENALTY (ILL. FORM.) N/A N/A 5 Yard Loss
13:30 2nd and 15 SYR 31 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Dive 10 Yard Gain
12:47 3rd and 5 SYR 41 Pass Hunt Mid-Range M Incomplete
DRIVE 4
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
10:59 1st and 10 SYR 18 Run Smith Counter R 4 Yard Gain
10:29 2nd and 6 SYR 22 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 4 Yard Gain
9:57 3rd and 2 SYR 26 Run Morris Off-Tackle R 7 Yard Gain
9:40 1st and 10 SYR 33 Run Morris Counter L 23 Yard Gain
9:19 1st and 10 MD 44 Run Morris Off-Tackle R 12 Yard Gain
8:56 1st and 10 MD 32 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 4 Yard Loss; Fumble
DRIVE 5
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:07 1st and 10 SYR 20 Pass Cleveland Mid-Range R 19 Yard Gain
5:47 1st and 10 SYR 39 PENALTY (Clipping) MacPherson N/A 15 Yard Loss
5:29 1st and 23 SYR 26 Pass Hunt Deep R 34 Yard Gain
5:12 2nd and 23 MD 41 Pass Hunt Mid-Range M Interception
DRIVE 6
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:07 1st and 10 SYR 28 Run Smith Dive 2 Yard Gain
1:48 2nd and 8 SYR 30 Pass Parris Screen L 2 Yard Gain
1:41 3rd and 6 SYR 32 Pass Hunt Mid-Range M Incomplete
DRIVE 7
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:07 1st and 10 MD 38 Run Smith End R 9 Yard Gain
0:39 2nd and 1 MD 29 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
0:27 1st and 10 MD 26 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 7 Yard Gain
0:20 2nd and 3 MD 19 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 2 Yard Gain
0:08 3rd and 1 MD 17 Ball Spike Hunt N/A Stops Clock
0:07 4th and 1 MD 17 Field Goal Norton N/A FG is Good

Play-Call Breakdown: 13 runs, 8 passes

Again, McDonald exhibits a better understanding of personnel hear in the second quarter, especially after he spent the first already battering Maryland front seven. The team actually moves the ball incredibly well for the majority of this quarter, but the turnovers are absolute killers. On drive four, the team averaged 10 yards per carry on the first five plays (again, all runs) before a fumble derailed them. On the fifth drive of the game, the early emphasis on the run allowed Hunt to throw the ball a ton (and well), until an ill-advised ball thrown at Ahston Broyld turned into a pick. This is how this team should be starting every game.

***

Third Quarter

DRIVE 8
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:35 1st and 10 MD 40 Run Smith Dive 11 Yard Gain
12:17 1st and 10 MD 29 Pass Broyld Screen R 11 Yard Gain
11:56 1st and 10 MD 18 Run Morris Dive 2 Yard Gain
11:26 2nd and 8 MD 16 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 4 Yard Gain
10:49 3rd and 4 MD 12 Run Smith Dive 0 Yard Gain
10:07 4th and 4 MD 12 Field Goal Norton N/A FG is Good
DRIVE 9
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:21 1st and 10 SYR 32 Pass Broyld Screen L 7 Yard Loss
6:45 2nd and 17 SYR 25 Run Morris End R 2 Yard Gain
6:09 3rd and 15 SYR 27 Pass Smith Screen R 2 Yard Gain
DRIVE 10
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:10 1st and 10 SYR 35 Run Morris End L 2 Yard Gain
0:41 2nd and 8 SYR 37 Pass West Short L 5 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 6 runs, 4 passes

Continuing to be set up well by the Orange defense, SU doesn't have to run a ton of plays on the other side of the ball. When Maryland has its own very long, penalty-assisted drive to a field goal too, that obviously helps the very skewed time of possession from being tar far in Syracuse's favor in the third. As you also might have noticed, the bubble screens aren't nearly effective as they were at the game's onset, since nearly every single pass Hunt throws is of that variety.

***

Fourth Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 3rd and 3 SYR 42 Run Smith Dive 2 Yard Gain
DRIVE 11
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:38 1st and 10 SYR 43 Run Hunt Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
12:07 2nd and 8 SYR 45 Pass Estime Screen L 3 Yard Gain
11:34 3rd and 5 SYR 48 Run Hunt Dive 29 Yard Gain
11:10 1st and 10 MD 23 Run Morris End L 2 Yard Gain
10:39 2nd and 8 MD 21 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 21 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 12
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:51 1st and 10 SYR 39 Run Smith Dive 1 Yard Gain
8:07 2nd and 9 SYR 40 Pass Hunt Short R Incomplete
8:02 3rd and 9 SYR 40 Pass Hunt Mid-Range R Incomplete
DRIVE 13
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:54 1st and 10 SYR 43 Pass Hunt Mid-Range M Incomplete
5:49 2nd and 10 SYR 43 Run Smith Dive 4 Yard Gain
5:06 3rd and 6 SYR 47 Run Hunt Off-Tackle L 4 Yard Gain
DRIVE 14
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:58 1st and 10 MD 46 Run Smith Dive 2 Yard Gain
1:13 2nd and 8 MD 44 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 12 Yard Gain
0:35 1st and 10 MD 32 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 1 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 runs, 4 passes

Play-calling looks like it makes sense at first, but then you direct your attention to the three straight plays when George McDonald lost his mind and ordered up passes. Dangerous passes. That stopped the clock, were almost intercepted, and overall, made no sense for a team up 20-3 late in a game. Beyond that, running Smith and Hunt's exactly what we've been doing when leading late. I (like you) would just prefer we don't throw passes when it's unnecessary.

***

Some trends/numbers to note:

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 44 runs v. 24 passes
  • First half play-calling: 27 runs, 16 passes (22 first-half passes last week)
  • First downs: 18 total (12 rushing, 6 passing) <-- more smart changes!
  • First down play selection: 22 called runs, 7 called passes
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 13 called runs, 3 called passes
  • Three different Syracuse drives started in Maryland territory
  • Second down play selection: 12 called runs, 9 called passes (still this...)
  • Third down play selection: 9 called passes, 5 called runs
  • Third down conversion: 3-for-14 (2 runs, 1 passes)
  • The Orange ran 14 plays that resulted in gains of 10 yards or more (six gained 20 ore more yards)

This was the first game we've really seen McDonald and the Syracuse offense completely buy into the run-first philosophy -- most notably in the first half and on first down. As we've all been harping on for weeks, successful runs allowed for opportunities in the passing game and even opened up some downfield throwing opportunities. Bubble screens were effective when used sparingly, so as you might have noticed, Maryland's defense began sniffing them out earlier as the game wore on.

Like every game of ACC play but one (Georgia Tech), Syracuse incorporated what seemed like a trick play into the fold -- the throw to Sean Hickey inside the Maryland five-yard line. I'm all for surprises, though not sure throwing to inexperienced ball-carriers is the way to go. Still, everyone (myself included) seems to notice more variance in play-calling over the past two weeks as McDonald does appear increasingly comfortable with this team's capabilities. A few slightly concerning notes, though:

  • I know we're Prince-Tyson Gulley was injured early, but we leaned very heavily on Smith in this one (28 carries, after having no more than 19 in any other contest). Might want to incorporate everybody when possible (and it was here).
  • That series of fourth-quarter passes that became increasingly terrifying... let's never do that again.
  • (less concerning) Play-action! Let's do more of this! We've been saying so since Hunt took over. He's getting more deliberate with his mechanics, but still, just two instances that I counted on Saturday. More, please.

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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