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

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

How could I watch this game again after all that? Glad you asked...

Just when I thought I'd gotten over how excruciating this Pittsburgh game was the first time around, I watch it again and get angry all over again. There were some positive developments (we'll get there), but for the most part, everything was wiped away by a few questionable decisions later on in the game. We're all quick to point fingers at George McDonald (rightfully so), but it's also a team effort. According to the game announcers, McDonald and Terrel Hunt meet every Thursday to decide the first 12 plays. So successful starts, just as well as negative ones, should fall on the coach, the quarterback and the rest of the team, too, in terms of execution.

There's little point to comparing this game to the previous one against Florida State, but if that's something you'd like to do, here's a link.

First Quarter

DRIVE 1
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:19 1st and 10 SYR 33 Run Smith Dive 1 Yard Gain
12:48 2nd and 9 SYR 34 Run Morris Off-Tackle L 22 Yard Gain
12:31 1st and 10 PITT 44 Run Hunt Dive 8 Yard Gain
12:14 2nd and 2 PITT 36 Run Smith Dive 36 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 2
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
10:38 1st and 10 SYR 20 Run McFarlane End L 5 Yard Gain
10:08 2nd and 5 SYR 25 Run McFarlane Counter R 1 Yard Gain
9:41 3rd and 4 SYR 26 Pass Wales Middle R 11 Yard Gain
9:21 1st and 10 SYR 37 Pass Broyld Screen L 2 Yard Loss
8:44 2nd and 12 SYR 35 Run Smith End L 2 Yard Gain
8:21 3rd and 10 SYR 37 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Dive 3 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 7 runs, 3 passes

Due to a quick initial touchdown drive and Pitt's miserable, plodding offense, Syracuse only runs 10 plays in the first quarter. Things were going swimmingly running the ball until Sean Hickey was injured, and then that's when Aaron Donald happened. Without Hickey there, Donald got through the line almost immediately, shutting down our very effective interior run game. You know where this is eventually headed...

***

Second Quarter

DRIVE 3
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:18 1st and 10 SYR 15 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 1 Yard Gain
12:47 2nd and 9 SYR 16 Pass Hunt Short R Incomplete
12:42 3rd and 9 SYR 16 Pass Hunt Middle L Incomplete
DRIVE 4
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
10:13 1st and 10 SYR 6 Run Smith Dive 4 Yard Gain
9:53 2nd and 6 SYR 10 Run Smith Dive 2 Yard Gain
9:23 3rd and 4 SYR 12 Pass Clark Short R 6 Yard Gain
9:11 1st and 10 SYR 18 Pass Broyld Screen L 11 Yard Gain
8:57 1st and 10 SYR 29 Run Hunt Dive 4 Yard Gain
8:30 2nd and 6 SYR 34 Run Morris Off-Tackle L 5 Yard Gain
7:58 3rd and 1 SYR 39 Pass Hunt Short M Incomplete
DRIVE 5
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:00 1st and 10 SYR 14 Run McFarlane Dive 2 Yard Gain
2:27 2nd and 8 SYR 16 Pass Clark Screen R 19 Yard Gain
2:17 2nd and 8 SYR 35 PENALTY (Holding) Cornelius N/A 10 Yard Loss
2:03 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt End R 11 Yard Gain
1:56 1st and 10 SYR 36 Run Smith End R 5 Yard Gain
1:34 2nd and 5 SYR 41 Pass Broyld Screen L 3 Yard Loss
0:54 3rd and 8 SYR 38 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Dive 0 Yard Gain
DRIVE 6
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:35 1st and 10 PITT 24 Pass Hunt Deep L Incomplete
0:29 2nd and 10 PITT 24 Run Hunt End L 0 Yard Gain
0:21 3rd and 10 PITT 24 Pass Hunt Deep L Incomplete
0:14 4th and 10 PITT 24 Field Goal Norton N/A FG is Good

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 passes, 8 runs

The play-calling switch is apparent here in the second quarter, and while I'd love to complain about the pass-to-run ratio (still not ideal), it's understandable given the circumstances. What makes less sense is the vendetta every ACC referee seems to have against the Orange when it comes to pass interference. It's not captured in the grid above, but we saw the first of many Hunt throws that would have been delivered accurately if not for some illegal -- yet uncalled -- contact.

***

Third Quarter

DRIVE 7
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:47 1st and 10 SYR 30 Run Smith End L 3 Yard Loss
14:27 2nd and 13 SYR 27 Pass Cornelius Middle L 11 Yard Gain
13:50 3rd and 2 SYR 38 Run Smith Dive 3 Yard Gain
13:24 1st and 10 SYR 41 Run Morris Dive 0 Yard Gain
12:58 2nd and 10 SYR 41 Run Morris Off-Tackle L 0 Yard Gain
12:17 3rd and 10 SYR 41 Pass (Sack) Hunt N/A 2 Yard Loss
DRIVE 8
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:32 1st and 10 SYR 38 Pass Wales Middle R 10 Yard Gain
8:12 1st and 10 SYR 48 Run Smith Dive 15 Yard Gain
7:48 1st and 10 PITT 37 Run (Fumbled Snap) Hunt N/A 11 Yard Loss
7:11 2nd and 21 PITT 48 Run McFarlane Off-Tackle R 6 Yard Gain
6:32 3rd and 15 PITT 42 Pass Cornelius Deep R 42 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 9
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:52 1st and 10 SYR 32 Pass Cleveland Short R 2 Yard Gain
4:24 2nd and 8 SYR 34 Run Smith Counter L 1 Yard Loss
3:41 3rd and 9 SYR 33 Pass Broyld Screen R 4 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 8 runs, 6 passes

This is where some of questionable play-calling starts to creep in, as well as what might have been the best pass we've seen Hunt throw as a collegiate player. Immediately identifying the man coverage on Cornelius on the 42-yard score was a sign of real maturity for our quarterback, and a sign that maybe he can develop into a true passer over time. Unfortunately, the running game looked to be in shambles by this point, though. We were running Smith outside and Morris and McFarlane inside, while also stalling out near mid-field again -- especially on drive 7.

***

Fourth Quarter

DRIVE 10
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:53 1st and 10 SYR 7 Run Morris Off-Tackle L 6 Yard Gain
14:24 2nd and 4 SYR 13 Run Smith End R 12 Yard Gain
14:06 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Clark Screen L 5 Yard Gain
13:34 2nd and 5 SYR 30 PENALTY (False Start) Parris N/A 5 Yard Loss
13:19 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Run Smith Dive 5 Yard Gain
12:36 3rd and 5 SYR 30 Pass Hunt Middle R Incomplete
DRIVE 11
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:18 1st and 10 SYR 49 Flea Flicker; Pass Hunt Deep M Incomplete
12:12 2nd and 10 SYR 49 Run McFarlane Dive 6 Yard Gain
11:45 3rd and 4 PITT 45 Run Smith Counter L 4 Yard Gain
11:16 1st and 10 PITT 41 Run McFarlane Dive 2 Yard Loss
10:37 2nd and 12 PITT 43 PENALTY (Illegal Hands) Donald N/A 15 Yard Gain
10:29 1st and 10 PITT 28 Pass McFarlane Short M 0 Yard Gain
9:50 2nd and 10 PITT 28 Run Smith End R 1 Yard Loss
9:30 3rd and 11 PITT 29 Pass Broyld Screen L 5 Yard Gain
8:44 4th and 6 PITT 24 Field Goal Norton N/A FG is No Good
DRIVE 12
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:04 1st and 10 SYR 38 Run Smith End R 1 Yard Gain
6:28 2nd and 9 SYR 39 Pass Wales Middle R 12 Yard Gain
6:07 1st and 10 PITT 49 Option; Run Broyld End L 1 Yard Loss
5:33 2nd and 11 50 Yard Line Run Morris Dive 0 Yard Gain
4:50 3rd and 11 50 Yard Line Pass Hunt Sideline R Incomplete
DRIVE 13
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:36 1st and 10 SYR 44 Run Morris End L 3 Yard Loss
2:10 2nd and 13 SYR 41 PENALTY (Sub. Infrac.) N/A N/A 5 Yard Gain
2:03 2nd and 8 SYR 46 PENALTY (Holding) Trudo N/A 10 Yard Loss
1:38 2nd and 18 SYR 36 Pass Broyld Screen R 10 Yard Gain
1:32 3rd and 8 SYR 46 Pass Clark Middle R 16 Yard Gain
1:17 1st and 10 PITT 38 Run Smith End R 2 Yard Gain
1:12 2nd and 8 PITT 36 Pass McFarlane Screen R 0 Yard Gain
1:08 3rd and 8 PITT 36 Pass Hunt Short R Incomplete
1:03 4th and 8 PITT 36 Pass Hunt Middle R Incomplete

Play-Call Breakdown: 12 runs, 12 passes

A couple things: Trudo's holding call was a killer. Clark was interfered with multiple times on the drive, and once again, nothing was called. If the running around the end wasn't aggravating enough, you look directly above us and remember what those final few plays looked like in all their horrifying ineptitude. Paul Chryst timeout and Charley Loeb's ill-advised decision to follow through with the fake aside, calling screens and end runs late in the fourth with zero timeouts makes no sense. The last play of the game -- a three-yard slant on 4th and 8 -- sends me into fits of rage.

***

Some trends/numbers to note:

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 35 runs v. 32 passes
  • First half play-calling: 15 runs, 14 passes (16 first-half runs last week)
  • First downs: 14 total (8 passing, 5 rushing, 1 penalty)
  • First down play selection: 18 called runs, 9 called passes (22:8 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 9 called runs, 5 called passes (13:4 last week)
  • Second down play selection: 15 called runs, 7 called passes
  • Third down play selection: 15 called passes, 2 called runs (really?!)
  • Third down conversion: 5-for-17 (3 passes, 2 runs)
  • Five Syracuse drives began past its own 35, yet they came away with zero points on three of those
  • Just two three-and-outs for the Orange
  • SU had at least one play go for a loss on eight different drives (six in the second half)

We've bounced around a bunch of thoughts up above, but we'll focus on a few (some related, some not) down here. Syracuse only converts on 34.83 percent of third downs, which puts them at 100th in the country. Also, as I mentioned in the comments following the game, the Orange are the eighth-most penalized team in the country, with 7.7 per game. So yes, Scott Shafer, these do matter. Speaking of penalties, I'd list out every pass interference call that we haven't gotten over the past five games or so, but I value my sanity.

Just to hammer home just how horrendous the play-calling was on that final drive: Six consecutive plays run to the short side of the field (and a fake that also would've gone the same way had it counted). With no timeouts and 1:17 left, McDonald dialed up an end run with our best interior back from the Pitt 38. After that failed play, we then threw a two-yard screen pass. Regaining possession with 2:36 remaining, SU ran just one offensive play in their first minute with the ball. Oh, and holy shit, why are you calling for/looking for/even considering a three-yard slant on 4th and 8?

Because this is always "fun," the yardage breakdown for interior v. end runs this game: Syracuse ran the ball (includes Hunt scrambles) to the interior part of the line 24 times for 127 yards (5.3 yards per carry). On the flip side, they ran it to the outside 12 times for 30 yards (2.5 yards per carry). Most maddening part of this is that the final five runs around the end (all in the fourth quarter) yielded minus-2 yards. WHY ARE WE DOING THIS SO MUCH/AT ALL? You'd think McDonald was paid to call plays or something.

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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