Syracuse Football: Breaking Down Offensive Play-Calling vs. Boston College

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

After traveling back from the East Coast, I finally got to re-watch this beauty of a game. And boy was it enjoyable the second time around...

Everything was on the line in this one -- bowl eligibility, the BC rivalry (whether you want to buy in or not), proving the critics wrong... it would make sense that this Syracuse team could've collapsed under pressure. But it didn't, and instead pulled out this team's gutsiest performance of the season, and the Orange's most memorable late-game heroics since lat year's victory over Missouri (another game that clinched bowl eligibility). So much went right here, it's fun to recap it all, so let's get to it.

Also, in case you'd like to take a look at the Pitt game for comparison (maybe for the best you don't), feel free.

First Quarter

DRIVE 1
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Smith Short R 5 Yard Gain
14:30 2nd and 5 SYR 30 Pass Broyld Screen L 2 Yard Gain
14:02 3rd and 3 SYR 32 Run Hunt Dive 16 Yard Gain
13:36 1st and 10 SYR 48 Pass Parris Short L 5 Yard Gain
13:15 2nd and 5 BC 47 Pass Hunt Mid-Range L Incomplete
13:02 3rd and 5 BC 47 Pass Hunt Mid-Range M Incomplete
12:56 4th and 5 BC 47 PENALTY (Delay) Dixon N/A 5 Yard Loss
DRIVE 2
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:41 1st and 10 SYR 47 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 1 Yard Gain
11:10 2nd and 9 SYR 48 Pass Cornelius Deep R 31 Yard Gain
10:51 1st and 10 BC 21 Run Smith Counter R 9 Yard Gain
10:22 2nd and 1 BC 12 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 0 Yard Gain
9:44 3rd and 1 BC 12 Run Smith Dive 1 Yard Gain
9:27 1st and 10 BC 11 Pass (sack) Hunt N/A 2 Yard Loss
8:49 2nd and 12 BC 13 Pass Hunt Deep R Incomplete
8:44 3rd and 12 BC 13 Pass Hunt Deep R Incomplete
8:39 4th and 12 BC 13 Field Goal Norton N/A FG is No Good
DRIVE 3
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:28 1st and 10 SYR 45 Run McFarlane Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
6:58 2nd and 8 SYR 47 Pass Estime Deep M 32 Yard Gain
6:38 1st and 10 BC 21 Pass Broyld Screen L 7 Yard Gain
6:05 2nd and 3 BC 14 Run Smith Dive 6 Yard Gain
5:32 1st and Goal BC 8 Pass Estime Screen R 3 Yard Gain
5:05 2nd and Goal BC 5 Pass Hunt Mid-Range M Incomplete
4:59 3rd and Goal BC 5 Run Hunt Dive 3 Yard Gain
4:16 4th and Goal BC 2 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Loss
DRIVE 4
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:57 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Broyld Screen R 7 Yard Gain
1:39 2nd and 3 SYR 32 Run Hunt Off-Tackle R 12 Yard Gain
1:15 1st and 10 SYR 44 Pass Hunt Mid-Range M Incomplete
1:11 2nd and 10 SYR 44 Run Hunt Dive 8 Yard Gain
0:36 3rd and 2 BC 48 Run Hunt Off-Tackle R 7 Yard Gain
0:22 1st and 10 BC 41 Run Hunt Off-Tackle L 6 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 15 passes, 13 runs

The good: 28 PLAYS! Also, 18 of them were in BC territory, which is fantastic. The bad: 0 points. That's not entirely the offense's fault, either. At the time, the Eagles' defense was really hunkering down in the red zone, but when you're inside the opponent's 20-yard line twice in one quarter, you better come away with something (especially if you fail to turn the ball over, too). This quarter was completely controlled by Hunt, though, and that's a great thing both for his confidence this game and going into next season.

***

Second Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 2nd and 4 BC 35 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Dive 8 Yard Gain
14:32 1st and 10 BC 27 Pass Parris Short L 7 Yard Gain
14:00 2nd and 3 BC 20 Run Smith End L 2 Yard Gain
13:15 3rd and 1 BC 18 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 2 Yard Gain
12:52 1st and 10 BC 16 Pass Hunt Mid-Range M Incomplete
12:47 2nd and 10 BC 16 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Off-Tackle L 8 Yard Gain
12:04 3rd and 2 BC 8 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 2 Yard Gain
11:30 1st and Goal BC 6 Run Morris Off-Tackle L 5 Yard Gain
10:54 2nd and Goal BC 1 Pass Parris Short R 1 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 5
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:35 1st and 10 50 Yard Line Pass Hunt Short L Incomplete
9:31 2nd and 10 50 Yard Line Pass Broyld Mid-Range M 19 Yard Gain
9:14 1st and 10 BC 31 Run Morris Off-Tackle L 7 Yard Gain
8:44 2nd and 3 BC 24 Pass Parris Short M 2 Yard Gain
8:09 3rd and 1 BC 22 Run Morris Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
7:50 1st and 10 BC 19 Run Morris Dive 6 Yard Gain
7:22 2nd and 4 BC 13 Run Morris Off-Tackle L 3 Yard Gain
6:36 3rd and 1 BC 10 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 1 Yard Gain
6:31 3rd and 1 BC 10 PENALTY (Personal Foul) BC N/A 5 Yard Gain
6:15 1st and Goal BC 4 Run Morris Dive 4 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 6
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:06 1st and 10 50 Yard Line Pass Kobena Mid-Range M 17 Yard Gain
4:45 1st and 10 BC 33 Run Morris End R 1 Yard Loss
4:08 2nd and 11 BC 34 Run Smith Dive 1 Yard Gain
3:31 3rd and 10 BC 33 Pass Eskridge Deep R 19 Yard Gain
2:58 1st and 10 BC 14 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 0 Yard Gain
2:24 2nd and 10 BC 14 Pass Broyld Short M 6 Yard Gain
1:49 3rd and 4 BC 8 Run Hunt Dive 6 Yard Gain
1:36 1st and Goal BC 2 Run McFarlane Dive 1 Yard Gain
1:16 2nd and Goal BC 1 Run Hunt Dive 1 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 7
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:34 1st and 10 SYR 18 Pass Cornelius Mid-Range L 8 Yard Gain
0:08 2nd and 2 SYR 26 Pass (Sack) Hunt N/A 10 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 16 runs, 13 passes

We ran 29 (!!!) plays in this quarter, many of which were designed runs by Terrel Hunt, which the Eagles' defense just continually let happen. As we'll notice later, this will open up the passing game a whole lot, as BC tries to keep containment on Hunt scrambling. Unlike the first quarter, the drives into BC territory all result in touchdowns. Oh, and all but four plays were on the Eagles' side of the field -- all but two if you want to count the 50-yard line as their territory. The fact that this offense could do this without several notable playmakers (Jarrod West, Prince-Tyson Gulley, Beckett Wales) is enormous and once again, should get you very excited for next season.

***

Third Quarter

DRIVE 8
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:56 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 16 Yard Gain
9:31 1st and 10 SYR 41 Run Morris End R 9 Yard Gain
9:06 2nd and 1 50 Yard Line Pass Cornelius Screen R 1 Yard Gain
8:50 1st and 10 BC 49 Run Hunt Off-Tackle R 6 Yard Gain
8:25 2nd and 4 BC 43 Run Smith End L 4 Yard Loss
7:43 3rd and 8 BC 47 Run McFarlane End R 12 Yard Gain
7:27 1st and 10 BC 35 PENALTY (Illegal Sub.) BC N/A 5 Yard Gain
6:55 1st and 5 BC 30 PENALTY (False Start) Lasker N/A 5 Yard Loss
6:48 1st and 10 BC 35 Pass Hunt Screen L Incomplete
6:42 2nd and 10 BC 35 Pass Parris Short L 9 Yard Gain
6:20 3rd and 1 BC 26 Run Hunt Off-Tackle L 2 Yard Gain
6:00 1st and 10 BC 24 Pass Cornelius Screen L 3 Yard Gain
5:34 2nd and 7 BC 21 Pass Clark Screen R 2 Yard Gain
5:28 2nd and 7 BC 21 PENALTY (Holding) Broyld N/A 10 Yard Loss
5:13 2nd and 15 BC 29 Run McFarlane Dive 4 Yard Gain
4:33 3rd and 11 BC 25 Run McFarlane End L 0 Yard Gain
3:51 4th and 11 BC 25 Field Goal Norton N/A FG is Good

Play-Call Breakdown: 8 runs, 5 passes

Just one drive in the third, but SU managed to get points out of it since Ryan Norton finally discovered some kicking range. Rather than picking up large chunks of yardage through the passing game here, the Orange are moving the ball incredibly well on the ground. Diverting away from the standard bubble screen play-calling, Hunt also found receivers on short routes beyond the line -- a positive change. Alvin Cornelius also appears to be his new favorite target as defenses key in on Ashton Broyld more.

***

Fourth Quarter

DRIVE 9
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 20 Pass Hunt Deep R Incomplete
14:56 2nd and 10 SYR 20 Run Smith Dive 5 Yard Gain
14:27 3rd and 5 SYR 25 Pass Broyld Short L 6 Yard Gain
14:12 1st and 10 SYR 31 Run Morris Dive 2 Yard Gain
13:38 2nd and 8 SYR 33 Run Hunt Dive 2 Yard Gain
12:57 3rd and 6 SYR 35 Pass Clark Mid-Range M 5 Yard Gain
DRIVE 10
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:45 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Hunt Tipped 16 Yard Loss
7:12 2nd and 26 SYR 9 Pass Funderburk Deep R 28 Yard Gain
7:00 1st and 10 SYR 37 Run McFarlane Dive 15 Yard Gain
6:38 1st and 10 BC 48 Run Smith End R 3 Yard Gain
6:08 2nd and 7 BC 45 Pass Cornelius Deep L 17 Yard Gain
5:43 1st and 10 BC 28 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 2 Yard Gain
5:20 2nd and 8 BC 26 Pass Hunt Deep R Incomplete
5:11 3rd and 8 BC 26 Pass Hunt Deep L Incomplete
5:07 4th and 8 BC 26 Field Goal Norton N/A FG is Good
DRIVE 11
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:24 1st and 10 SYR 37 Run Smith Dive 1 Yard Gain
2:59 2nd and 9 SYR 38 Pass Hunt Mid-Range M Interception
DRIVE 12
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:08 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Parris Mid-Range L 15 Yard Gain
1:52 1st and 10 SYR 40 Pass Cornelius Short L 7 Yard Gain
1:29 2nd and 3 SYR 47 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt End L 8 Yard Gain
1:09 1st and 10 BC 45 PENALTY (Pass. Int.) Jones Mid-Range L 12 Yard Gain
1:03 1st and 10 BC 33 Run (fumble, recovered) Hunt Off-Tackle L 8 Yard Gain
0:42 2nd and 2 BC 25 Run Hunt Dive 3 Yard Gain
0:22 1st and 10 BC 22 Pass Hunt Sideline R Incomplete
0:17 2nd and 10 BC 22 Pass Cornelius Mid-Range L 14 Yard Gain
0:12 1st and Goal BC 8 Pass Parris Short L 8 Yard Gain; TD

Play-Call Breakdown: 15 passes, 9 runs

This quarter is agony and ecstasy all rolled up into a ball. For much of the final 15 minutes, Boston College's defense finally starts getting some containment and slows down Syracuse's attack, and of course, we can't forget how back-breaking Hunt's late interception appeared when it occurred. But the final drive was something else entirely. Not even relying on his legs much, Hunt stood and delivered pass after pass to his receivers and drove this team 75 yards in two minutes (with no timeouts, mind you). Those final two plays were executed about as well as they could've been, and George McDonald's final play-call was absolutely perfect.

***

Some trends/numbers to note:

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 48 passes v. 46 runs
  • First half play-calling: 29 runs, 28 passes (15 first-half runs last week)
  • First downs: 29 total (16 running, 11 passing, 2 penalty)
  • First down play selection: 20 called runs, 20 called passes (18:9 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 16 called runs, 12 called passes (9:5 last week)
  • Second down play selection: 22 called passes, 13 called runs
  • Third down play selection: 10 called runs, 6 called passes (thank you, third and shorts!)
  • Third down conversion: 12-for-18 (9 runs, 2 passes, 1 penalty)
  • 68 of Syracuse's 94 plays took place at the 50-yard line or in BC territory. Wow.
  • SU ran just four plays inside its own 20-yard line
  • The Orange punted just three times, with zero three-and-outs

As you've likely noticed above, this was a perfect storm for Syracuse -- the defense and special teams set the offense up to succeed over and over again, and the offense delivered more often than not. The percentage of plays in BC territory is astounding for any team, but especially this one, as is the total number of plays run from scrimmage.

There's a lot to compliment here, but first off, fantastic job by George McDonald utilizing personnel extremely well despite being short-handed due to injury. We had very few runs around the end, and when it was drawn up that way, we used George Morris and Devante McFarlane for the most part, rather than Jerome Smith (smart!). Hunt's ability to see the field throughout the contest also kept the defense on edge and opened up the passing game quite a bit (imagine that). We saw some play-action here and there, but even more impressive was how well the fake-handoff/QB runs went.

More on Hunt: His progression as a passer is a phenomenal sign for his and this team's future. In the last two weeks, we've also watched him throw the best passes of his career thus far. Except against BC, they connected, and added a whole new wrinkle to this attack. Teams have not had to fear the long-ball much with Hunt, but mixed with the constant threat of him running, receivers were regularly in single-coverage down the field. Most impressively, compare Hunt's deep throws from early in the year (almost out of bounds) to now (a good yard or so or inside, giving the receiver plenty of room to make the catch). I don't think this is a fluke, and you shouldn't either. We'll see for sure in the bowl game, hopefully.

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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