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

Holidays and such prevented this one from going up early. Oh well, WE WON THE EFFING GAME!!!

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

We'll touch on it more below, but George McDonald certainly stayed the course in this one, replicating many of the same things we started to see work against Pitt and then work to perfection against Boston College. Sure, it took most of the season for Syracuse to finally figure out an offensive identity. But we did when it mattered most. And for that, I'm very thankful.

Curious to see how this compares to the BC game? Go check that out here as well.

First Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:25 1st and 10 SYR 12 Pass Smith Screen L 18 Yard Gain
13:10 1st and 10 SYR 30 Pass Clark Screen L 5 Yard Gain
12:54 2nd and 5 SYR 35 Run Hunt Off-Tackle L 4 Yard Gain
12:15 3rd and 1 SYR 39 PENALTY (False Start) Parris N/A 5 Yard Loss
11:57 3rd and 6 SYR 34 Pass Clark Mid-Range R 11 Yard Gain
11:41 1st and 10 SYR 45 Pass (fumble, recovered) Broyld Screen L 10 Yard Loss
11:15 1st and 10 MIN 45 Run Smith Counter L 4 Yard Gain
10:50 2nd and 6 MIN 41 Run (fumble, lost) Estime Reverse L 9 Yard Gain; Turnover
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:12 1st and 10 SYR 49 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
7:48 2nd and 8 MIN 49 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Dive 0 Yard Gain
7:18 3rd and 8 MIN 49 Pass Broyld Deep R 22 Yard Gain
7:07 1st and 10 MIN 27 Run Smith Dive 2 Yard Gain
6:34 2nd and 8 MIN 25 Pass Hunt Deep L Incomplete
6:26 3rd and 8 MIN 25 Pass West Screen L 1 Yard Gain
5:49 4th and 7 MIN 24 Fake FG; Run Loeb End L 5 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 8 passes, 6 runs

Syracuse was able to move the ball extremely well early, with a nice mix of run and pass. Issues arose, however, when it came to executing in Minnesota territory. Between the early fumbles from Ashton Broyld and then Brisly Estime, to the sudden wall the offense hit on the second drive, SU had an aggravating zero points after one. But we saw what worked, and for that, the first quarter was much better than most other scoreless starts to games for the Orange.


Second Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:49 1st and 10 SYR 20 PENALTY (Def. Offsides) Amaefula N/A 5 Yard Gain
14:30 1st and 5 SYR 25 Run Gulley Off-Tackle L 4 Yard Gain
13:59 2nd and 1 SYR 29 Run Hunt Off-Tackle L 6 Yard Gain
13:37 1st and 10 SYR 35 Run Smith Dive 9 Yard Gain
13:14 2nd and 1 SYR 44 Pass Estime Screen R 8 Yard Gain
12:44 1st and 10 MIN 48 Run Hunt Dive 6 Yard Gain
12:17 2nd and 4 MIN 42 Run Smith Counter L 6 Yard Gain
11:50 1st and 10 MIN 36 Run Hunt Dive 1 Yard Gain
11:17 2nd and 9 MIN 35 Pass Clark Sideline R 20 Yard Gain
11:04 1st and 10 MIN 15 Pass Broyld Screen L 4 Yard Gain
10:31 2nd and 6 MIN 11 Run Hunt Off-Tackle R 10 Yard Gain
10:10 1st and Goal MIN 1 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 1 Yard Gain; TD
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:39 1st and 10 SYR 4 Run Smith Dive 3 Yard Gain
6:04 2nd and 7 SYR 7 Pass Hunt Mid-Range R Incomplete
5:57 3rd and 7 SYR 7 Pass West Mid-Range R 8 Yard Gain
5:44 1st and 10 SYR 15 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 2 Yard Loss
5:22 2nd and 12 SYR 13 Pass Hunt Deep R Incomplete
5:16 3rd and 12 SYR 13 Run Hunt End R 3 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 runs, 6 passes

And here's exactly what I was talking about after the first quarter. Despite being pinned back at their own 20, Syracuse uses a nice mix of screens and runs to move down the field and also set up that big 20-yard gain to Christopher Clark (who will be missed more than we might realize next year). As the announcers pointed out during the game, the Orange were able to pick up big chunks of yardage on the drive and looked great doing it. Unfortunately, they couldn't replicate it on drive No. 4, as some of Terrel Hunt's deep ball troubles crept back into view.


Third Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:54 1st and 10 SYR 21 Run Smith Dive 1 Yard Gain
14:26 2nd and 9 SYR 22 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 9 Yard Gain
14:10 1st and 10 SYR 31 Pass Estime Screen R 5 Yard Gain
13:34 2nd and 5 SYR 36 Pass Hunt Mid-Range M Incomplete
13:29 3rd and 5 SYR 36 Pass West Sideline L 25 Yard Gain
13:20 1st and 10 MIN 39 Run Hunt End L 2 Yard Gain
12:52 2nd and 8 MIN 37 Run McFarlane End R 3 Yard Loss
12:09 3rd and 11 MIN 40 Pass Hunt Mid-Range R Incomplete
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:46 1st and 10 SYR 14 Pass West Screen R 0 Yard Gain
8:21 2nd and 10 SYR 14 Run Smith Off-Tackle L 19 Yard Gain
7:58 1st and 10 SYR 33 Pass West Screen L 4 Yard Gain
7:36 2nd and 6 SYR 37 Pass Broyld Screen R 5 Yard Gain
7:09 3rd and 1 SYR 42 Run Hunt Dive 3 Yard Gain
6:49 1st and 10 SYR 45 Run Morris Off-Tackle R 17 Yard Gain
6:30 1st and 10 MIN 38 Run Morris Dive 4 Yard Gain
6:01 2nd and 6 MIN 34 Pass Estime Screen L 6 Yard Gain
5:39 1st and 10 MIN 28 Run Morris End L 1 Yard Loss
5:12 2nd and 11 MIN 29 Run Morris Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
4:43 3rd and 9 MIN 26 Pass Hunt Deep L Incomplete
4:37 4th and 8 MIN 26 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Dive 9 Yard Gain
4:10 1st and 10 MIN 17 Run Smith End R 6 Yard Gain
3:29 2nd and 4 MIN 11 Run Smith End L 6 Yard Gain
3:02 1st and Goal MIN 5 Run Hunt Dive 5 Yard Gain; TD

Play-Call Breakdown: 13 runs, 10 passes

A lot of great things at play in the third quarter: using the run to set up the pass (amazing we weren't doing this for the first 10 games of the year), Hunt's mobility keeping defenses honest and running the ball inside for the most part. Hunt's deep ball has gotten better and will continue to improve as his career progresses, but the only way it works is by using other elements of this offense to set it up. It does hurt a bit to see him miss on throws in single coverage. But I'm much happier with it if it gives him the space to reel off a nine-yard run on the very next play.


Fourth Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:48 1st and 10 SYR 28 Pass Gulley Screen L 8 Yard Gain
14:33 2nd and 2 SYR 36 PENALTY (False Start) Hickey N/A 5 Yard Loss
14:20 2nd and 7 SYR 31 Pass Hunt Tipped Incomplete
14:16 3rd and 7 SYR 31 Pass Hunt Sideline R Incomplete
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:28 1st and 10 SYR 28 Run Smith Dive 6 Yard Gain
12:05 2nd and 4 SYR 34 Run Hunt End R 22 Yard Gain
11:43 1st and 10 MIN 44 Run Morris Off-Tackle R 4 Yard Gain
11:13 2nd and 6 MIN 40 Run Hunt Off-Tackle R 6 Yard Gain
10:53 1st and 10 MIN 34 Run Morris Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
10:18 2nd and 7 MIN 31 Pass Estime Screen L 7 Yard Gain
9:51 1st and 10 MIN 24 Run Smith Off-Tackle R 4 Yard Gain
9:22 2nd and 6 MIN 20 Run Morris End L 0 Yard Gain
8:41 3rd and 6 MIN 20 PENALTY (False Start) Hickey N/A 5 Yard Loss
8:21 3rd and 11 MIN 25 Pass (sack) Hunt N/A 14 Yard Loss
8:14 3rd and 11 MIN 25 Penalty (Grounding) Hunt N/A 0 Yard Gain
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:45 1st and 10 SYR 46 Run Smith Dive 2 Yard Loss
5:23 2nd and 12 SYR 44 Pass Hunt Sideline R Incomplete
5:18 3rd and 12 SYR 44 Pass Estime Deep M 21 Yard Gain
5:06 1st and 10 MIN 35 Pass Hunt Screen L Incomplete
5:02 2nd and 10 MIN 35 Run Morris Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
4:22 3rd and 7 MIN 32 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 5 Yard Gain
3:37 4th and 2 MIN 27 Field Goal Norton N/A FG is No Good
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:44 1st and 10 MIN 14 Run Gulley End L 7 Yard Gain
1:37 2nd and 3 MIN 7 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 0 Yard Gain
1:20 3rd and 3 MIN 7 PENALTY (False Start) Estime N/A 5 Yard Loss
1:20 3rd and 8 MIN 12 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Dive 12 Yard Gain; TD

Play-Call Breakdown: 12 runs, 9 passes

This might be the most interesting and frustrating offensive quarter of Syracuse football we saw all season. In the fourth, they were either throwing too much (drive No. 7), running too much (drive No. 8) or committing enough penalties to take themselves out of the game completely. And yet, it all worked out. Hunt made the right decisions in spite of the self-sabotage, and in the end, that's all that mattered. I'm still a bit concerned about how heavily this offense relied on him in the fourth, but I'll get over it (and you probably will too).


Some trends/numbers to note:

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 42 runs v. 33 passes
  • First half play-calling: 17 runs, 14 passes (29 first-half runs last week)
  • First downs: 23 total (14 running, 9 passing)
  • First down play selection: 23 called runs, 9 called passes (20:20 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 15 called runs, 6 called passes (16:12 last week)
  • Second down play selection: 15 called runs, 12 called passes
  • Third down play selection: 11 called passes, 3 called runs (converted on quite a few second downs, it ends up)
  • Third down conversion: 7-for-14 (2 runs, 5 passes)
  • 40 of Syracuse's 75 plays took place in Minnesota territory (8 of 10 drives also got to Gopher territory)
  • SU converted first downs on first or second down 16 times
  • Over the last two games, Syracuse was 19-for-32 (60%) on third down. They were 39% on the year.

So obviously the third down conversions have been huge, and in my opinion, are a direct result of the better play-calling. They're also a direct result of Hunt's growth as a passer over the course of the year. Like I've said (and pointed out again above), the run and pass can set one another up very well in this read-option offense. Here, that seems most apparent, with the extra fold of Hunt's mobility and physical toughness forcing teams to try and stop three different things all at once. That's how single coverage happens, and Hunt's game-winning scramble happens too.

The penalties are probably getting their own article this offseason, so I won't even get into them here. Instead, more good things: I was sold on Jarrod West being a big factor prior to this game, and it ended up he was. Whether he was catching deep passes or functioning as a decoy, his impact was felt from start to finish. I'll miss Christopher Clark next year, and I hope Alvin Cornelius can take his place in a similar role going forward. One more bad thing, and then a good thing: You all noticed Broyld pretty much praying at the end of the game, right? That timeout could have cost us the game. Love what he brings to the table, but it's going to be a struggle reigning him in too.

The great (since Hunt's been covered plenty already): Brisly Estime. And not just for the punt return (and yes, we're ignoring the false start). He's going to be a star for this team and don't be surprised to see a ton of plays drawn up for him next season. We've seen what he can do well on screen passes, now I want to see him catch more balls down the field. With his growth, so grows Hunt, and vice versa.

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...