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

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Tim Lester's first game calling plays for Syracuse... went pretty nicely, in my opinion.

Brett Carlsen

It's just so much better when these are actually FUN to re-watch. And while sure, the final result on the scoreboard wasn't ideal for Syracuse, there were so many things to get excited about or take positively after a strong effort against Florida State. Tim Lester's debut as Orange offensive coordinator should be deemed a success by fans already, but if there are any holdouts remaining, perhaps the post below helps sway you.

First Quarter

DRIVE 1
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:10 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Gulley End R 7 Yard Gain
10:42 2nd and 3 SYR 32 Run Gulley Dive R 3 Yard Gain
10:17 1st and 10 SYR 35 Run Gulley Dive L 3 Yard Gain
9:52 2nd and 7 SYR 38 Pass West Mid-Range R 13 Yard Gain
9:34 1st and 10 FSU 49 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 1 Yard Gain
9:05 2nd and 9 FSU 48 Pass Lewis Short L 15 Yard Gain
8:48 1st and 10 FSU 33 Run Gulley Off-Tackle L 2 Yard Gain
8:23 2nd and 8 FSU 31 Pass Flemming Mid-Range L 12 Yard Gain
8:03 1st and 10 FSU 19 Play-Action Pass Wilson Deep L Incomplete
7:56 2nd and 10 FSU 19 Pocket Breakdown; Run Wilson Off-Tackle R 1 Yard Loss
7:25 3rd and 11 FSU 20 Pass Wilson Short L Interception
DRIVE 2
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:18 1st and 10 SYR 20 Run Gulley Dive L 3 Yard Gain
1:01 2nd and 7 SYR 23 Pocket Breakdown; Run Long End R 1 Yard Gain
0:30 3rd and 6 SYR 24 Pass Gulley Short M 7 Yard Gain
0:12 1st and 10 SYR 31 Run Phillips End L 6 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 8 passes, 7 runs

Man, that opening drive got me pretty excited. I mean, Austin Wilson was delivering the ball with authority, while Prince-Tyson Gulley had things covered on the ground. Play-calling was balanced and purposeful, with nary a question to be had about why you'd do things like toss it to your power back out of shotgun in your own end zone... Unfortunately, that drive also ended in an ill-advised pick, and as much as that hurts, I'll take that as the product of aggressive (and smart) play-calling mixed with youth at QB. That said, would've been VERY nice for Syracuse to have gotten on the board with a TD earlier.

***

Second Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 2nd and 4 SYR 37 Run Phillips End R 16 Yard Gain
14:45 1st and 10 FSU 47 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 6 Yard Gain
14:18 2nd and 4 FSU 41 Run Gulley Dive L 2 Yard Loss
13:49 3rd and 6 FSU 43 Pass Ishmael Deep R 36 Yard Gain
13:29 1st and Goal FSU 7 Run Gulley Counter L 3 Yard Gain
13:05 2nd and Goal FSU 4 Pass Long Mid-Range M Incomplete
13:00 3rd and Goal FSU 4 Pass Long Screen L Incomplete
DRIVE 3
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
10:32 1st and 10 SYR 29 Pass Long Deep R Incomplete
10:27 2nd and 10 SYR 29 Run Morris Off-Tackle L 4 Yard Gain
9:49 3rd and 6 SYR 33 Run Long End R 7 Yard Gain
9:33 1st and 10 SYR 40 Run Morris Dive R 2 Yard Gain
9:03 2nd and 8 SYR 42 Pass Long Screen L Incomplete
8:59 3rd and 8 SYR 42 Pass Flemming Short R 5 Yard Gain
DRIVE 4
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:45 1st and 10 FSU 16 Run Gulley Counter R 6 Yard Gain
7:30 2nd and 4 FSU 10 Pass Long Short R Incomplete
7:26 3rd and 4 FSU 10 Pass Long Short M Incomplete
7:22 4th and 4 FSU 10 PENALTY (False Start) Lasker N/A 5 Yard Loss
DRIVE 5
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:38 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Ameen-Moore Screen R 8 Yard Gain
4:13 2nd and 2 SYR 33 Run Ameen-Moore Dive L 5 Yard Gain
3:57 1st and 10 SYR 38 Run Ameen-Moore Dive R 11 Yard Gain
3:37 1st and 10 SYR 49 Pass West Deep L 41 Yard Gain
3:19 1st and Goal FSU 10 PENALTY (Pass Interference) Williams N/A 5 Yard Gain
3:14 1st and Goal FSU 5 PENALTY (False Start) Thompson N/A 5 Yard Loss
3:14 1st and Goal FSU 10 Run Ameen-Moore Dive L 6 Yard Gain
2:38 2nd and Goal FSU 4 Run Ameen-Moore End L 2 Yard Loss
2:16 3rd and Goal FSU 6 Run Ameen-Moore Dive R 0 Yard Gain
1:58 4th and Goal FSU 6 Pass Wilson Mid-Range L Incomplete

Play-Call Breakdown: 13 runs, 11 passes

Three more red zone trips this quarter, all against the then-No. 1 team in the country. Just field goals came out of it, so red zone execution is still an obvious issue (due to penalties, turnovers and dropped passes). But you have to love the consistency in these drives compared to the earlier parts of the year (including last week). Big plays still happen, but they arrive following consistent ball movement from the offense. At this point in the game, the team had gotten to at least its own 42-yard line on all five drives. That's VERY effective.

***

Third Quarter

DRIVE 6
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Gulley Dive L 1 Yard Loss
14:32 2nd and 11 SYR 24 Play-Action Pass West Screen L 5 Yard Gain
14:03 3rd and 6 SYR 30 Pass Long Deep R Incomplete
DRIVE 7
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:31 1st and 10 SYR 34 Pass Phillips Screen R 9 Yard Gain
7:59 2nd and 1 SYR 43 PENALTY (False Start) Hickey N/A 5 Yard Loss
7:50 2nd and 6 SYR 38 Run Gulley Dive R 35 Yard Gain
7:25 1st and 10 FSU 27 Run Gulley Dive L 5 Yard Gain
7:00 2nd and 5 FSU 22 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle R 0 Yard Gain
6:26 3rd and 5 FSU 22 Pass Ishmael Deep R 22 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 8
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:58 1st and 10 SYR 31 Run Gulley End L 0 Yard Gain
4:42 2nd and 10 SYR 31 Pass Gulley Screen R 5 Yard Gain
4:06 3rd and 5 SYR 36 Pass Gulley Screen R 0 Yard Gain
DRIVE 9
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:25 1st and 10 FSU 21 Pass Long Mid-Range L Interception

Play-Call Breakdown: 7 passes, 5 runs

Those screens... if there's one complaint you may be able to enter, it's the continued willingness to throw screen passes. But at the same time, those passes were not the same unblocked ones we saw with George McDonald and Terrel Hunt in charge. Rather, incompletions were drops. And we also can't allow those to take away from the fantastic touchdown connection from Long to Ishmael on drive seven, either. The ball was placed perfectly (how many times did we saw that with Hunt at QB in total?) and showed a willingness to take chances on third down.

***

Fourth Quarter

DRIVE 10
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:40 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Gulley Dive L 5 Yard Gain
13:15 2nd and 5 SYR 30 Pass Wilson Short M Incomplete
13:03 3rd and 5 SYR 30 Pass Gulley Short R 6 Yard Gain
12:43 1st and 10 SYR 36 Pass Avant Screen L 6 Yard Gain
12:09 2nd and 4 SYR 42 Pass Gulley Screen R 3 Yard Loss
11:34 3rd and 7 SYR 39 Pass Flemming Mid-Range R 17 Yard Gain
11:12 1st and 10 FSU 44 Run Ameen-Moore Dive L 9 Yard Gain
10:47 2nd and 1 FSU 35 Pass Ishmael Deep M 35 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 11
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:24 1st and 10 SYR 12 Run Long Dive R 12 Yard Gain
7:01 1st and 10 SYR 24 Pass Avant Screen L 7 Yard Gain
6:36 2nd and 3 SYR 31 Run Gulley End R 4 Yard Gain
6:13 1st and 10 SYR 35 Pass Gulley Short M 5 Yard Gain
5:44 2nd and 5 SYR 40 Pass Long Short M Incomplete
5:38 3rd and 5 SYR 40 Pass Gulley Short M 5 Yard Gain
5:17 1st and 10 SYR 45 Pass Long Short L Incomplete
5:11 2nd and 10 SYR 45 Pass; Tipped Long Mid-Range R Interception

Play-Call Breakdown: 12 passes, 4 runs

The move to a more lopsided play-calling pattern (in favor of the run) is an obvious one for a team down three scores -- even when running the ball as well as they were. Long also needs more reps to continue to be effective, and despite some missteps, the experience can only help him out going forward. You'll see on that first drive how the steady gains led to yet another gorgeous connection from Long to Ishmael. And it's worth pointing out how phenomenally quick he is when running in open field too (referencing play one of the last drive). While Hunt is a purposeful and powerful runner, Long's lightning quick -- which may be a good change of pace for this offense.

***

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 38 called passes vs. 29 called runs
  • First half play-calling: 20 runs vs. 19 passes (9:19 in second half)
  • First downs: 20 total (10 passes, 9 running, 1 penalty)
  • First down play selection: 18 called runs, 10 called passes (14:13 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 13 called runs, 7 called passes (7:7 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 16
  • Second down play selection: 15 called passes, 9 called runs (16:4 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 12 called passes, 2 called runs (13:2 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 7-for-14 (6 passes, 1 run; this also means 13 SU firsts were on first/second down)
  • 29 of Syracuse's 67 play calls (43 percent) took place in Florida State territory (primarily concentrated in first three quarters); last week, that number was just 30 percent.
  • Nine "screen" passes (not including "short" passes) were attempted, which is a jump from recent weeks, but they were also smarter screens than we've seen previously from this offense.
  • Play-action was only attempted twice, though with a pared-down playbook for two green signal-callers, that makes some sense.
  • Syracuse had big plays this week, however, they did not dominate the team's overall yardage in the same way they did previously. In total, 12 plays gained 10 or more yards -- totaling 250 of Syracuse's 412 offensive yards. The other 55 plays gained nearly three yards per, which is a much better figure than last week's 0.9. Overall yards per play were 6.15 (vs. 4.1 last week).

Tons to be excited about above, especially considering we had two QBs out there and were up against a great opponent like Florida State. But that's also why we sort of caveat this, too. Both Long and Wilson are so inexperienced that there was little (Wilson) to no (Long) game tape on either going in, and same goes for Tim Lester's play-calling tendencies. Still, the playbook seemed to be simplified for both in a way that made things easy to digest while still being aggressive. This group ran 67 plays (39 in the first half), yet never looked flustered or hurried in the same ways they did over the last season and a half. It was a smooth transition, with the read-option employed more expertly and including ALL of the targets -- not just the easy (bad) screen on the checkdown.

The above does point to a bigger problem that's certainly going to develop, though. What happens when Hunt returns? I know it's still several weeks out, but at this point, both Wilson and Long (especially Long) have shown themselves capable of running this offense and employing the sort of big play consistency and rhythm we've rarely seen from the injured Hunt. Additionally, they're both better passers. By a long shot. We saw more well-placed passes to receivers in one game on Saturday than we did in Hunt's entire time as starer. That's not a knock on him -- but a bit of praise for the freshmen.

Syracuse's running game also appears to be working right now, as Lester struck the right balance through three quarters and allowed for Prince-Tyson Gulley, Adonis Ameen-Moore and Ervin Phillips to all be effective in their own ways. Florida State struggled to adjust to all three, and other teams will too... just something to keep in mind going forward and as we employ the "Tank" package and other two-back sets once again (after the first five games of single-back offset and empty backfield formations).

The future looks bright, but now, can the present also glimmer with hope too? A lot to like and a lot to grow on from Saturday. Let's see if they can put it all together for a full game against Wake.