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Syracuse Football: Breaking Down Offensive Play-Calling vs. Wake Forest

So that was a fun game to watch. Did the play-calling reflect that, though?

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Big plays on both sides of the ball gave Syracuse a resounding win over Wake Forest on Saturday. Obviously we're focusing on the Orange offense here, but it's worth pointing out that without the defense, this could've been a very different contest. The offense did very well and the play-calling (as you'll see below) was up to the task. But a continued inability to consistently get the ball into the end zone could have been this team's undoing... just a sobering thought to keep in mind while glancing through a positive summary here:

First Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:07 1st and 10 SYR 32 Play-Action Pass Phillips Screen L 6 Yard Gain
13:38 2nd and 4 SYR 38 Run Phillips Off-Tackle R 5 Yard Gain
13:11 1st and 10 SYR 43 Pass West Short M 2 Yard Gain
12:47 2nd and 8 SYR 45 Run Gulley End L 3 Yard Gain
12:17 3rd and 5 SYR 48 Pass West Short M 3 Yard Gain
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:23 1st and 10 SYR 16 Run Gulley Dive R 11 Yard Gain
5:03 1st and 10 SYR 27 Run Gulley Dive R 6 Yard Gain
4:37 2nd and 4 SYR 33 Play-Action Pass Ishmael Short R 9 Yard Gain
4:16 1st and 10 SYR 42 Run Ameen-Moore End L 4 Yard Gain
3:47 2nd and 6 SYR 46 PENALTY (False Start) Robinson N/A 5 Yard Loss
3:30 2nd and 11 SYR 41 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
3:02 3rd and 9 SYR 43 Pass Ishmael Mid-Range R 12 Yard Gain
2:45 1st and 10 WAKE 45 Run Gulley Dive R 1 Yard Loss
2:19 2nd and 11 WAKE 46 Pass Long Mid-Range L Incomplete
2:11 3rd and 11 WAKE 46 Pass West Mid-Range L 14 Yard Gain
2:03 1st and 10 WAKE 32 PENALTY (Roughing) N/A N/A 15 Yard Gain
1:53 1st and 10 WAKE 17 Run Gulley Dive L 2 Yard Gain
1:27 2nd and 8 WAKE 15 Pass Long Mid-Range L Incomplete
1:21 3rd and 8 WAKE 15 Pass Long Deep R Incomplete

Play-Call Breakdown: 9 passes, 8 runs

Early play-calling gets interesting as Tim Lester seems to spend the first drive feeling out the Wake Forest defense to see what they'll give him. The second, however, shows a team keenly aware of the Deacons' scheme and one that clearly has two solid mid-range receiving threats in Jarrod West and Steve Ishmael. If only the typical red zone malaise hadn't set in... Despite a penalty getting SU beyond the 20, the team once again displayed an inability to push forward into the end zone. Like you, I simply ask "why????!!!!" every game.


Second Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:16 1st and 10 SYR 8 Run Morris Dive L 3 Yard Gain
13:49 2nd and 7 SYR 11 Play-Action Pass Long Mid-Range R Incomplete
13:42 3rd and 7 SYR 11 Pass McFarlane Screen R 10 Yard Gain
13:20 1st and 10 SYR 21 Run; Reverse Phillips End R 0 Yard Gain
12:49 2nd and 10 SYR 21 PENALTY (False Start) Palmer N/A 5 Yard Loss
12:30 2nd and 15 SYR 16 Pass West Mid-Range L 11 Yard Gain
12:07 3rd and 4 SYR 27 Pocket Breakdown; Run Long End R 20 Yard Gain
11:45 1st and 10 SYR 47 PENALTY (False Start) Emerich N/A 5 Yard Loss
11:22 1st and 15 SYR 42 Pass Gulley Deep R 32 Yard Gain
11:01 1st and 10 WAKE 35 Run Gulley End R 4 Yard Gain
10:29 2nd and 6 WAKE 31 Pass Phillips Screen L 3 Yard Gain
9:57 3rd and 3 WAKE 28 Pass Ishmael Short R 9 Yard Gain
9:33 1st and 10 WAKE 19 Run Gulley End L 4 Yard Gain
8:58 2nd and 6 WAKE 15 Play-Action Pass Long Short L Incomplete
8:55 3rd and 6 WAKE 15 Run McFarlane End L 10 Yard Gain
8:33 1st and Goal WAKE 5 Run Gulley Dive L 1 Yard Gain
8:02 2nd and Goal WAKE 4 Pocket Breakdown; Run Long End R 4 Yard Gain; TD
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:03 1st and 10 SYR 30 Pass Long Mid-Range R Incomplete
2:59 2nd and 10 SYR 30 Run Gulley End R 6 Yard Gain
2:43 3rd and 4 SYR 36 Pass Flemming Short L 3 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 passes, 7 runs

Honestly, drive three might have been the most complete drive of the entire season, going 15 plays and 92 yards while also battling boneheaded penalties. A few things are worth calling out, too. First: the 2nd and 6 play at 8:58 (a play-action swing pass to George Morris) is the exact same one as last week in a similar spot, with the exact same result, a drop by Morris. We've probably reached the end of the team's trials with Morris on that one, though if Broyld and Estime are back vs. Clemson, expect to them give it a go since the blocking was perfect both times thus far. Second, the jumbo package we're currently employing doesn't seem to work on run plays. And third: SU needs A.J. Long to be more decisive when he's going to pull it down and run (see: the touchdown).


Third Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 25 Play-Action Pass Parris Screen R 8 Yard Gain
14:50 2nd and 2 SYR 33 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 0 Yard Gain
14:25 3rd and 2 SYR 33 Pass Ishmael Screen L 4 Yard Gain
14:06 1st and 10 SYR 37 Pass Flemming Screen L 5 Yard Gain
13:52 2nd and 5 SYR 42 Pass West Mid-Range M 11 Yard Gain
13:42 1st and 10 WAKE 47 Play-Action Pass Long Deep R Incomplete
13:35 2nd and 10 WAKE 47 Run Long End L 4 Yard Loss
13:03 3rd and 14 SYR 49 Pass Ishmael Deep R 33 Yard Gain
12:42 1st and 10 WAKE 18 Run; Fumble Long End R 3 Yard Loss
12:21 2nd and 13 WAKE 21 Pass; Sack Long N/A 8 Yard Loss
11:50 3rd and 21 WAKE 29 Play-Action Pass Ishmael Screen R 5 Yard Gain
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:16 1st and 10 SYR 9 Run McFarlane Dive R 86 Yard Gain
6:42 1st and Goal WAKE 5 PENALTY (Pass Interference) Ishmael Mid-Range L 15 Yard Loss
6:37 1st and Goal WAKE 20 Run Phillips Off-Tackle R 5 Yard Gain
6:08 2nd and Goal WAKE 15 Pass Long Deep L Incomplete
6:00 3rd and Goal WAKE 15 Pass Phillips Screen L 5 Yard Gain
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:14 1st and 10 SYR 36 PENALTY (Holding) Flemming N/A 10 Yard Loss
2:56 1st and 20 SYR 26 Run McFarlane Dive R 8 Yard Gain
2:33 2nd and 12 SYR 34 Run McFarlane Off-Tackle L 0 Yard Gain
2:00 3rd and 12 SYR 34 Pass Long Mid-Range R Incomplete
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:14 1st and 10 SYR 11 Run McFarlane Off-Tackle R 4 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 passes, 8 runs

By the end of the third, Syracuse was on cruise control with a big lead, but up until that point, some good (and not-so-good) things were happening. On the plus side, Devante McFarlane's return to the lineup was a reminder of just how good he is getting that burst between the tackles -- especially on that 86-yard scamper where if he'd been expecting a tackler behind him, he likely would've been able to keep his balance into the end zone. On the other end of things, however... two drives that got into the red zone ended with field goals from outside of it. This team knows how to get there. That's obvious. But this failure to execute has reached critical mass and must be addressed before the Clemson game.


Fourth Quarter

15:00 2nd and 6 SYR 15 Run Morris End L 7 Yard Gain
14:39 1st and 10 SYR 22 Pass Kobena Screen R 3 Yard Gain
14:20 2nd and 7 SYR 25 Run Morris Counter L 1 Yard Gain
13:45 3rd and 6 SYR 26 Pass Parris Screen R 4 Yard Loss
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:09 1st and 10 SYR 28 Run Phillips Counter L 1 Yard Gain
10:35 2nd and 9 SYR 29 Run McFarlane Dive R 6 Yard Gain
10:01 3rd and 3 SYR 35 Run McFarlane Off-Tackle L 5 Yard Gain
9:34 1st and 10 SYR 40 Run Phillips End R 4 Yard Gain
8:55 2nd and 6 SYR 44 Play-Action Pass Long Short R Incomplete
8:48 3rd and 6 SYR 44 Pass Phillips Screen R 4 Yard Loss
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:45 1st and 10 SYR 26 Run McFarlane Dive L 3 Yard Loss
5:15 2nd and 13 SYR 23 Run McFarlane End L 4 Yard Loss
4:42 3rd and 17 SYR 19 Run McFarlane End L 2 Yard Gain
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:12 1st and 10 SYR 12 Run Morris Off-Tackle R 4 Yard Gain
1:28 2nd and 6 SYR 16 Run Morris Off-Tackle L 3 Yard Gain
0:42 3rd and 3 SYR 19 Run Morris Dive L 1 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 12 runs, 4 passes

I'd disregard most of these garbage time plays in the big scheme of things. Once Wake Forest punted late in the third while down 30-7 you knew this one was over. Still, it was good to see Mitch Kimble get some burn at QB (even if just for handoffs), while making sure George Morris II and McFarlane grabbed themselves some carries as well.


  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 35 called runs vs. 35 called passes (23:31 for first three quarters)
  • First half play-calling: 20 passes vs. 15 runs (15:20 in second half)
  • First downs: 17 total (8 running, 8 passing, 1 penalty)
  • First down play selection: 19 called runs, 8 called passes (18:10 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 12 called runs, 5 called passes (13:7 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 9
  • Second down play selection: 11 called runs, 9 called passes (15:9 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 15 called passes, 4 called runs (12:2 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 9-for-19 (6 passes, 3 runs; just three successful third down conversions in second half, however)
  • 22 of Syracuse's 70 play calls (31 percent) took place in Wake Forest territory (none in fourth quarter); last week, that number was 43 percent.
  • 11 "screen" passes (not including "short" passes) were attempted, which shows a continued increase in recent weeks; at least in Lester's offense people are blocking for them, however.
  • Play-action was utilized eight times on Saturday, but with Long just getting the mechanics of it down, the sell just isn't there yet on the fake. It'll come with time, hopefully.
  • Syracuse had big plays this week, and gains started to creep back toward "too many big plays" territory. In total, 11 plays gained 10 or more yards -- totaling 249 of Syracuse's 370 offensive yards. The other 59 plays gained just 2.1 yards per which is a drop compared to last week. Overall yards per play were 5.29 (vs. 6.15 last week). Take out McFarlane big run and that number is just 4.12, however.

Like I said, plenty to like coming out of this game, but in a win where the defense scored 14 points on its own and the offense was just trying to run out the clock in the fourth, it also becomes difficult to gauge the effectiveness of this offense. Obviously they're moving the ball better than they did with McDonald calling plays for Hunt at quarterback, but the extent of that statement isn't extreme. You also see a lot of passing in this game, with the difference in runs vs. passes even more stark when you remove a run-heavy fourth. Down-by-down breakdowns also highlight a reliance on certain types of plays on certain types of downs. Against a better team than Wake, you need more variation to win.

Still, you have to like what you're seeing from what's become a very young offense in just two weeks of action. The chemistry between Long and Steve Ishmael is already at a pretty high level, and they've only played together for two weeks. Long has poise in the pocked and can stand and deliver any pass, with the accuracy of a player two years his senior. He also forced three passes that could have very well been picked off (did the same last week), so hopefully that's addressed in film study this week.

So, an encouraging week of results, though there's also some red flags worth investigating. Since the defense was scoring, it's tough to glean everything you want from this game, thus we're left with more questions to answer for next week. The main takeaway, beyond what's directly above, is the issues in the red zone, which are SOOO bad, and against a better team (like Clemson) we're likely to be punished for settling for field goals. Just need to keep moving the ball forward in that part of the field. Don't know what else to say...

What do you think, though? All good? All bad? Somewhere in between? Share some thoughts below.