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

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Mehhhh

Streeter Lecka

You guys sure you want to see this? Last warning... because you're not going to like what's below. Obviously, Clemson's defense was about as good as you'll find this season, but a few tweaks here and there and some better execution, and maybe there's a much different outcome for Syracuse. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. And when you glance at the results of play-calling below, it at least gives a few glimpses as to why. So read at your own risk. Or for your own edification. Either/or. Because the fears we had after game one of this new offensive era (could a very simplified playbook truly hold up over time?) are coming true.

First Quarter

DRIVE 1
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:55 1st and 10 SYR 19 Pass; Sack Long N/A 6 Yard Loss
14:23 2nd and 16 SYR 13 Run Gulley Dive L 6 Yard Gain
13:50 3rd and 10 SYR 19 Pass Long Deep R Incomplete
DRIVE 2
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:50 1st and 10 SYR 13 Run Gulley End L 6 Yard Gain
11:14 2nd and 4 SYR 19 Pass Broyld Screen R 10 Yard Gain
10:52 1st and 10 SYR 29 Run Gulley Dive R 3 Yard Gain
10:25 2nd and 7 SYR 32 Run Gulley End R 1 Yard Gain
9:50 3rd and 6 SYR 33 Pass Long Screen L Incomplete
DRIVE 3
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:37 1st and 10 SYR 16 Run Phillips End R 3 Yard Loss
7:07 2nd and 13 SYR 13 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
6:36 3rd and 10 SYR 16 Pass; Sack Long N/A 6 Yard Loss
DRIVE 4
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:45 1st and 10 SYR 14 Pocket Breakdown; Run Long Dive L 0 Yard Gain
5:18 2nd and 10 SYR 14 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
4:47 3rd and 7 SYR 17 Pass Phillips Short L 8 Yard Gain
4:17 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass West Short L 8 Yard Gain
4:13 2nd and 2 SYR 33 Pass Broyld Deep M 23 Yard Gain
3:51 1st and 10 CLEM 44 Pocket Breakdown; Run Long End L 1 Yard Loss
3:20 2nd and 11 CLEM 45 Run Long End L 7 Yard Gain
2:45 3rd and 4 CLEM 38 Pass Ameen-Moore Screen L 3 Yard Gain
2:09 4th and 1 CLEM 35 Run Phillips End L 7 Yard Gain
1:41 1st and 10 CLEM 28 Pass Long Deep L Incomplete
1:34 2nd and 10 CLEM 28 Run Ameen-Moore Dive L 3 Yard Gain
0:54 3rd and 7 CLEM 25 Pass Long Mid-Range R Incomplete

Play-Call Breakdown: 13 passes, 10 runs

There's a real lack of protection for Long from the get-go. We can chalk it up to Clemson's pass-rush being incredibly good, sure. But if you know that going in (and we do), you keep an extra blocker back there. Early on, Long also seemed to take entirely too much time to release the football, though, even when that blitz was obviously coming. Only on drive four did we really start to see a rhythm get going. I'd have loved to see what could've happened on that 1st and 10 deep ball, too from the Clemson 28 -- if only Long hadn't been hit as he threw. It was single coverage and had it gotten there with a bit more zip, perhaps SU grabs an early TD and changes this game.

***

Second Quarter

DRIVE 5
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:02 1st and 10 SYR 20 Run Phillips End L 1 Yard Loss
11:33 2nd and 11 SYR 19 Pass Broyld Mid-Range M 10 Yard Gain
11:06 3rd and 1 SYR 29 Run Gulley Off-Tackle L 2 Yard Gain
10:39 1st and 10 SYR 31 Pass West Screen R 6 Yard Gain
10:14 2nd and 4 SYR 37 Run Long End R 1 Yard Loss
9:30 3rd and 5 SYR 36 Pass Long Deep L Incomplete
DRIVE 6
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:37 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
4:04 2nd and 7 SYR 28 Fumbled Snap; Run Long Dive R 8 Yard Gain
3:46 1st and 10 SYR 36 PENALTY (False Start) N/A N/A 5 Yard Loss
3:26 1st and 15 SYR 31 Fumble; Pass Long Short R Interception
DRIVE 7
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:08 1st and 10 SYR 8 Run Gulley End L 16 Yard Gain
1:50 1st and 10 SYR 24 Run Gulley Counter R 4 Yard Gain
1:45 2nd and 6 SYR 28 Run Gulley End R 5 Yard Gain
1:39 3rd and 1 SYR 33 Pass Parris Screen R 2 Yard Loss
1:32 4th and 3 SYR 31 PENALTY (False Start) McFarlane N/A 5 Yard Loss
DRIVE 8
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:12 1st and 10 CLEM 25 Reverse; Pass West Deep R Incomplete
1:05 2nd and 10 CLEM 25 Run Gulley Dive L 2 Yard Gain
0:35 3rd and 8 CLEM 23 Sack; Fumble Long; Robinson N/A 8 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 9 runs, 7 passes

I might as well spoil the surprise here: the Clemson 23 was the furthest Syracuse would advance the football (and this instance was greatly aided by a Tigers turnover). So all of those concerns over SU's ability to move the ball in the red zone were entirely unnecessary because the Orange never got there. Beyond that, though, we did get to see a nice dose of Prince-Tyson Gulley (and only Gulley -- more on that later) and a bad quarter of ball security by Long (three fumbles, though somehow none lost). As you'll also notice, any time Broyld touches the football, good things seem to happen, as the defense is a bit more keyed-in on Steve Ishmael than they are on him.

***

Third Quarter

DRIVE 9
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:46 1st and 10 SYR 26 Pass Long Short M Incomplete
13:42 2nd and 10 SYR 26 Run Gulley Dive L 5 Yard Gain; Fumble
DRIVE 10
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:16 1st and 10 SYR 14 Pass Long Tipped Incomplete
12:12 2nd and 10 SYR 14 Run McFarlane Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
11:33 3rd and 7 SYR 17 Pass Long Deep L Incomplete
DRIVE 11
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
10:41 1st and 10 CLEM 42 Pass Long Mid-Range R Interception
DRIVE 12
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:30 1st and 10 SYR 12 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Loss
6:00 2nd and 12 SYR 10 Run Gulley End L 1 Yard Loss
5:20 3rd and 13 SYR 9 Pass Long Short L Incomplete
DRIVE 13
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:30 1st and 10 SYR 28 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle R 14 Yard Gain
3:04 1st and 10 SYR 42 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
2:30 2nd and 8 SYR 44 Pass Long Deep R Incomplete
2:24 3rd and 8 SYR 44 Pass Ameen-Moore Short M 4 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 7 passes, 6 runs

Five possessions in one quarter is a new season high, though those 13 total plays should give you a pretty firm hint that there was no good reason for it at all. The second quarter's lack of ball security continued past halftime, resulting in two turnovers for SU (one fumble, one INT) and a grand total of 17 yards (just three if you remove the one 14-yard run on drive 13). Despite his very strong showing last week, Devante McFarlane is given his lone pity carry here (a decent gain) and then never seen again. Adonis Ameen-Moore is also handed his most extended action of the contest, with three touches on drive 13 -- including a horrendous decision by A.J. Long on that 3rd and 8. It wasn't getting close to the first down marker to begin with, but blanketed by two defenders, that toss never should have happened at all.

***

DRIVE 14
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:21 1st and 10 SYR 31 Pass West Mid-Range L 14 Yard Gain
14:04 1st and 10 SYR 45 Run Long Off-Tackle L 0 Yard Gain
13:29 2nd and 10 SYR 45 Pass West Short M 0 Yard Gain
12:53 3rd and 10 SYR 45 Pass; Sack Long N/A 7 Yard Loss
DRIVE 15
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
10:10 1st and 10 SYR 49 Pass Broyld Short R 6 Yard Gain
9:42 2nd and 4 CLEM 45 Pass Long Short R 0 Yard Gain
9:39 3rd and 4 CLEM 45 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 19 Yard Gain
9:15 1st and 10 CLEM 26 Pass Long Short R Incomplete
9:10 2nd and 10 CLEM 26 Pass Long Short R Incomplete
9:04 3rd and 10 CLEM 26 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 9 passes, 3 runs

Hey, 15 drives? That's a new season-hi... oh. That's a bummer. SU had two chances early in the fourth to keep themselves on pace with Clemson. And yet, they couldn't do it. Maybe it was the emphasis on the pass (I don't by that this late, but we'll get to it). Maybe it was a batch of play-calls that looked McDonald-esque in Clemson territory on drive 15. Or maybe the Tigers' defense was simply too good. Whatever you point the finger at, it never came together for Syracuse late in the game, which (again) is incredibly disheartening.

***

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 36 called passes vs. 28 called runs (that's four straight weeks of passes and runs being equal or more in favor of the pass, which defies all logic)
  • First half play-calling: 20 passes vs. 19 runs (16:9 in second half)
  • First downs: 10 total (6 running, 4 passing; 2:1 split in second half)
  • First down play selection: 14 called passes, 11 called runs (8:19 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 6 called passes, 4 called runs (5:12 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 7
  • Second down play selection: 13 called runs, 7 called passes (11:9 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 13 called passes, 3 called runs (15:4 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 3-for-16 (2 runs, 1 pass)
  • 15 of Syracuse's 64 play calls (23 percent) took place in Wake Forest territory (just six in the second half); last week, that number was 31 percent (second straight week of decline).
  • Screens were seemingly at a premium, though as some in the comment section pointed out during the game, it appears the jet sweep (and failed ones at that) may have replaced bubble screens in this offense.
  • Play-action was barely, if at all utilized, as Long went through quick, one-look reads in order to get the ball out in short order. I'm curious if a better use of play-fakes could have bought him some time or open targets by drawing in the defense a bit.
  • Syracuse had eight big plays (ones that gained 10 or more yards) -- totaling 106 of Syracuse's ghastly 170 yards on offense. The other 56  plays gained a disgusting 1.1 yards per, which was an even steeper drop from last week's already-bad 2.1. Overall yards per play were 2.66 (vs. 5.29 last week), which again, is a big joke. SU also had 14 plays for loss (including offensive penalties, which were WAY down this week). That's embarrassing.

A lot to digest here despite some very minimal returns for the Syracuse offense. Four consecutive weeks of a pass-centric offense makes little to no sense for a Syracuse team with five very capable running backs and a mobile quarterbacks. Speaking of, the breakdown of carries for this week made entirely no sense, with Gulley receiving 18, while the other 10 were sparingly parsed out to Ameen-Moore, Phillips and Long. George Morris II and McFarlane were ghosts this week, and to be honest, AAM and Erv really didn't get much to do either. I don't really understand this approach, especially given the success this team has exhibited when utilizing all five (six with QB) backs in the past.

As mentioned, Long was relying on single-reads all night, which works in theory but didn't always result in the best decisions. With Ishmael blanketed, and Jarrod West and Ashton Broyld taking a second to get open, he wasn't really utilizing his receivers all that well. When you're insisting on throwing the ball this much (please no, Tim Lester -- I know this was expected, but still...), you have to use everyone effectively. Speaking of: why welcome back Brisly Estime only to relegate him to return duty? He could've really helped out this passing game more, and now could be out with an injury yet again.

Penalties were lower than normal (just five for 30 yards, and the most damage was done on special teams), but that's really all you can give the offensive line. Despite knowing the blitz was coming, this group failed to really protect Long much and this offense paid the price. Again, though, if this is a known result of facing Clemson, WHY NOT RUN THE DAMN BALL?!?! Play-calling also seemed to load up on one side or the other at various points, which also baffled.

But what do you think, though? This was pretty ugly, right? Share some thoughts below so we can hopefully never revisit this sort of (lack of) execution again.