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

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These have become a real bummer, especially now that Syracuse is officially eliminated from bowl contention

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

This one was disheartening, to say the least. When you've already seen the game, and know the outcome AND what that outcome means for the season, it's tough to really walk yourself through it all again. Yet, here we are, going through the paces of another bummer of a loss -- this one sealing Syracuse's fate as a non-bowl team. With each injury, it gets harder and harder to evaluate this Orange offense, but we try just the same. Join us below if you dislike yourself or have a morbid sense of curiosity.

First Quarter

DRIVE 1
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 16 Run Gulley End R 1 Yard Loss
14:17 2nd and 11 SYR 15 Pocket Breakdown; Run Wilson Dive R 2 Yard Gain
13:37 3rd and 9 SYR 17 Pass Wilson Deep L Incomplete
DRIVE 2
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:20 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Phillips End R 9 Yard Gain
8:47 2nd and 1 SYR 34 Run Gulley Counter L 3 Yard Gain
8:20 1st and 10 SYR 37 Pass Wilson Mid-Range M Incomplete
8:13 2nd and 10 SYR 37 Run Wilson Off-Tackle L 1 Yard Gain
7:46 3rd and 9 SYR 38 Pass Lewis Medium L 14 Yard Gain
7:14 1st and 10 DUKE 48 Run Phillips Off-Tackle L 3 Yard Gain
6:36 2nd and 7 DUKE 45 Pass West Short L 9 Yard Gain
6:08 1st and 10 DUKE 36 Run Gulley Off-Tackle L 20 Yard Gain
5:35 1st and 10 DUKE 16 Run Kimble End L 4 Yard Gain
4:59 2nd and 6 DUKE 12 Run McFarlane Dive L 2 Yard Gain
4:30 3rd and 4 DUKE 10 Pass Kimble Deep L Incomplete
DRIVE 3
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:10 1st and 10 SYR 45 Pass Phillips Screen R 3 Yard Gain
2:33 2nd and 7 SYR 48 Run Wilson Dive L 1 Yard Loss
1:55 3rd and 8 SYR 47 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 10 runs, 7 passes

The first quarter saw varied backfield looks, involving different rushers to get involved and keep the defense off-balance (which I'd say it did, honestly). Prince-Tyson Gulley was still able to be effective (see that 20-yard gain), while not being overworked and letting the team take advantage of Ervin Phillips's electrifying speed, too. The decision to pull Austin Wilson for Mitch Kimble on drive two once SU got to the red zone was an odd one, if only because Wilson had been moving the football so well. Kimble's mobility is an asset that deep, but since they called a pass for him on third down from the 10, that's sort of nullified.

***

Second Quarter

DRIVE 4
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:53 1st and 10 SYR 32 Pass Lewis Screen L 1 Yard Gain
14:20 2nd and 9 SYR 33 Pass West Short L 8 Yard Gain
13:40 3rd and 1 SYR 41 Run McFarlane End L 1 Yard Gain
13:16 1st and 10 SYR 42 Run Ameen-Moore Dive R 1 Yard Gain
12:39 2nd and 9 SYR 43 Pass Lewis Short L 7 Yard Line
11:53 3rd and 2 DUKE 50 PENALTY (Holding) Emerich N/A 10 Yard Loss
11:33 3rd and 12 SYR 40 Pocket Breakdown; Run Wilson End R 1 Yard Gain
DRIVE 5
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:10 1st and 10 SYR 25 Play-Action Pass Lewis Screen L 3 Yard Gain
4:35 2nd and 7 SYR 28 Pass Wilson Deep R Interception
DRIVE 6
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:05 1st and 10 SYR 16 Run Gulley Off-Tackle L 8 Yard Gain
2:41 2nd and 2 SYR 24 Pass Phillips Screen R 4 Yard Gain
2:21 1st and 10 SYR 28 Run Wilson Dive R 0 Yard Gain
1:48 2nd and 10 SYR 28 PENALTY (False Start) Hayes N/A 5 Yard Loss
1:34 2nd and 15 SYR 23 Run Kimble Off-Tackle L 9 Yard Gain
1:24 3rd and 6 SYR 32 Run Kimble Dive R 10 Yard Gain
1:01 1st and 10 SYR 42 Pass Ishmael Short R 7 Yard Gain
0:56 2nd and 3 SYR 49 Pass;Sack Wilson N/A 3 Yard Loss
0:30 3rd and 6 SYR 46 Run Gulley End L 3 Yard Gain
0:01 4th and 3 SYR 49 Pass Wilson Deep R Incomplete

Play-Call Breakdown: 10 passes, 7 runs

Welcome back, bubble screens (not really "welcome")! Jason Emerich's holding penalty on that brilliant third and 2 run by Gulley was an absolute killer on a drive that seemed to be moving the ball relatively well. From there: back-breaking interception, plus a stalled-out mid-field drive that just never seemed to display enough aggression given the time remaining on the clock. Kimble ran well and was the team's best chance at yardage, taking hits while still keeping an eye on that first down marker. Steve Ishmael also makes a brief appearance on drive six -- he doesn't show up much in this one, unfortunately.

***

Third Quarter

DRIVE 7
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:03 1st and 10 SYR 12 Pass Lewis Screen L 2 Yard Gain
11:37 2nd and 8 SYR 14 Run Gulley Off-Tackle L 6 Yard Gain
11:10 3rd and 2 SYR 20 Run Gulley Off-Tackle L 1 Yard Gain
DRIVE 8
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:41 1st and 10 SYR 33 Pass Phillips Screen L 9 Yard Gain
9:19 2nd and 1 SYR 42 Run Phillips Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
8:47 1st and 10 SYR 45 Run Kimble Off-Tackle L 3 Yard Gain
8:13 2nd and 7 SYR 48 Run Phillips End L 17 Yard Gain
7:45 1st and 10 DUKE 35 Run Kimble Dive L 8 Yard Gain
7:07 2nd and 2 DUKE 27 Run;Fumble Kimble Dive R 3 Yard Loss
6:28 3rd and 5 DUKE 30 Pass West Mid-Range L 19 Yard Gain
6:00 1st and 10 DUKE 11 Run Phillips Dive R 3 Yard Gain
5:25 2nd and 7 DUKE 8 Run Kimble End R 8 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 9
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:51 1st and 10 SYR 20 Pass Gulley Screen R 0 Yard Gain
2:08 2nd and 10 SYR 20 Pass Kimble Mid-Range R Incomplete
2:01 2nd and 10 SYR 20 PENALTY (Personal Foul) Cash N/A 15 Yard Gain
2:01 1st and 10 SYR 35 Run Phillips End R 1 Yard Gain
1:37 2nd and 9 SYR 36 Pass Kimble Mid-Range R Incomplete
1:32 3rd and 9 SYR 36 Pass Kimble Screen L Incomplete
DRIVE 10
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:52 1st and 10 SYR 1 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle L 0 Yard Gain
0:12 2nd and 10 SYR 1 Run Gulley Dive R 3 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 12 runs, 7 passes

Starting off the quarter, Syracuse leans heavily on the left side of the field, and somehow that actually works out. The touchdown drive was a perfect use of Erv Phillips, getting his speed involved on the perimeter passing game while also letting him do his thing running between the tackles. Kimble's running ability pays off on the score, and honestly, he's a much better runner than passer. Despite limited snaps to this point, he knows where to go with the football decisively, and rarely plays guessing games about whether to take off or not.

***

Fourth Quarter

15:00 3rd and 7 SYR 4 Pass Kimble Deep L Incomplete
DRIVE 11
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:45 1st and 10 SYR 2 Run Gulley Dive L 1 Yard Loss
13:09 2nd and 11 SYR 1 Pass Kimble Mid-Range L Incomplete
13:04 3rd and 11 SYR 1 PENALTY (False Start) Trudo N/A 0 Yard Gain
13:04 3rd and 11 SYR 1 Pass Kimble Deep M Incomplete
DRIVE 12
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:45 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Phillips Screen L 0 Yard Gain
12:06 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Pocket Breakdown; Run Kimble End R 8 Yard Gain
11:34 3rd and 2 SYR 33 Run Kimble Dive R 2 Yard Loss
10:55 4th and 4 SYR 31 Fake Punt; Run McFarlane Dive R 1 Yard Gain
DRIVE 13
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:08 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Lewis Short R 3 Yard Gain
8:41 2nd and 7 SYR 28 Pass Wilson Deep L Interception
DRIVE 14
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:13 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass West Mid-Range L 9 Yard Gain
6:43 2nd and 1 SYR 34 Pass Wilson Mid-Range M Incomplete
6:37 3rd and 1 SYR 34 Pass;Sack Wilson N/A 12 Yard Loss
DRIVE 15
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:42 1st and 10 SYR 32 Pass Wilson Short R Incomplete
1:36 2nd and 10 SYR 32 Pass Flemming Short L 7 Yard Gain
1:29 3rd and 3 SYR 39 Pass Wilson Short R Incomplete

Play-Call Breakdown: 13 passes; 3 runs

With the game very much within reach entering the fourth, everything just proceeded to fall apart. The punt return TD set the tone for what was to come, but it was the odd play-calls before and after that really sealed the deal for Syracuse. Kimble can't throw deep the same way Wilson can, yet he took shots (including that ugly picked ball on drive 13). Down several scores late, Syracuse throws short routes and punts late. In some previous games like this, the Orange have insisted on running the ball, while in others, only throwing. There can be a balance, so why not try both?

***

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 37 called passes vs. 32 called runs (six straight week they called more passes than runs, though this is a much better ratio than we've previously seen)
  • First half play-calling: 17 passes vs. 17 runs (20:15 in second half)
  • First downs: 12 total (7 rushing, 4 passing, 1 penalty; just four in second half)
  • First down play selection: 14 called runs, 12 called passes (12:21 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 10 called runs, 2 called passes (6:11 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 7
  • Second down play selection: 14 called passes, 11 called runs (20:10 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 10 called passes, 6 called runs (11:5 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 4-for-16 (2 passes, 2 runs; only one in second half)
  • 12 of Syracuse's 69 play calls (17 percent) took place in Duke territory (just five in the second half); last week, that number was 29 percent.
  • Bubble screens returned, for both quarterbacks, too. Between Wilson and Kimble, they threw 10 screens for 22 yards -- nine of which coming on one Phillips scamper. That's not good.
  • Play-action is as dead as it's been all season. I'll stop harping on it at this point because it's not going to change in 2014.
  • Syracuse had just five big plays (ones that gained 10 or more yards) -- totaling 80 of Syracuse's putrid 224 yards on offense. The other 64 plays gained 2.25 yards per, which is a significant jump from last week's awful figure of just 0.69. Overall yards per play were 3.25 (vs. 4.37 last week), so despite all the perceived improvement, still just as bad or worse.

After a couple weeks in a row of this offense featuring PTG, we've gone back to more of committee style and the results were... a little better, actually. Erv was moving very well with the football all afternoon, and he was able to generate a nice rhythm with his catches and carries (10 touches in all). Kimble and Gulley also managed to run the ball fairly effectively, while Adonis Ameen-Moore and Devante McFarlane weren't given many opportunities. AAM might have been a difference-maker for Syracuse given how well another bruiser -- Pitt's James Conner -- ran against Duke. But oh well...

Speaking of spreading the wealth, though, where have all of Syracuse's wideouts gone? Saturday's targets were largely Jarrod West and Ben Lewis (plus Phillips), with slight nods to a few others. These routes and plays aren't dynamic enough that anyone else is really getting involved anyway, but it's surprising to see a team with so many options out there rely on the same players over and over. West is well-utilized on sideline routes, but Lewis was tossed on screen duty when he may have actually helped open things up with mid-range throws (where he's thrived in the past). Again: another odd change.

At this point, the jury's still out on Tim Lester, and there's just no way to properly evaluate him given the laundry list of built-in excuses (both legitimate and nonsensical) that these games have and will come with. The Orange were a bit too conservative late, but also got burned taking risks downfield (both of Wilson's INTs were on deep balls). The running game was featured more and that facet of the attack saw results. But it didn't help set the passing game up much for various reasons -- too many screens, no one can really hit receivers in single coverage, few wideouts were really used, tight ends are non-existent, etc. At this point, doesn't much matter. Let's just get kids reps and see if anyone surprises to end the year.

But what do you think? Share some thoughts below and let's avoid listing out Lester's excuses because I've already done so.