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

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Saturday was a passing bonanza, as you probably knew already. But let's dive into how everything shook out on offense in this loss just the same.

Brett Carlsen

I'll get this out of the way right at the onset. Good? Good. This week's #Pray4John play-calling breakdown shows you what happens when a running team barely runs and an "in the trenches" team barely blocks. It's astounding, really, though don't let it take away your positive opinion of our quarterback. We'll get to him, but spoiler: I think he did a really great job (and you should too). On we go...

First Quarter

DRIVE 1
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:10 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Gulley Counter L 12 Yard Gain
11:40 1st and 10 SYR 37 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 0 Yard Gain
11:15 2nd and 10 SYR 37 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 0 Yard Gain
10:47 3rd and 10 SYR 37 Pass West Mid-Range M 17 Yard Gain
10:28 1st and 10 NCST 46 Run Gulley Dive R 9 Yard Loss
9:56 2nd and 19 SYR 45 Pass Long Mid-Range L Incomplete
9:53 3rd and 19 SYR 45 Pass Long Short M Incomplete
DRIVE 2
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:17 1st and 10 SYR 2 Run Gulley Dive L 4 Yard Gain
6:45 2nd and 6 SYR 6 Run Gulley Dive R 4 Yard Loss
6:09 3rd and 10 SYR 2 Run Gulley Off-Tackle L 1 Yard Gain
DRIVE 3
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:37 1st and 10 SYR 14 Run Phillips Off-Tackle R 1 Yard Gain
3:11 2nd and 9 SYR 15 Pass Long Mid-Range M Incomplete
3:06 3rd and 9 SYR 15 Pass; Sack Long N/A 8 Yard Loss


Play-Call Breakdown: 8 runs, 5 passes

Two messy three-and-outs, and a stalled-out midfield drive due to Prince-Tyson Gulley's poor decision to run completely backwards of his own volition. After a week (Clemson) in which Syracuse appeared to throw the ball far too much, they showed an early commitment to the run vs. NC State, but one that proved almost equally detrimental. Until drive three, Gulley was the only halfback to touch the football, and despite diminishing returns with the veteran back, he was continually tossed right back out there. Running the ball is good. Running the ball repetitively with the same player is not.

***

Second Quarter

DRIVE 4
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:10 1st and 10 SYR 25 Play-Action Pass; Sack Long N/A 5 Yard Loss
11:37 2nd and 15 SYR 20 Pass Lewis Short M 7 Yard Gain
11:10 3rd and 8 SYR 27 Pass Long Short M Incomplete
DRIVE 5
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:06 1st and 10 SYR 25 PENALTY (Holding) Palmer N/A 10 Yard Loss
7:48 1st and 20 SYR 15 Pass West Short L 35 Yard Gain
7:18 1st and 10 NCST 50 Pass Long Mid-Range L Incomplete
7:13 2nd and 10 NCST 50 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 4 Yard Gain
6:43 3rd and 6 NCST 46 Pass McFarlane Screen R 2 Yard Gain
DRIVE 6
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:38 1st and 10 SYR 4 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle L 4 Yard Gain
3:15 2nd and 6 SYR 8 Run Ameen-Moore End L 10 Yard Gain
2:51 1st and 10 SYR 18 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle L 0 Yard Gain
2:20 2nd and 10 SYR 18 Pass Long Deep R Incomplete
2:13 3rd and 10 SYR 18 PENALTY (Pass Interference) Clark N/A 15 Yard Gain
2:08 1st and 10 SYR 33 Play-Action Pass; Sack Long N/A 6 Yard Loss
1:38 2nd and 16 SYR 27 Pass Parris Mid-Range L 13 Yard Gain
1:07 3rd and 3 SYR 40 Pass West Deep L 30 Yard Gain
1:02 1st and 10 NCST 30 Pass Ishmael Short R 9 Yard Gain
0:48 2nd and 1 NCST 21 Pass Long Mid-Range M Incomplete
0:43 3rd and 1 NCST 21 Run Long Off-Tackle L 6 Yard Gain
0:26 1st and 10 NCST 15 Pass Long Deep R Incomplete
0:21 2nd and 10 NCST 15 Pass Lewis Mid-Range R 15 Yard Gain; TD

Play-Call Breakdown: 14 passes; 5 runs

Or maybe the first quarter was run-heavy so the second one could be pass-heavy? While A.J. Long was under some pretty consistent and heavy pressure for the entire game, he was able to pick up big chunks of yards via the passing game. His accuracy was pretty spot-on throughout the afternoon, and it seems that he's been getting better and better by the week in terms of finding that exact spot to put the football on deeper routes. Obviously pointing most notably to the Jarrod West completion in drive five here, but we'll see plenty later. Also: Don't care what the review may have shown. The call on the field for Lewis's catch was a touchdown, and it's not clear enough to overturn based on what we saw afterward. First red zone TD in over a month, by the way...

***

Third Quarter

DRIVE 7
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass West Short L 8 Yard Gain
14:34 2nd and 2 SYR 33 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
14:12 1st and 10 SYR 36 Run Gulley End L 2 Yard Loss
13:46 2nd and 12 SYR 34 Pass Long Short R Incomplete
13:41 3rd and 12 SYR 34 PENALTY (Pass Interference) Burch N/A 15 Yard Gain
13:35 1st and 10 SYR 49 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle L 6 Yard Gain
13:04 2nd and 4 NCST 45 Pocket Breakdown; Run Long End R 10 Yard Gain
12:43 1st and 10 NCST 35 Pass Gulley Screen R 5 Yard Gain
12:11 2nd and 5 NCST 30 Pass Long Short R Incomplete
12:08 3rd and 5 NCST 30 Pocket Breakdown; Run Long End R 5 Yard Gain
11:44 1st and 10 NCST 25 Pass Ishmael Deep R 25 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 8
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:13 1st and 10 NCST 42 Pass; Sack; Fumble Long N/A 11 Yard Loss
8:24 2nd and 21 SYR 47 Pass Long Mid-Range L Incomplete
8:21 3rd and 21 SYR 47 Run Gulley Dive R 16 Yard Gain
DRIVE 9
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:40 1st and 10 SYR 34 Run Gulley Dive R 5 Yard Gain
5:00 2nd and 5 SYR 39 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Loss
4:29 3rd and 8 SYR 36 Pass West Deep L 29 Yard Gain
4:02 1st and 10 NCST 35 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle R 6 Yard Gain
3:35 2nd and 4 NCST 29 Run Phillips Option R 7 Yard Gain
3:07 1st and 10 NCST 22 Pass Long Short M Interception
DRIVE 10
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:52 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Long Deep L Incomplete
2:47 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Run Gulley Dive R 1 Yard Loss
2:19 3rd and 11 SYR 24 Pass Long Short R Incomplete
DRIVE 11
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:48 1st and 10 SYR 26 Run Ameen-Moore End L 12 Yard Gain
0:13 1st and 10 SYR 38 Pass Ameen-Moore Screen L 4 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 13 passes; 11 runs

Commendably, the Syracuse offense kept their foot on the gas to start the second half, using a pass-heavy attack and a gorgeous throw/catch combo by Long to Steve Ishmael to grab the team's second touchdown. But after that, it was a variation between too aggressive and too conservative methods of attacking the NC State defense. Once again, the Pack were incredibly disruptive, which outside of drive seven, helped keep the Orange off-balance and inconsistent. I don't think Long's pick-six lost this game for SU, but if you're looking for the moment the offense started going off the rails, that's probably it. On the bright side: More Adonis Ameen-Moore and more great passing from Long in this quarter.

***

Fourth Quarter

15:00 2nd and 6 SYR 42 Pass Long Mid-Range M Incomplete
14:57 3rd and 6 SYR 42 Pass; Sack Long N/A 8 Yard Loss
DRIVE 12
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:59 1st and 10 SYR 6 Pass Lewis Screen R 6 Yard Gain
9:40 2nd and 4 SYR 12 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
9:09 3rd and 2 SYR 14 Pass Ishmael Mid-Range R 16 Yard Gain
8:47 1st and 10 SYR 30 Pass Gulley Screen R 1 Yard Gain
8:16 2nd and 9 SYR 31 Run Ameen-Moore Dive L 5 Yard Loss
7:42 3rd and 14 SYR 26 Pass Ameen-Moore Screen R 11 Yard Gain
DRIVE 13
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:23 1st and 10 SYR 38 PENALTY (Holding) Palmer N/A 10 Yard Loss
5:16 1st and 20 SYR 28 Pass; Sack Long N/A 5 Yard Loss
5:00 1st and 20 SYR 23 PENALTY (Personal Foul) Jones N/A 15 Yard Gain
4:50 1st and 10 SYR 38 Pocket Breakdown; Run Long End R 4 Yard Gain
4:23 2nd and 6 SYR 42 Pass Ishmael Short R 8 Yard Gain
4:16 2nd and 6 NCST 50 PENALTY (Personal Foul) Emerich N/A 15 Yard Loss
4:01 3rd and 13 SYR 35 Pocket Breakdown; Run Long Dive R 1 Yard Gain; Fumble
DRIVE 14
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:14 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Long Mid-Range L Incomplete
2:10 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Pass Cornelius Mid-Range R 19 Yard Gain
1:56 1st and 10 SYR 44 Pass Ishmael Short R 5 Yard Gain
1:35 2nd and 5 SYR 49 Pass West Mid-Range L 10 Yard Gain
1:29 1st and 10 NCST 41 Pass Long Deep L Incomplete
1:23 2nd and 10 NCST 41 Pass West Deep M 32 Yard Gain
1:06 1st and Goal NCST 9 PENALTY (Holding) Emerich N/A 10 Yard Loss
1:02 1st and Goal NCST 19 Pass; Sack Long N/A 5 Yard Loss
0:53 2nd and Goal NCST 24 Pass Long Mid-Range L Incomplete
0:49 3rd and Goal NCST 24 Pass; Sack Long N/A 8 Yard Loss
DRIVE 15
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:13 1st and 10 SYR 46 Pass Long Short L Incomplete
0:10 2nd and 10 SYR 46 Pass Long Deep R Interception


Play-Call Breakdown: 21 passes; 2 runs

You definitely understand passing in the fourth quarter when down three. But at the same time: down just three points. There were SOOOO many passes in this quarter, and part of that was caused by a run-game that simply couldn't consistently move the ball against a bad rushing defense (and of course, part of THAT was caused by PTG being leaned on too heavily). Again, Long was asked to virtually do everything for this group -- run, pass, block -- and despite the solo nature of his game, he still delivered some great results and put Syracuse in a position to win this game. The turnovers sucked, but can you blame him under that sort of pressure? And a few more runs would probably help...

***

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 53 called passes vs. 26 called runs (week five in a row that passing is outweighing running -- and TWICE the amount this time)
  • First half play-calling: 19 passes vs. 13 runs (20:19 in second half)
  • First downs: 20 total (10 passing, 7 rushing, 3 penalty; oh look -- running yields results!)
  • First down play selection: 21 called passes, 12 called runs (14:11 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 11 called passes, 6 called runs (6:4 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 12 (stark difference between late-second, early-third vs. rest of game)
  • Second down play selection: 20 called passes, 10 called runs (7:13 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 11 called passes, 5 called runs (13:3 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 6-for-16 (4 passes, 2 runs -- 2 more were also TDs)
  • 23 of Syracuse's 79 play calls (29 percent) took place in NC State territory (just nine in the first half); last week, that number was 23 percent. Also, 79 plays sounds like it should be good, right?
  • It was a decent gain, but I'd contend bubble screens with Adonis Ameen-Moore are a weird play-call...
  • Play-action came back to bit Long a few times, adding an extra second or so for the defense to get to him behind a shoddy line. If SU had run the ball more, they may have actually believed the fake as well (alas, not the case).
  • Syracuse had 17 big plays (ones that gained 10 or more yards) -- totaling 302 of Syracuse's ghastly 345 yards on offense. The other 62 plays gained a disgusting 0.69 yards per, which was an even steeper drop from last week's atrocious 1.1. Overall yards per play were 4.37 (vs. 2.66 last week), which you'd view as an improvement if not for the other numbers you're aware of.
  • SU had 18 (!!!) plays for loss (including offensive penalties). Doubt anything but "holy shit" thoroughly captures my feelings about that number.

See, when I first re-watched the game, It thought I'd been too hard on the offense on Saturday. Then you look through these numbers, and... yup. Should definitely be annoyed and perplexed by what we're seeing out there. Those yards-per-play averages are next-level awful, and it's a shame too, because it completely overshadows what a great game A.J. Long had throwing the football. He never should have thrown 42 passes with this offensive personnel, mind you. But considering how many times he got hit, how little protection he had and the injuries on this offense, a line of 22-of-42, 307 passing yards and two TDs (and yes, two INTs plus a fumble) is about as good as you're going to get.

Pivoting from Long's passing: RUN THE DAMN BALL!!! NC State's run defense was poor going into Saturday's matchup, and with five capable running backs available to SU, this seemed like a no-brainer to exploit that weakness. And yet, the Orange called (note: differs from ran) 18 runs in the final three quarters. Plus, and this is the second straight week we're doing this, why is Prince-Tyson Gulley being trotted out there like a feature back? In the past, he's thrived as a member of a two-man or three-man attack, yet received 15 carries vs. the Wolfpack (and 18 last week vs. Clemson). Ameen-Moore was running the ball well, yet barely got a chance to show his stuff, while Devante McFarlane, George Morris II and Ervin Phillips have nearly been buried on the depth chart. WHY?!

The biggest problem of all in this game (an a contributing factor to the lack of rushing) was the offensive line, however. Injuries have ravaged this group and also called attention to something many of us didn't want to face: they're really not as "top-notch" a unit as we thought going into this year. Manhandled by every opponent but Central Michigan and (somehow) Florida State, they're simply not up to snuff this season whether at full health or not. Obviously, that doesn't bode well for our chances these last few weeks of the season, like many of the issues outlined above.

But what do you think, though? Share some thoughts below and let's try to exorcise this performance and find the way forward..