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Syracuse Football: Breaking Down Offensive Play-Calling vs. Boston College


Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

So, these are over. It's a relief, really, to be done with this miserable exercise. While I started these as an exercise in keeping track of what Syracuse's offense is capable of, they've seemingly morphed into something much worse: a living account of the horrible atrocities committed by the Orange each and every Saturday (or in some cases, Friday night). They've been rough. But hopefully some year soon, we'll look back at these and smirk at what used to be. It's a dream. Let me live it, please.

First Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:48 1st and 10 SYR 31 Run Gulley Dive L 2 Yard Gain
14:10 2nd and 7 SYR 33 Run Gulley End R 0 Yard Gain
13:36 3rd and 7 SYR 33 Pass; Sack Long N/A 7 Yard Loss
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:04 1st and 10 SYR 29 Run Phillips Option R 1 Yard Gain
11:41 2nd and 9 SYR 30 Pass Long Short L Incomplete
11:37 3rd and 9 SYR 30 Pass Long Short M Incomplete
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:18 1st and 10 SYR 4 Run Gulley Dive L 1 Yard Gain
7:46 2nd and 9 SYR 5 Run Gulley Off-Tackle L 29 Yard Gain
7:24 1st and 10 SYR 34 Pass Long Short R Incomplete
7:17 2nd and 10 SYR 34 Run Morris End L 2 Yard Gain
6:41 3rd and 8 SYR 36 Pass Long Middle L Incomplete
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:31 1st and 10 BC 43 Run Phillips Option R 16 Yard Gain
4:10 1st and 10 BC 27 Pass Phillips Short R 9 Yard Gain
3:25 2nd and 1 BC 18 Run McFarlane End R 3 Yard Gain
2:50 1st and 10 BC 15 Run Long Off-Tackle L 5 Yard Gain
2:20 2nd and 5 BC 10 Run McFarlane End R 6 Yard Gain
1:55 1st and Goal BC 4 Run Long End R 4 Yard Gain; TD
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:21 1st and 10 BC 44 Run Gulley End R 2 Yard Loss
0:13 2nd and 20 BC 46 PENALTY (Peronal Foul) Sloan N/A 15 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 12 runs, 6 passes

Early on, Syracuse struggles to really get things going on offense, leaning heavily on Prince-Tyson Gulley for uneven gains while the passing game failed to really establish itself. Great field position on drive four (and smart use of both Ervin Phillips and Devante McFarlane) leads to a touchdown in just over two and a half minutes -- which seems like cause for hope. But of course, it's followed up by a meaningless fight led almost entirely by Orange seniors. That fracas is an easy thing to point to as one of this program's main issues over the past decade: little-to-no discipline.


Second Quarter

15:00 2nd and 35 SYR 39 Run McFarlane Option L 11 Yard Gain
14:26 3rd and 24 BC 50 Pass; Sack Long N/A 6 Yard Loss
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:48 1st and 10 SYR 20 PENALTY (Illegal Block) Robinson N/A 10 Yard Loss
4:16 1st and 20 SYR 10 Run Gulley Dive R 1 Yard Loss
3:33 2nd and 19 SYR 9 Run Gulley Off-Tackle L 6 Yard Gain
2:56 3rd and 15 SYR 14 Pass Long Screen R Incomplete
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:04 1st and 10 SYR 30 Run Morris End R 0 Yard Gain
0:57 2nd and 10 SYR 30 Run Morris Off-Tackle L 6 Yard Gain
0:15 3rd and 4 SYR 36 Run Morris Dive L 1 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 6 runs, 2 passes

Boston College's nearly-10-minute drive gives Syracuse very little to work with in the second quarter -- something the Orange are seemingly fine with, leaning on Gulley once again and then running out the clock. The long yardage-to-go to begin the quarter was obviously a result of the previous quarter's penalty, which never should have happened at all. The team tried to fight its way out of it, but a 35-yard hole when you can't really move the ball through the air is a lot to deal with.


Third Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:55 1st and 10 SYR 20 Run Ameen-Moore End R 1 Yard Gain
14:21 2nd and 9 SYR 21 Play-Action Pass Long Short R Interception
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:07 1st and 10 SYR 26 Pass West Middle L 14 Yard Gain
11:45 1st and 10 SYR 40 Run McFarlane Off-Tackle L 0 Yard Gain
11:16 2nd and 10 SYR 40 Pass West Middle R 11 Yard Gain
10:56 1st and 10 BC 49 PENALTY (Offsides) Mihalik N/A 5 Yard Gain
10:38 1st and 5 BC 44 PENALTY (Pass Interference) Keyes N/A 15 Yard Gain
10:33 1st and 10 BC 29 Play-Action Pass West Middle M 9 Yard Gain
10:01 2nd and 1 BC 20 PENALTY (Holding) Robinson N/A 10 Yard Loss
9:47 2nd and 11 BC 30 Pass Long Deep R Incomplete
9:42 3rd and 11 BC 30 Pass Long Deep L Incomplete
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:20 1st and 10 BC 46 Pass West Short L 8 Yard Gain
5:59 2nd and 2 BC 38 Run McFarlane Off-Tackle R 1 Yard Gain
5:24 3rd and 1 BC 37 Run Ameen-Moore Dive R 4 Yard Gain
4:59 1st and 10 BC 33 Run Phillips End L 0 Yard Gain
4:25 2nd and 10 BC 33 Pass Long Deep L Incomplete
4:20 3rd and 10 BC 33 Pass; Sack Long N/A 10 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 9 passes, 5 runs

A run-heavy start to the game gives way to a pass-happy third quarter, something that would be less problematic if the balance weren't so shifted in the complete opposite direction up until this point. Syracuse spends most of the third in Boston College territory, yet ends up with zero points due to a costly penalty (surprise!) and a clueless fake FG/punt later. It's these sorts of moments where you feel the need to tear your hair out while watching the Orange. They show an ability to move the football, followed by them lacking the facilities to stop it from moving backwards. And that punt... right out of the GERG playbook.


Fourth Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:43 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Morris Dive L 1 Yard Gain
14:13 2nd and 9 SYR 26 Pass Flemming Short R 5 Yard Gain
13:37 3rd and 4 SYR 31 Pass West Short L 3 Yard Gain
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:36 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Long Middle R Incomplete
8:31 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Pass Long Middle L Incomplete
8:27 3rd and 10 SYR 25 Pass; Sack Long N/A 4 Yard Loss
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:29 1st and 10 SYR 7 Pass Cornelius Short L 7 Yard Gain
3:13 2nd and 3 SYR 14 Pass Wilson Short M Interception

Play-Call Breakdown: 7 passes, 1 run

You can't fault Syracuse for at least trying to score in the fourth (haven't done so since the Florida State game, by the way), but with their passes not connecting, all hope was shot by the time drive 12 began. After so many drives that started at or past midfield, the Orange dealt with some realistic (for them) field position for the entire quarter and the results were predictable. Inaccurate throws by A.J. Long failed to hit their targets, and the season fittingly saw its final offensive play result in an Austin Wilson interception. It's too poetic, really.


  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 24 called runs vs. 24 called passes (someone will say this is balanced, but look above and you'll laugh; also -- 48 plays?! Woof.)
  • First half play-calling: 18 runs vs. 8 passes (6:16 in second half)
  • First downs: 8 total (5 rushing, 2 passing, 1 penalty; none in fourth quarter)
  • First down play selection: 13 called runs, 7 called passes (16:7 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 4 called runs, 3 called passes (9:3 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 7
  • Second down play selection: 9 called runs, 8 called passes (8:10 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 9 called passes, 2 called runs (10:3 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 1-for-11 (1 run)
  • 17 of Syracuse's 48 play calls (35 percent) took place in BC territory (almost entirely made up of two drives alone); last week, that number was 30 percent.
  • Lots of speed option with mixed results. Obviously it works for Phillips, but with a single-back offset in most cases, it was pretty clear who it was going to and where they were headed.
  • Play-action was 1-of-2 this week, for nine yards and an interception. Plenty of other chances for it to have been used, however.
  • Syracuse had five big plays (ones that gained 10 or more yards) -- totaling 81 of Syracuse's absolutely laughable 128 yards of total offense. The other 43 plays gained 1.09 yards per, which is a steep drop from last week's already bad figure of 1.67. Overall yards per play were 2.67 (vs. 4.72 last week), which is hilariously awful for any team at any level and the people responsible for such a number should have their jobs thoroughly examined this offseason.

Won't go into a WHOLE lot here in order to avoid summarizing -- especially when we're doing that later in the week (get excited!). There's also the whole issue of having very little to even look at given the Boston College results. Running just 48 plays from scrimmage gives this team zero chance to succeed, even if it was executing at an average rate on offense. The sinking level of plays (while drive numbers stay high, by the way) continues to disturb yours truly, as it directly correlates to a rise in three-and-outs and/or turnovers. Unacceptable, any way you look at it.

This week's rushing attack spread the love to all five backs and Long, but it also leaned so heavily on the first half that it would've been hard for any of them to really get a rhythm going in the second. Erv still has a very bright future in this backfield, though not as a speed-option only. They have to figure out how to diversify his role within this offense otherwise he gets bogged down in predictability.

Oh, and Long was horrible throwing the ball on Saturday. Like, to the point where I half hoped Riley Dixon would just take over. Without a whole lot of designed runs on his part (which is fine), it was up to Long to deliver accurate throws when protected and provide value through the air. He didn't do that, and it squandered what could have been a great exclamation point on the year for guys like Ben Lewis, Steve Ishmael and/or Jarrod West. Long's ineffectiveness here and vs. Pitt blew the door wide open for Terrel Hunt to reclaim that job of his.


Anything left to say about this exhausting nonsense? Fire away below. I'll also be passing around a basket, in which you can place checks made out to cash.