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Syracuse Football: Breaking Down Offensive Play-Calling vs. Central Michigan

It's crazy, but it was a lot of fun to re-watch this game. I didn't know that was possible with Syracuse...

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

These can actually be enjoyable? I'd almost forgotten after the Villanova game. But here we are, a few days removed from one of Syracuse's most efficient, complete games in the past couple years and everything's changed. The Orange were great on both sides of the ball, but the offense in particular showed off a spark we haven't seen under George McDonald. Calls were varied, effective and did NOT rely solely on bubble screens. For SU fans, this was almost a dream scenario.

But onto the details about the plays we ran...

First Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:43 1st and 10 SYR 35 Run Hunt Dive R 20 Yard Gain
7:25 1st and 10 CMU 45 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
7:01 2nd and 8 CMU 43 Play-Action Pass Broyld Short L 14 Yard Gain
6:42 1st and 10 CMU 29 Play-Action Pass Flemming Screen R 3 Yard Loss
5:52 2nd and 13 CMU 32 Run Gulley Dive L 7 Yard Gain
5:21 3rd and 6 CMU 25 Pass Hunt Mid-Range R Incomplete
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:13 1st and 10 SYR 31 Play-Action Pass Custis Screen L 1 Yard Gain
3:56 2nd and 9 SYR 32 Pass Hunt Mid-Range L Incomplete
3:51 3rd and 9 SYR 32 Pass Estime Mid-Range M 12 Yard Gain
3:24 1st and 10 SYR 44 Run Gulley Dive R 1 Yard Gain
2:58 2nd and 9 SYR 45 Play-Action Pass Broyld Short R 8 Yard Gain
2:28 3rd and 1 CMU 47 Run Ameen-Moore Dive R 4 Yard Gain
2:06 1st and 10 CMU 43 Run Ameen-Moore Dive L 6 Yard Gain
1:39 2nd and 4 CMU 37 Run Ameen-Moore Dive L 4 Yard Gain
1:20 1st and 10 CMU 33 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle R 7 Yard Gain
0:52 2nd and 3 CMU 26 Play-Action Pass Ishmael Mid-Range M 16 Yard Gain
0:31 1st and Goal CMU 10 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 9 runs, 8 passes

Take a look at that balance! Terrel Hunt was in full control on the first drive, though the offense did stall a bit. He went right back to work come the second drive, however, driving the Orange inside the 10 with some major help from the running game. The early ground attack was two parts Hunt and Prince-Tyson Gulley, and two parts Adonis Ameen-Moore, who looked very good pounding the rock on the inside as SU marched into Central Michigan territory. Syracuse spent nearly the entire quarter running out of single, off-set back and empty back formations while getting a real definitive rhythm going with the no-huddle too. This would be a theme (once they stopped stalling at at or near the red zone).


Second Quarter

15:00 2nd and Goal CMU 8 Run Hunt Dive L 3 Yard Gain
14:18 3rd and Goal CMU 5 Pass Hunt Short R Incomplete
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:15 1st and 10 SYR 31 Pass McFarlane Screen R 9 Yard Gain
6:43 2nd and 1 SYR 40 Run McFarlane End L 3 Yard Gain
6:30 1st and 10 SYR 43 Play-Action Pass Moore Mid-Range M 12 Yard Gain
6:10 1st and 10 CMU 45 Pass Flemming Mid-Range M 15 Yard Gain
5:48 1st and 10 CMU 30 Run Morris End L 8 Yard Gain
5:17 2nd and 2 CMU 22 Run Morris Off-Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
4:55 1st and 10 CMU 20 Play-Action Pass Custis Screen R 3 Yard Gain
4:23 2nd and 7 CMU 17 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
3:32 3rd and 4 CMU 14 Pass Lewis Short L 3 Yard Gain
2:48 4th and 1 CMU 11 Run McFarlane Dive R 3 Yard Gain
2:43 1st and Goal CMU 8 PENALTY (Unsporstmanlike) Greer N/A 4 Yard Gain
2:33 1st and Goal CMU 4 Run Morris Dive R 0 Yard Gain
2:01 2nd and Goal CMU 4 Pass Hunt Mid-Range L Incomplete
1:56 3rd and Goal CMU 4 Play-Action Pass Estime Short R 4 Yard Gain; TD
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:26 1st and 10 SYR 5 Run Gulley Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Loss
0:11 2nd and 13 SYR 2 PENALTY (False Start) Foy N/A 1 Yard Loss
0:11 2nd and 14 SYR 1 Run Hunt Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 9 passes, 8 runs

Same number of plays and same balance (one run was a called pass). Following a stalled second drive, Syracuse gained two yards or more on 11 straight plays to start the third drive -- and three or more yards on 10 of those. They still showed some issues inside the 10, but did eventually get it in (via the air). Let's not focus on that for now, though. How about Hunt's passing in this quarter? He went six-for-eight, including a touchdown, and his overall decision-making was flawless. We mentioned in the comments day-of, but the zip he had on those passes was a great sign of things to come, and his throws were about as accurate as they've ever been. Also, it can't be overstated how much of a positive effect play-action has on Hunt's timing...


Third Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Gulley Screen L 3 Yard Gain
14:34 2nd and 7 SYR 28 PENALTY (Illegal Formation) Broyld N/A 5 Yard Loss
14:21 2nd and 12 SYR 23 Run Hunt Dive L 36 Yard Gain
13:57 1st and 10 CMU 41 Pass Hunt Screen L Incomplete
13:50 2nd and 10 CMU 41 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle L 5 Yard Gain
13:18 3rd and 5 CMU 36 Pass Hunt Screen R Incomplete
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:47 1st and 10 SYR 28 Pass Estime Deep L 20 Yard Gain
12:32 1st and 10 SYR 48 Run McFarlane End L 0 Yard Gain
12:05 2nd and 10 SYR 48 Pass Moore Short L 4 Yard Gain
11:32 3rd and 6 CMU 48 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Dive L 8 Yard Gain
11:08 1st and 10 CMU 40 Pass Hunt Deep R Incomplete
11:02 2nd and 10 CMU 40 Run Morris End L 2 Yard Loss
10:30 3rd and 12 CMU 42 Pass Hunt Mid-Range M Incomplete
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:47 1st and 10 SYR 26 Run Phillips End L 1 Yard Gain
7:19 2nd and 9 SYR 27 Run Phillips Off-Tackle L 9 Yard Gain
7:00 1st and 10 SYR 36 Run Phillips Counter L 12 Yard Gain
6:44 1st and 10 SYR 48 Run Phillips Counter L 4 Yard Gain
6:20 2nd and 6 CMU 48 Play-Action Pass Hunt Short L Incomplete
6:15 3rd and 6 CMU 48 Run Hunt Dive R 8 Yard Gain
5:57 1st and 10 CMU 40 Run Phillips Off-Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
5:31 2nd and 7 CMU 37 Pocket Breakdown; Run Hunt Dive L 1 Yard Gain
5:02 3rd and 6 CMU 36 Pass Broyld Mid-Range M 14 Yard Gain
4:40 1st and 10 CMU 22 Run Phillips Off-Tackle L 12 Yard Gain
4:18 1st and Goal CMU 10 Run Phillips End L 9 Yard Gain
3:46 2nd and Goal CMU 1 Run Hunt Dive L 1 Yard Gain; TD
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:39 1st and 10 CMU 19 Pass Estime Mid-Range L Incomplete
3:33 2nd and 10 CMU 19 Play-Action Pass Cornelius Mid-Range L 16 Yard Gain
3:15 1st and Goal CMU 3 Run Hunt End L 3 Yard Gain; TD

Play-Call Breakdown: 15 runs, 12 passes

By the end of the third quarter, Syracuse had run more plays against Central Michigan than they had in all of regulation against Villanova -- just to give you some additional perspective on how well they were moving the ball. Not only was Hunt throwing it well through the air, but we even saw the play-calling do something it's rarely done: take advantage of the downfield space using bubble screens gives you on offense. It was an incomplete pass in single coverage, of course (see the deep ball on drive six), but it was this close to being caught, and was a result of a fake bubble screen call. You also can't talk about he third quarter without mentioning freshman running back Ervin Phillips, who seemingly came out of nowhere and just sped by the defense with reckless abandon. His speed was a game-changing asset that completely altered the look of the Syracuse rushing attack.


Fourth Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:54 1st and 10 SYR 27 Play-Action Pass McFarlane Screen L 7 Yard Gain
14:20 2nd and 3 SYR 34 Play-Action Pass Gulley Screen L 2 Yard Gain
13:51 3rd and 2 SYR 36 Run Gulley Off-Tackle L 2 Yard Gain
13:36 1st and 10 SYR 38 Play-Action Pass Hunt Short M Incomplete
13:31 2nd and 10 SYR 38 Pass Phillips Screen R 1 Yard Gain
12:50 3rd and 9 SYR 39 Pass Custis Short L 6 Yard Gain
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:13 1st and 10 CMU 47 Run Morris Dive L 4 Yard Gain
10:28 2nd and 6 CMU 43 Run Hunt Dive R 2 Yard Gain
9:55 3rd and 4 CMU 41 Pass Broyld Mid-Range M 6 Yard Gain
9:19 1st and 10 CMU 35 Run Phillips Dive R 2 Yard Loss
8:40 2nd and 12 CMU 37 Run Phillips End L 7 Yard Gain
7:58 3rd and 5 CMU 30 PENALTY (False Start) Miller N/A 5 Yard Loss
7:45 3rd and 10 CMU 35 Pass Lewis Mid-Range M 7 Yard Gain
Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:51 1st and 10 SYR 14 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle L 23 Yard Gain
4:12 1st and 10 SYR 37 Play-Action Pass Custis Screen L 2 Yard Gain
3:30 2nd and 8 SYR 39 Run Ameen-Moore Off-Tackle L 53 Yard Gain
2:57 1st and Goal CMU 8 Run Hunt End L 3 Yard Gain
2:18 2nd and Goal CMU 5 Run Ameen-Moore Dive L 3 Yard Gain
1:47 3rd and Goal CMU 2 Run Ameen-Moore Dive L 1 Yard Gain
1:03 4th and Goal CMU 1 Run Hunt Off-Tackle L 1 Yard Gain; TD

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 runs, 8 passes

Normally, up 30 in the fourth quarter, teams pull their starters. But because of a certain punch in week one, the Orange first-teamers haven't gotten nearly enough time on the field together. As a result, the normal offense continued, and actually worked pretty effectively anyway. Things were simplified to more dive/bubble screen combos a bit, but we still saw a no-huddle and hurry-up that managed to push the CMU defense to its limits, roll downfield effectively, and set up some big plays on the ground (Adonis Ameen-Moore's 53-yard run was a thing of excellence). Would normally note that Ameen-Moore is only in the backfield when the ball comes his way, and nearly always finds himself in a single-back set to boot (except when he shares a two-back formation with Clay Cleveland in short yardage). But that's another conversation for another day.


  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 43 called runs vs. 37 called passes
  • First half play-calling: 17 runs vs. 17 passes (26:20 in second half)
  • First downs: 25 total (17 running, 8 passing)
  • First down play selection: 21 called runs, 14 called passes
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 17 called runs, 8 called passes
  • Second down play selection: 15 called runs, 12 called passes
  • Third down play selection: 11 called passes, 4 called runs
  • Third down conversion: 8-for-15 (4 runs, 4 passes) -- shows a mix of long- and short-yardage situations, hinting at better play-calling on second down
  • 52 of Syracuse's 80 play calls (65 percent) took place in Central Michigan territory; Nice!
  • Just 11 plays were screen passes (complete or othwerwise) for the Orange
  • 16 of Hunt's 35 passes (some of these show in the box score as runs) were out of play-action

We went into a lot of detail above, but some quick notes on what we had the pleasure of witnessing on Saturday: We don't know how long this will last, but this is the offense George McDonald had promised. The team was able to run quickly and efficiently in the no-huddle, averaging about a play every 20 seconds. The bubble screen was a factor, sure, but compared to last game and last season... this is what it can do from a positive standpoint. The Orange were able to set up passes downfield and also utilize interior running to its advantage. While the rushing numbers do look good (289 total yards), it glosses over the fact that everyone outside of Hunt, Phillips and Ameen-Moore was largely a ghost. That led to less two-back and more single-back, off-set formations.

I would like to know where Hunt got that cannon he was throwing the ball with, though. I said it during the game and above: has he ever looked better than those two straight gorgeous passes to Kendall Moore and Adrian Flemming, respectively? He's gotten much more accurate and again... PLAY-ACTION is helping him out big-time. That shoulder fake move also worked well, though let's not count on that duping anyone on Florida State the same way it did against CMU.

Also on Hunt: We can belabor the team's lack of deep throws plenty, but at the end of the day, it's tough to know who's at fault there. Hunt can obviously throw passes down field with strength and accuracy, but the play is rarely called (or at least, he's not optioning into it much at all). There's also the issue of who a Syracuse deep threat might even be. Jarrod West is about to get buried on the bench, and Quinta Funderburk doesn't even travel with the team lately. Keep tabs on this, as it's probably the one unsettled, big issue from last year's passing game.