Welcome to Breaking Math: Syracuse Football. Each week, we'll do our best to zero in on some fancy stats, where exactly the Syracuse Orange stand with them, and if it means anything. This space is typically reserved for Pregs, but he's busy. Sorry.
Last week, we discussed explosiveness, and in particular, Eric Dungey's effect on said success factor. This time around, it's a related topic: starting fast.
Four games into the 2014 season, we started tracking first down plays of five yards or more in the weekly play-calling breakdown. That number averaged out to 10.33 per game over the course of those nine contests, though it was heavily weighted by one game (Florida State) with 16 and another (Maryland) with 18. Remove those (the two best-called games of the year), and you're at 8.4.
With roughly 30 or so first downs per game, that low of a number creates an uphill battle for your offense, but one that SU hasn't endured yet in 2015. As we've already noted, play-calling is distinctly better all around, and part of that is more effective first down play. The Orange have had 12 first down plays of five yards or more in each contest so far. That's one way to explain a first down S&P+ ranking of 26th in the country. The Orange are able to start fast on drives, which opens up the playbook and takes pressure off the young quarterbacks the team has sent out there thus far.
The other place a fast start has benefited Syracuse is in terms of overall offensive (yardage) output in the first quarter. Again going back to S&P+ rankings, SU is among the best in the country in the first quarter -- third overall with 171.7 average yards in the game's opening period. This doesn't take scoring into account, and that's definitely a caveat for another day. But the Orange are getting into rhythm early on and establishing the baseline for what its offense is right from the starting gate.
At times, it's been a bit shaky as the team sets up later play-calls (see early emphasis on the pass this pass week to set up the run, which then set up late passing success). But Syracuse is picking up yardage in bunches to start games, which is a stark difference from last season. I don't even need to go back to the 2014 numbers (nor do I have them on hand) to tell you the production is far and away ahead of what we saw last fall.
Obviously that's not EVERYTHING you could glean from Bill C.'s advanced stats profile on Syracuse right now, nor even the only thing to take away from SU's first down and first quarter success. But it's a conversation starter, if nothing else.
What else do you think has contributed to team's (relatively) hot start on O? Share your own thoughts below.