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

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Six games in, and we've yet to see a full game called, to be honest.

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, now I remember why these became such a dreaded task by the end of last season: the losses. Though at least in 2015, the Syracuse Orange finds ways to be entertaining, even in defeat. That still doesn't make me (or you, the reader) happy to see the mishaps and missed blocks that prevented SU from finding a victory against the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday. We'll still dive in below...

First Quarter

DRIVE 1




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Ishmael Short L 5 Yard Gain
14:28 2nd and 5 SYR 30 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive R 28 Yard Gain
13:54 1st and 10 UVA 42 Fumble Dungey N/A 6 Yard Loss; Fumble
DRIVE 2




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:35 1st and 10 SYR 20 Pass Lewis Short R 12 Yard Gain
11:11 1st and 10 SYR 32 Run Fredericks Off Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
10:40 2nd and 7 SYR 35 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive R 0 Yard Gain
9:59 3rd and 7 SYR 35 Pass Philips Mid Range M 16 Yard Gain
9:31 1st and 10 UVA 49 Option; Run Dungey Off Tackle L 15 Yard Gain
9:02 1st and 10 UVA 34 Run Philips Counter R 3 Yard Gain
8:28 2nd and 7 UVA 31 Pass Ishmael Short R 3 Yard Gain
7:48 3rd and 4 UVA 28 PENALTY (Holding) Robinson N/A 10 Yard Loss
7:19 3rd and 14 UVA 38 Pass Dungey Mid-Range R Incomplete (Ishmael)
DRIVE 3




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:16 1st and 10 UVA 31 Run Philips Sweep L 3 Yard Gain
4:45 2nd and 7 UVA 28 Run Fredericks Dive L 15 Yard Gain
4:18 1st and 10 UVA 13 Run Fredericks Dive R 1 Yard Loss
3:38 2nd and 11 UVA 14 Pass Philips Short M 6 Yard Gain
3:01 3rd and 5 UVA 8 Run Dungey Dive L 6 Yard Gain
2:36 1st and Goal UVA 2 Fumble; Recovered Dungey N/A 7 Yard Loss
1:52 2nd and Goal UVA 9 Option; Pitch Strickland End L 8 Yard Gain
0:49 3rd and Goal UVA 1 Run Fredericks Dive R 0 Yard Gain
0:01 4th and Goal UVA 1 Direct Snap; Pitch Dungey End R 0 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 runs, 8 passes

If you wanted to sum up this game in one quarter, perhaps this is the one to focus on. Syracuse gained 85 yards, picked up six first downs, and got into Virginia territory three different times. They even called more runs than passes (sort of... we're counting the two fumbles as runs). But: as mentioned, SU fumbled twice (both on Eric Dungey). And they failed to come away with any points at all. The final play of the quarter was a point of considerable conversation afterward, and you can't help but dwell on the poorly constructed snap to Fredericks a little after the Orange lost in overtime. The hot start was appreciated, but clearly you need to come away from three drives into Hoos territory with points.

Second Quarter

DRIVE 4




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:36 1st and 10 SYR 49 Pass Avant Short L 11 Yard Gain
13:08 1st and 10 UVA 40 Run Dungey Off Tackle L 0 Yard Gain
12:33 2nd and 10 UVA 40 Option; Pitch; Fumble Dungey End L 2 Yard Loss
12:12 3rd and 12 UVA 42 Pass Cornelius Mid Range R 11 Yard Gain
11:39 4th and 1 UVA 31 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is No Good
DRIVE 5





Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:07 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Fredericks Screen R 3 Yard Gain
4:39 2nd and 7 SYR 28 Run Fredericks Dive R 1 Yard Gain
3:57 3rd and 6 SYR 29 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 7 Yard Loss; Fumble
DRIVE 6





Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:43 1st and 10 SYR 24 Pass Dungey Mid Range L Incomplete (Estime)
3:39 2nd and 10 SYR 24 Run Dungey End R 13 Yard Gain
3:10 1st and 10 SYR 37 Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete (Lewis)
3:04 2nd and 10 SYR 37 Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete (Lewis)
3:01 3rd and 10 SYR 37 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End L 6 Yard Gain
2:47 4th and 4 SYR 43 Fake Punt; Run Dixon End R 15 Yard Gain
2:15 1st and 10 UVA 42 Penalty (Pass Interference) Canady N/A 15 Yard Gain
2:15 1st and 10 UVA 27 Pass Lewis Short L 7 Yard Gain
1:52 2nd and 3 UVA 20 Pass Estime Short L 6 Yard Gain
1:48 1st and 10 UVA 14 Run Morris Off Tackle L 0 Yard Gain
1:18 2nd and 10 UVA 14 Run Philips Counter R 13 Yard Gain
1:06 1st and Goal UVA 1 Run Fredericks Dive R 1 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 7





Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:32 1st and 10 UVA 26 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Off Tackle L 26 Yard Gain; TD

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 passes, 8 runs

Six drives in, you can see the team moves the ball best when it's at least 50 percent in favor of run calls (again, scrambles out of the pocket are passes that break down here). Yet, the team is very much focused on throwing the football. On drive five, that commitment results in a three-and-out. Drive four highlights another culprit of offensive issues, however: the option. We've discussed it in the comments, and it's worth restating here that the team needs more traditional hand-off plays. Also if not for ANOTHER expertly executed Riley Dixon fake, this whole quarter may have been lost, effectively sealing the game. Just to play devil's advocate on the praise from the production the team got once inside the red zone.

Third Quarter

DRIVE 8




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:22 1st and 10 SYR 20 Run Fredericks Off Tackle R 5 Yard Gain
8:47 2nd and 5 SYR 25 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 2 Yard Loss
8:03 3rd and 7 SYR 23 Penalty (Pass Interference) Wahee N/A 15 Yard Gain
8:03 1st and 10 SYR 38 Pass Lewis Deep R 21 Yard Gain
7:15 1st and 10 UVA 41 Run McFarlane Off Tackle L 4 Yard Gain
6:30 2nd and 6 UVA 37 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive L 0 Yard Gain
5:44 3rd and 6 UVA 37 Pass Ishmael Short L 6 Yard Gain
5:19 1st and 10 UVA 31 Run McFarlane End L 7 Yard Gain
4:58 2nd and 3 UVA 24 Run McFarlane Dive R 1 Yard Gain
4:27 3rd and 2 UVA 23 Play Action; Run Dungey Off Tackle R 14 Yard Gain
3:53 1st and Goal UVA 9 Run Morris Off Tackle L 3 Yard Gain
3:17 2nd and Goal UVA 6 Run Strickland Counter L 1 Yard Gain
2:34 3rd and Goal UVA 5 Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Custis)
2:28 4th and Goal UVA 5 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is Good

Play-Call Breakdown: 7 runs, 5 passes

This is where cracks START to show in the overall play-calling and personnel use. And not surprisingly, this happens in nearly every game. The one-drive third quarter is a staple of this season. If it happens and Syracuse comes away with a touchdown, there's not a lot to get angry about. If they come away from a 12-play drive with a field goal as they do here, that's the frustrating part. While there was pressure on Dungey the entire game, things also started to get ramped up in this period, and he started taking even more unnecessary hits than he did in the first half. Oh, and taking out Jordan Fredericks (when he was running well), made it seem like the team was coasting a bit. Not the case...

Fourth Quarter

DRIVE 9




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
10:31 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run McFarlane Dive R 2 Yard Gain
9:59 2nd and 8 SYR 27 Run McFarlane Off Tackle L 4 Yard Gain
9:18 3rd and 4 SYR 31 Pass Ishmael Short L 19 Yard Gain
8:45 1st and 10 UVA 50 PENALTY (False Start) Palmer N/A 5 Yard Loss
8:24 1st and 15 SYR 45 Option; Run Dungey Off Tackle L 2 Yard Loss
7:44 2nd and 17 SYR 43 Pass Estime Short R 6 Yard Gain
7:09 3rd and 11 SYR 49 Pass Dungey Deep L Incomplete (Estime)

Play-Call Breakdown: 3 runs, 3 passes

Playing-not-to-lose decision making enters the fourth quarter as well, as everything that worked in the first half is effectively thrown out the window for the brief 18 plays the Orange possessed it for in the last two quarters. Devante McFarlane continues getting carries, while an ill-advised option on 1st and 15 sets the team up to go pass-heavy to force the punt. If you hadn't figured it out, the less you see certain players' names (I'm sure you know who I'm referring to), the less successful the team is at moving the football and scoring. This second half is pretty devoid of those players, no?

Overtime

DRIVE 10




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
N/A 1st and 10 UVA 25 Option; Pitch Philips End R 7 Yard Gain
N/A 2nd and 3 UVA 18 Run Philips Dive L 2 Yard Gain
N/A 3rd and 1 UVA 16 Run Fredericks End R 6 Yard Gain
N/A 1st and Goal UVA 10 Run Fredericks Dive L 3 Yard Gain
N/A 2nd and Goal UVA 7 Pass Philips Short R 7 Yard Gain; TD

DRIVE 11




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
N/A 1st and 10 UVA 12 Pass Dungey Mid Range R 12 Yard Gain; TD

DRIVE 12




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
N/A 1st and 10 UVA 25 Play Action; Pass Philips Screen R 4 Yard Gain
N/A 2nd and 6 UVA 21 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey N/A 4 Yard Loss
N/A 3rd and 10 UVA 25 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 6 Yard Loss
N/A 4th and 16 UVA 31 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is No Good

Play-Call Breakdown: 5 passes, 4 runs

Passes got Syracuse into the end zone twice, but (at least on drive 10), it was the run that helped set it up. Drive 12 was depressing for many reasons, mostly because the offensive line was gassed and simply couldn't protect Dungey anymore (not like they did a great job protecting him all day, though). The two big losses set up a longer field goal than necessary for Cole Murphy, who would miss his second 48-yarder of the game. Can't blame him for that.

***

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 33 called runs vs. 32 called passes (last week: 24:43). The team toes back over the line for runs, though the option numbers also continue to stay high. Also, just 65 plays called in 12 drives (average of just over five plays per).
  • First half play-calling: 19 runs vs. 19 passes (14:13 in second half and overtime)
  • First downs: 21 total (11 rushing, 8 passing, 2 penalty; 7:11:3 last week)
  • First down play selection: 17 called runs, 11 called passes (10:18 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 13 called runs, 3 called passes (5:13 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 11 (last week: 13)
  • Second down play selection: 11 called runs, 11 called passes (7:15 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 4 called runs; 10 called passes (6:10 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 6-for-14 (3 runs, 3 passes)
  • 41 of Syracuse's 65 play calls (63 percent) took place in Virginia territory (last week, 41 percent of plays took place in the opponent's territory). Part of that figure is aided by overtime, but even removing those numbers, they're still at a 57 percent clip. To only come away with a) 56 plays in regulation and b) 24 points given that percentage is completely unacceptable.
  • There was one play action pass the entire game, and it was in the third overtime. Otherwise, the team used play action for designed runs for Dungey or to set up the option. These didn't work incredibly well -- or at least they didn't consistently.
  • The offensive line got zero push in this one, as you might have guessed by my comments earlier, plus the way these are charted. Dungey scrambled six times out of pressure, and was sacked three more times. That doesn't even tell the story of all the times he stood fast in the pocket to deliver a throw. If he's not going to be protected, this is a recipe for disaster.
  • Eight (!!!) of Syracuse's plays went for 15 yards or more. Additionally, Syracuse had seven more plays that totaled between 10 and 14 yards each. Virginia assisted with penalties as well on top of those, extending a couple drives with 15-yard fouls. Explosive plays helped make up for some failures on first down, and the lack of protection from the line (though not enough, ultimately).
  • Like last week, we saw a new uptick in negative plays from scrimmage. Against UVa, 17 (!!!) plays gained either zero yards or negative yardage -- a figure of 26 percent of the total plays run. That's an easy way to derail an offense.
  • The team added its second red zone failure of the season. Though this doesn't account for all the times it's settled for field goals over touchdowns (a lot).

***

Admittedly, there's a whole lot above, so I'll try to keep this more succinct. The teaser at the top says it, but I'll also restate: Tim Lester has yet to call a complete game. Either a quarter or a full half of every game thus far has largely been missing, and unlike earlier contests, it's now costing the Orange. In this one, the offense did a disappearing act while the defense responded with its own too. The execution issues aren't on the play-calling as much, but... we are seeing tendencies that breed success and ones that breed failure. Protect Dungey and let him improvise, good things happen. Get the ball to Ervin Philips, Brisly Estime and Steve Ismael, and good things happen. Run too much option or move away from Jordan Fredericks as your primary runner? Things get a little iffy.

This isn't a call for wholesale changes. What the Orange need are a few tweaks to get this thing operating at a more efficient and consistent clip. For every ballsy call like the Dixon run (more of a special teams play anyway), there's a gutless thinking like letting Virginia run down the clock at the end of regulation, or clueless one like the Fredericks direct snap in the first quarter. The negative plays were a huge part of SU's failures last year. While they're not on bubble screens now, we're seeing more broken plays and failed option looks leading to negative yardage and/or turnovers.

***

Anything else? Share any and all thoughts below.