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

Once again, you'll be happy. And sad...

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

It's difficult for any team to productively move the ball when they get so few tries at doing so. How difficult? The Syracuse Orange looked to be running a quality offensive attack for at least a half against Pitt this past weekend. But with only nine possessions, it simply wasn't enough. That's why this breakdown -- like every other this season, really -- feels so unbalanced and unfinished. There IS something there. We just need to see it for a full game.

First Quarter


Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:58 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Fredericks Dive L 55 Yard Gain
9:20 1st and 10 PITT 20 Play Action; Pass Philips Short L 20 Yard Gain; TD

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:09 1st and 10 SYR 16 Pass Philips Short R 9 Yard Gain
6:37 2nd and 1 SYR 25 Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete (Philips)
6:33 3rd and 1 SYR 25 Run Dungey Dive R 2 Yard Gain
6:02 1st and 10 SYR 27 Penalty (Pass Interference) Estime N/A 14 Yard Loss
5:41 1st and 24 SYR 13 Run Fredericks End R 2 Yard Gain
5:06 2nd and 22 SYR 15 Pass Dungey Deep R Incomplete
4:59 3rd and 22 SYR 15 Pass Philips Mid Range M 16 Yard Gain

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:43 1st and 10 SYR 32 Option; Toss Philips End R 5 Yard Gain
0:09 2nd and 5 SYR 37 Play Action; Pass Fredericks Short R 6 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 6 passes, 4 runs

First off: WOW, on that first drive. That's the apex of what this offense can be. And when it's operating like that, and using the run game to set up the pass, beautiful things happen. Jordan Fredericks is extremely difficult to take down once he gets past the initial point of contact, and it showed on that run. Ervin Philips getting an early target was no surprise, and it's a testament to his speed that he got into the end zone on that throw. Drive two was unfortunate, but drive three started pretty well. I don't even mind the slight skew toward the pass. It was working and (again) was set up by the run.

Second Quarter

15:00 1st and 10 SYR 43 Run Fredericks Off Tackle R 6 Yard Gain
14:26 2nd and 4 SYR 49 Play Action; Pass Philips Short L 7 Yard Gain
13:53 1st and 10 PITT 44 Run Morris Off Tackle L 1 Yard Gain
13:20 2nd and 9 PITT 43 Pass Parris Short M 4 Yard Gain
12:38 3rd and 5 PITT 39 Pass Morris Short L 4 Yard Gain
11:55 4th and 1 PITT 35 Direct Snap; Run Fredericks Dive L 2 Yard Gain
11:25 1st and 10 PITT 33 Run Fredericks End L 2 Yard Loss
11:04 2nd and 12 PITT 35 Pass Dungey Mid Range R Incomplete (Estime)
10:59 3rd and 12 PITT 35 Penalty (Pass Interference) Maddox Deep L 15 Yard Gain
10:54 1st and 10 PITT 20 Run Fredericks Off Tackle L 2 Yard Gain
10:17 2nd and 8 PITT 18 Pass Ishmael Short L 7 Yard Gain
9:43 3rd and 1 PITT 11 Play Action; Run Dungey Dive R 9 Yard Gain
9:08 1st and Goal PITT 2 Direct Snap; Run Fredericks End L 1 Yard Loss
8:32 2nd and Goal PITT 3 Pass Dungey Short L Incomplete (Philips)
8:27 3rd and Goal PITT 3 Play Action; Pass Philips Short R 3 Yard Loss
7:48 4th and Goal PITT 6 Field Goal Murphy
FG is Good

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:37 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Estime Short R 8 Yard Gain
1:31 2nd and 2 SYR 33 Pass Dungey Deep L Incomplete (Philips)
1:26 3rd and 2 SYR 33 Pass Fredericks Short L 2 Yard Gain
1:14 1st and 10 SYR 35 Pass Ishmael Short L 8 Yard Gain
1:11 2nd and 2 SYR 43 Pass Estime Short R 7 Yard Gain
1:06 1st and 10 PITT 50 Pass Ishmael Deep R 40 Yard Gain
0:48 1st and Goal PITT 10 Run Philips Off Tackle L 5 Yard Gain
0:38 2nd and Goal PITT 5 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive L 1 Yard Gain
0:31 3rd and Goal PITT 4 Pass Ishmael Short L 4 Yard Gain; TD

Play-Call Breakdown: 15 passes, 8 runs

The skew is even more toward the pass in quarter two, but that's because of an urgent fourth drive that called for it. The fact that Eric Dungey and Steve Ishmael really got cooking only served to help Lester's case. We'll address further below, but this quarter showed just how much Dungey grew in just one game -- getting the ball out quickly and accurately and using his legs as a last resort. Both drives three and four were examples of how a successful Syracuse possession should look at its peak, though drive three ended with just a field goal (which would haunt us...). This quarter also featured two key Philips drops, both of which were probably touchdowns if caught (the first was actually in the end zone). Still, nice to grab 17 points on just four drives.

Third Quarter


Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 25 Broken Play; Run Dungey Dive R 3 Yard Gain
14:30 2nd and 7 SYR 28 PENALTY (False Start) Palmer N/A 5 Yard Loss
14:30 2nd and 12 SYR 23 Run Fredericks End L 3 Yard Gain
13:52 3rd and 9 SYR 26 Pass Estime Short R 7 Yard Gain

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:42 1st and 10 SYR 13 Play Action; Pass Ishmael Deep R 33 Yard Gain
9:09 1st and 10 SYR 46 Run Fredericks Off Tackle R 9 Yard Gain
8:30 2nd and 1 PITT 45 Pass Dungey Deep R Incomplete (Ishmael)
8:22 3rd and 1 PITT 45 Run McFarlane Dive R 2 Yard Loss

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:50 1st and 10 SYR 39 Run Fredericks Counter R 3 Yard Gain
5:18 2nd and 7 SYR 42 Pass Ishmael Short L 13 Yard Gain
4:45 1st and 10 PITT 45 Run Fredericks Dive R 3 Yard Gain
4:07 2nd and 7 PITT 42 Pass Dungey Mid Range M Interception

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:08 1st and 10 SYR 35 Play Action; Pass Dungey Deep M Interception

Play-Call Breakdown: 6 passes, 6 runs

This is what you DON'T want out of a quarter of Syracuse football. A hard hit on Dungey that took him out for a drive, two interceptions, quick and unsuccessful drives, and the worst part: zero points. In previous games, the third quarter had largely been one long drive. In this one, we saw four short ones, all ending unceremoniously. The highlight was another gorgeous connection between Dungey and Ishmael, with the latter adding another fantastic catch in an afternoon (and short career) full of them.

Fourth Quarter


Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:00 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Fredericks Dive L 4 Yard Gain
13:26 2nd and 6 SYR 29 Pass Philips Screen R 7 Yard Gain
12:57 1st and 10 SYR 36 Option; Run Dungey Dive R 3 Yard Loss
12:15 2nd and 13 SYR 33 Pass Parris Short L 10 Yard Gain
11:40 3rd and 3 SYR 43 Pass Philips Short L 3 Yard Gain
11:07 1st and 10 SYR 46 Option; Run Dungey End R 26 Yard Gain
10:41 1st and 10 PITT 28 Run Fredericks Off Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
10:08 2nd and 7 PITT 25 Pass Dungey Short L Incomplete (Ishmael)
10:03 3rd and 7 PITT 25 Pass Parris Short M 5 Yard Gain
9:26 4th and 2 PITT 20 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is Good

Play-Call Breakdown: 5 passes, 4 runs

And that was it. Another quarter where Syracuse gets just one shot at it because of a long drive by the opposition. The Orange drove the ball well against Pitt on this single change, but settled on a field goal. The key play -- beyond a smart, 26-yard scamper by Dungey -- was unfortunately a second down drop by Ishmael that would've given the team a fresh set of downs inside the 20. As you can tell above, the traditional run game falls apart by this point in the contest, and we're back to the option too. Obviously settling for those three points to tie would be crucial (as they were previously too), since Pitt would win by a field goal later.


  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 22 called runs vs. 32 called passes (last week: 33:32). Emphasis on the pass is warranted because of one drive (drive four) in the second quarter carrying that load. Option numbers are down, which is a plus in terms of Dungey getting hit. Running 54 plays is bad, and doing so in nine drives makes you feel worse about it.
  • First half play-calling: 12 runs vs. 21 passes (10:11 in second half)
  • First downs: 16 total (5 rushing, 10 passing, 1 penalty; 11:8:2 last week)
  • First down play selection: 17 called runs, 7 called passes (17:11 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 12 called runs, 4 called passes (13:3 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 11 (last week: 11)
  • Second down play selection: 1 called run, 17 called passes (11:11 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 3 called runs; 8 called passes (4:10 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 5-for-11 (2 runs, 3 passes)
  • 24 of Syracuse's 54 play calls (44 percent) took place in Pittsburgh territory (last week, 63 percent of plays took place in the opponent's territory). Overtime or not last week, this week presented a large drop-off. Syracuse was able to get into Pitt territory quickly when they were there, however, which partially explains the change.
  • Play action passes were 5-for-6, for 62 yards, a touchdown (the first pass of the game) and an interception. As the run game faded away in the game, it was used less. It also wasn't used on that touchdown drive in the second quarter which is totally understandable (short clock meant no chance they'd run anyway).
  • Like I said above, Dungey's gotten a whole lot quicker at getting the ball out, and getting it out accurately. On the game, he was 21-of-30 for 210 yards (an average of seven yards per pass). That's highly efficient play, despite the two picks. And when you factor in three key drops, those numbers could be even higher. Tons of praise go his way for making quick adjustments that worked wonders.
  • Six of Syracuse's plays went for 15 yards or more (that's 11 percent of all plays). They also had three more plays gaining between 10 and 14 yards. Explosive plays were the staple of the offense in Saturday's loss. If you remove the gains from those six long plays, Syracuse had just 163 yards on the other 48 plays (an average just below 3.4 yards per). Explosive plays are great. But they also need to be complemented by more sufficient gains.
  • The Orange had only six plays go for a loss this week (excluding penalties), a big improvement over the 17 from last week.
  • SU settled for field goals twice in the red zone, so it was almost ironic that they'd lose by a field goal on Saturday. The Orange scored on all four red zone trips, but only two times were those touchdowns. Obviously things are better than they were last year, but the settling for three is still costing them.


Last week, Kevin penned a piece begging Tim Lester to utilize the "four playmakers" (Fredericks, Ishmael, Philips and Brisly Estime), and to his credit, SU's offensive coordinator absolutely delivered. Of Syracuse's 54 offensive plays, 38 either targeted or got the ball to one of those four -- a winning formula, we can all certainly agree with. We'll have to wait on see on Ben Lewis's status for this coming week, but you can at least assume his absence had something to do with doubling down on the four biggest weapons on the team (save Dungey, who's obviously involved on every play). If Syracuse has a shot to test Florida State, it'll be on the strength of these skill players. Percentages like we saw this past week in terms of targets should continue -- especially when it comes to getting the ball to Ishmael. The sophomore had a fantastic all-around game and will surely be eager to replicate last year's production vs. the 'Noles in front of a home state crowd next week in Tallahassee.

A few more notes before moving on: Handoffs to George Morris II and Devante McFarlane are fine here and there, but going to them on key short yardage situations seems odd, especially when Fredericks has shown success with the Wildcat set. The run/pass ratio on second down was some cause for alarm, because you have to assume Pitt noticed the same thing we do above (and future opponents will as well). Same goes for first down, really. Having first be your "run down" and second be your "passing down" allows defenses to simply load up the box and drop an extra man in coverage accordingly. Pitt may not have been smart enough to take advantage, but FSU certainly will be.

Oh, and those drops were a one-time thing, right? Avoiding for the future is probably best for our collective health and well-being (especially if Dungey's going to be putting passes on the money as he did in those situations).


Anything else? Share any and all thoughts below.