This was an odd one to rewatch. The Syracuse Orange could've rolled over and died very early against the top-ranked Clemson Tigers. But instead, they fought. They came back. And while they ultimately fell short of what would've been among the biggest upsets in the history of the sport (regular season-wise), you did witness an interesting team on offense as the game wore on. That's something. And it made the rewatch much more enjoyable than you'd guess after yet another loss.
|14:27||1st and 10||SYR 25||Run; Fumbled Snap||Mahoney||N/A||2 Yard Loss; Fumble|
|12:56||1st and 10||SYR 30||Run||Fredericks||Off Tackle R||2 Yard Loss|
|12:18||2nd and 12||SYR 28||Pass||Mahoney||Short R||Incomplete|
|12:15||3rd and 12||SYR 28||Pass||Parris||Short R||2 Yard Gain|
|11:23||1st and 10||CLEM 28||Run||Philips||Dive L||28 Yard Gain; TD|
|10:18||1st and 10||SYR 46||Run||Fredericks||Dive R||1 Yard Gain|
|9:43||2nd and 9||SYR 47||Run||Morris||End R||9 Yard Gain|
|9:17||1st and 10||CLEM 44||Option; Run||Mahoney||End R||14 Yard Gain|
|8:37||1st and 10||CLEM 30||Run||Morris||Dive L||1 Yard Loss|
|7:57||2nd and 11||CLEM 31||Play Action; Pass||Mahoney||Mid Range R||Incomplete (Parris)|
|7:51||3rd and 11||CLEM 31||Pass||Mahoney||Short L||Incomplete (Estime)|
|7:46||4th and 11||CLEM 31||Field Goal||Murphy||N/A||FG is No Good|
|5:35||1st and 10||SYR 44||Run||Fredericks||Dive R||2 Yard Gain|
|4:57||2nd and 8||SYR 46||Pass||Lewis||Short R||2 Yard Gain|
|4:15||3rd and 6||SYR 48||Run||Fredericks||Dive R||46 Yard Gain|
|3:39||1st and Goal||CLEM 10||Option; Run||Mahoney||End R||10 Yard Gain; TD|
|0:05||1st and 10||SYR 25||Run||Fredericks||Dive R||3 Yard Gain|
Play-Call Breakdown: 11 runs, 5 passes
This was the DUMBEST quarter of football I've ever watched, only in the sense that it was incredibly haphazard, featured a host of errors by both teams, and yet, also provided a ton of entertainment value. Following a horrific start, though, Syracuse pulled together three pretty nice drives, with two of them concluding in the end zone (a welcome change). As always, the team should hand the ball off to Ervin Philips far more often, as his last two handoffs have gone for touchdowns. Fredericks isn't half bad of a running back himself, as you already knew. And his effectiveness between the tackles sets up the expert option run by Zack Mahoney to score on drive five.
|15:00||2nd and 8||SYR 27||Run||Fredericks||Dive L||2 Yard Gain|
|14:22||3rd and 6||SYR 29||Option; Run||Mahoney||End L||5 Yard Loss|
|12:54||1st and 10||SYR 25||Run||Morris||Dive L||3 Yard Gain|
|12:15||2nd and 7||SYR 28||Option; Run||Mahoney||Off Tackle R||6 Yard Gain|
|11:34||3rd and 1||SYR 34||PENALTY (Ineligible Downfield)||Philips||N/A||5 Yard Loss|
|10:57||3rd and 6||SYR 29||Pass||Morris||Screen R||8 Yard Gain|
|10:17||1st and 10||SYR 37||Play Action; Pass||Mahoney||Deep M||Incomplete (Cornelius)|
|10:11||2nd and 10||SYR 37||Run||Morris||Dive R||3 Yard Gain|
|9:31||3rd and 7||SYR 40||Pass||Mahoney||Short L||Incomplete (Philips)|
|6:52||1st and 10||SYR 41||Play Action; Pass||Lewis||Short R||15 Yard Gain|
|6:23||1st and 10||CLEM 44||Play Action; Pass||Mahoney||Short R||Incomplete (Ishmael)|
|6:17||2nd and 10||CLEM 44||Option; Pitch||Cornelius||End R||0 Yard Gain|
|5:39||3rd and 10||CLEM 44||Pass||Mahoney||Deep R||Incomplete (Philips)|
|5:32||4th and 10||CLEM 44||PENALTY (Pass Interference)||Alexander||N/A||15 Yard Gain|
|5:26||1st and 10||CLEM 29||Run||McFarlane||Dive R||2 Yard Loss|
|4:49||2nd and 12||CLEM 31||Pass; Sack||Mahoney||N/A||3 Yard Loss|
|4:07||3rd and 15||CLEM 34||Option; Run||Mahoney||End R||3 Yard Gain|
|3:26||4th and 12||CLEM 31||Field Goal||Murphy||N/A||FG is Good|
|0:36||1st and 10||SYR 23||Run||Morris||Off Tackle R||7 Yard Gain|
Play-Call Breakdown: 9 runs, 7 passes
A lot to say on this quarter, nearly all of it positive. Play action (as always) works very well for this team when they run more. The obvious takeaway, however, is that they need to run more. If Mahoney was the passer Eric Dungey is, this would've worked like gangbusters against Clemson (we also got those looks in part because Mahoney ISN'T the passer Dungey is). Philips can be a quality receiver, but lately has been a liability in that role, with another key drop, plus an ineligible man penalty that wiped out a huge Steve Ishmael slant that went for about 50 yards before being called back. Though they came away with just three points in the quarter, the offense also did a fine job of giving the SU defense a rest, if nothing else.
|14:53||1st and 10||SYR 24||Run||Morris||Dive L||11 Yard Gain|
|14:17||1st and 10||SYR 35||Option; Pitch||Morris||End L||4 Yard Loss|
|13:34||2nd and 14||SYR 31||Run||Morris||Dive L||1 Yard Gain|
|12:53||3rd and 13||SYR 32||PENALTY (Holding)||Trudo||N/A||10 Yard Loss|
|12:19||3rd and 23||SYR 22||PENALTY (Delay of Game)||Mahoney||N/A||5 Yard Loss|
|12:06||3rd and 28||SYR 17||Pass||Mahoney||Incomplete (Ishmael)|
|9:51||1st and 10||SYR 3||Pass||Mahoney||Deep R||Incomplete (Estime)|
|9:46||2nd and 10||SYR 3||Run||Morris||Dive L||1 Yard Loss|
|9:03||3rd and 11||SYR 2||Pass||Ishmael||Deep M||28 Yard Gain|
|8:29||1st and 10||SYR 30||Play Action; Pass||Estime||Mid Range R||17 Yard Gain|
|7:59||1st and 10||SYR 47||Pocket Breakdown; Run||Mahoney||Dive L||30 Yard Gain|
|7:34||1st and 10||CLEM 23||Pass||Mahoney||Mid Range R||Incomplete (Lewis)|
|7:28||2nd and 10||CLEM 23||Run||McFarlane||Off Tackle L||11 Yard Gain|
|6:53||1st and 10||CLEM 12||Option; Run||Mahoney||Off Tackle L||12 Yard Gain; TD|
|3:07||1st and 10||SYR 12||Run||Morris||Dive L||1 Yard Gain|
|2:29||2nd and 9||SYR 13||Pass||Morris||Screen R||1 Yard Gain|
|1:47||3rd and 8||SYR 14||Pass||Mahoney||Deep R||Incomplete (Parris)|
Play-Call Breakdown: 7 runs, 8 passes
Another quarter with a lot going on. First off, someone please frame drive 11, because the damn thing was perfect. Eight plays, 97 yards, four first downs, a key third down conversion AND a touchdown. Between the hurry-up offense and explosive results, the thing only took less than three minutes too. You see the passing success starts to change play-calling a bit on drive 12, though. Mahoney probably would've fared better there mixing in the option again. Drive 10 was crippling because it really should've been SU's chance to narrow the lead right away. But, of course, penalties.
|13:33||1st and 10||SYR 25||Run||Morris||Off Tackle L||51 Yard Gain|
|12:55||1st and 10||CLEM 24||Run||Mahoney||End L||11 Yard Gain|
|12:21||1st and 10||CLEM 13||Run||McFarlane||Off Tackle L||2 Yard Gain|
|11:42||2nd and 8||CLEM 11||Pass||Estime||Screen R||7 Yard Gain|
|11:01||3rd and 1||CLEM 4||Run||Morris||Dive R||3 Yard Loss|
|10:21||4th and 4||CLEM 7||Field Goal||Murphy||N/A||FG is Good|
|6:51||1st and 10||SYR 35||Run||Morris||Dive L||2 Yard Gain|
|6:17||2nd and 8||SYR 37||Play Action; Pass||Mahoney||Deep L||Incomplete (Estime)|
|6:10||3rd and 8||SYR 37||Pass||Mahoney||Short R||Incomplete (Parris)|
Play-Call Breakdown: 5 runs, 3 passes
Just two drives in the fourth -- a key part of how the upset bid was thwarted. But that's not the full story. After another high-quality drive to start the quarter, a key error on third down leads to a field goal, keeping the deficit at seven (instead of three). Seeing a clear run-blitz with seven or eight in the box, Mahoney still hands off to Morris instead of optioning to himself (with Josh Parris as a blocker) or calling an audible out to a pass (likely to a wide-open Parris). Maybe the latter's too much for the simpler offense Tim Lester runs with Mahoney, but a touchdown was needed there. The call to punt with six minutes left bugs. To what degree is up to you.
- Overall play-calling breakdown: 32 called runs vs. 23 called passes (last week: 30:46). Pretty much every one of those runs came out of an option look (not a bad thing in this case). We only ran 55 plays, but with option-heavy attacks, you'll usually get more ball control.
- First half play-calling: 20 runs vs. 12 passes (12:9 in second half)
- First downs: 15 total (8 rushing, 4 passing, 3 penalty; 5:6:2 last week)
- First down play selection: 20 called runs, 7 called passes (15:13 last week)
- First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 7 called runs, 5 called passes (9:4 last week)
- First down plays for five or more yards: 11 (last week: 5) -- great to see a return to the season average of around 11-12, especially with many coming on much longer gains than just five yards.
- Second down play selection: 8 called runs, 7 called passes (6:18 last week)
- Third down play selection: 4 called runs; 9 called passes (6:12 last week)
- Third down conversion: 3-for-13 (1 runs, 2 passes)... WHY SO TERRIBLE ON THIRD?!
- 20 of Syracuse's 55 play calls (36 percent) took place in Clemson territory (last week, 45 percent of plays took place in the opponent's territory). That number's not great, but is also impacted by explosive gains that quickly set the team up in the red zone (followed by quick scores).
- Play action was just 2-for-6, for 32 yards and two first downs. Several of those misses were really off by just a hair, though. And as mentioned earlier, with a more seasoned passer, those are on the money and connecting for big yardage.
- "Four playmakers" usage rate: 33 percent (18 out of 55 plays). That number's dropping each week, and Dontae Strickland didn't even see a target this week either, while Ben Lewis was worked back into the rotation. Part of this lower number's influenced by Jordan Fredericks missing the second half, but beyond that, Philips needs more actual carries and Steve Ismael needs a whole lot more targets.
- Syracuse had seven plays of 15 yards or more (with four of those going for 25 or more). They also had another six plays gain between 10 and 14 yards (up from three last week). Those 13 plays accounted for 284 of the Orange's ghastly 322 yards. Love the first number, obviously. But the second one means the other 42 plays went for 0.9 yards per. That's beyond terrible.
- Including penalties, 12 plays went for a loss against Clemson. That's a huge part of how the above per-play average comes to be.
- Syracuse was three for three in the red zone, with two TDs and one field goal. As always, nice job punching it in. Just need to get down here more often.
- The Orange cut drives that went three-and-out or ended with a turnover in half this week -- from 11 against Louisville, to just five such drives against the Tigers.
The hurry-up offense seemed to be working incredibly well at points in the first three quarters, and as discussed previously, the team might be best served to take a look at installing it as a full-time component. If you're running a minimal number of plays at normal speed, it could give you more chances with the ball, and obviously tire out a defense. That assumes you're successful, however. Based on what we saw on Saturday, there's at least some chance this group can be. It still doesn't hide the fact that the second half was a lot of the other team on the field. SU scored, so it's better. But the offense's second half struggles do largely persist.
Last week, it was remarked that a lot of the offense had become very predictable. This week, the opposite was true, as we saw a lot of men in motion, a lot of players used in new and different ways, and a whole lot being set up by that split-back option look. By setting up most plays the same yet producing a lot of different outcomes from those sets, it kept the defense on its heels and contributed to many of those blown Clemson assignments. This is what was envisioned when Lester described the offense in the offseason. Let's see more of it.
The Riley Dixon fake field goal in the second quarter was a delight, and despite it being read the whole way, the team lucked out with the pass interference call. That's not knock on Dixon, either. He put the right amount of air under it to force some panic into action by the DB, Mackensie Alexander. That's the benefit of having a former QB as your punter.
This was addressed above, but moreover: Give Philips more handoffs (he may need them if Fredericks is out) and get Ishmael more targets. Even with Mahoney being a marginal passer, putting it up and letting Ish jump for it is a viable strategy that the team should utilize more often. Philips has dropped more passes than he's caught in recent weeks and it may be time to face facts that he's just not a pass-catcher. Hand him the ball in the backfield, though, and let him fly, Please.
Anything else? Share thoughts below.