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Syracuse Football: Breaking Down Defensive Play-Calling vs. Florida State

Even though the Orange gave up season highs in yards and yards per play, I don't have many problems with the scheme the coaches designed. Syracuse just got beat by a significantly more talented team.

Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse gave up a season-high 8 yards per play for a season-high 575 yards. The end result was an absolute nightmare that exposed this defense as a clearly below average unit among P5 teams. But strangely enough, I have to say, I actually liked what the coaches tried to do.

The scheme was far more creative and inventive than the SU defense typically goes for. They didn't just stick to the bread and butter, they tried to mix things up and show some exotic new fronts. Clearly, it didn't work out, but I think that's more of a reflection of the talent gap than poor gameplanning.

Even some of the standard flaws can't really be criticized after this game. We can't get on the defensive backs for giving too big a cushion when they just gave up 75 and 45 yard touchdown passes over the top. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

I think it's pretty clear the zone coverage didn't work on Saturday, and probably hasn't worked much of the year. But that being said, did you really want to line up man to man against these receivers? Likewise, we can maybe get on the coaches for not blitzing enough, but it's not like the blitz was really rattling Florida State when they did send extra rushers.

Sure, Florida State had its way with the play action passes, going 5-for-5 for 76 yards and a touchdown. On paper, that looks like the same bad coaching we've talked about before. But realistically, the fakes weren't' the problem as much as the coverage and the talent of the quarterback and receivers. The Orange weren't getting sucked up on fakes ... they were just getting burned.

The biggest thing I've criticized this defense for this year is being predictable and doing the same things over and over. That was not the case on Saturday. They played nickel, dime and even a rare 4-0-7 look that I don't think I've ever seen ANYONE do, to try to match up with Florida State's athletes. In the end, it really didn't matter, as the talented Seminoles were going to score no matter what front or blitz scheme was in front of them.

Take a look at what I mean in the breakdown below. Hey, at least they tried.

First Quarter

DRIVE 1
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
15:00 1st and 10 FSU 25 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Run Left 1 yard gain Thompson, Franklin Tackle
14:29 2nd and 9 FSU 26 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 2 LB, 5 DB N/A WR Screen Pass Right 4 yard loss Cordy Tackle
3rd and 13 FSU 22 False Start 5 yard penalty
13:44 3rd and 18 FSU 17 5 WR 4 DL, 2 LB, 5 DB RCB Zone Blitz (Rush 4) LDE in coverage Pass Sack 9 yard loss Thompson Sack, corner blitz isolated Thompson with guard, who he abused with swim move
DRIVE 2
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
11:42 1st and 10 FSU 5 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Run Left 4 yard gain Williams Tackle
11:14 2nd and 6 FSU 9 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB MLB Blitz (rush 5) Run Right 9 yard gain Cordy Tackle
10:54 1st and 10 FSU 18 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Run Middle 2 yard gain Thompson Tackle
10:30 2nd and 8 FSU 20 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Screen Pass Left 1 yard gain Bennett Tackle, chasing down receiver with blockers
9:54 3rd and 7 FSU 21 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB LCB and LOLB Blitz (rush 5) Designed pass, fumbled shotgun snap Left 4 yard gain Hodge Tackle
DRIVE 3
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
8:23 1st and 10 FSU 25 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB MLB and ROLB Blitz Pass Middle 75 yard TD Winfield and Cordy burned in coverage, Hudson, Cordy and Winfield all miss tackles
DRIVE 4
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
3:58 1st and 10 FSU 17 5 WR 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB LOLB Zone Blitz (rush 4) RDE in coverage Pass Left 11 yard gain Covered by Thompson on zone blitz, Dowels Tackle
3:37 1st and 10 FSU 28 2 RB, 3 WR 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Pass Left 6 yard gain Dowels Tackle
2nd and 4 FSU 34 2 RB, 1 WR, 2 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB LOLB Blitz (rush 5) Run Right 21 yard gain Dowels, Hudson Tackle, 3 missed tackles on play
1st and 10 SU 45 2 RB, 1 WR, 2 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A PA Pass Middle 45 yard TD Hudson and Scissum burned deep
DRIVE 5
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
1:27 1st and 10 FSU 13 1 RB, 4 WR 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Pass Right 9 yard gain Dowels Tackle
1:10 2nd and 1 FSU 22 1 RB, 2 WR, 2 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB MLB Blitz (rush 5) Run Middle 9 yard gain Thomas Tackle
0:44 1st and 10 FSU 31 5 WR 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB LOLB Blitz (rush 5) Pass Right 8 yard gain Diving catch on sideline
0:30 2nd and 2 FSU 39 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB LOLB Blitz (rush 5) Run Middle 3 yard gain Franklin, Simmons Tackle

Florida State Play Calls: 7 runs, 9 passes

Defensive personnel: 13 base defense, 3 subpackages

Blitzes: 9/16 (56.3%)

The first drive was extremely encouraging, with the Orange coming out in different looks from the standard base defense on early downs, and mixing in a creative blitz on third down to free Thompson for a sack. The second drive, while more traditional for the defense, was also solid. But it all fell apart in drive three, as Florida State realized it should just throw the ball against the Syracuse secondary, which was clearly overmatched. On both long touchdowns, the Seminole wide receiver simply ran past two Orange players for 75 and 45 yard touchdowns.

Second Quarter

DRIVE 5 (cont)
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
15:00 1st and 10 FSU 42 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A PA Pass Middle 3 yard gain Franklin Tackle
14:18 2nd and 7 FSU 45 5 WR 4 DL, 7 DB Safety Zone Blitz (rush 4), RDE in coverage Pass Right Incomplete Dowels Pass Breakup, Slayton hurry
14:11 3rd and 7 FSU 45 5 WR 4 DL, 7 DB Safety Zone Blitz (rush 4), RDE in coverage Pass Right 35 yard gain Cordy, Raymon flush QB from pocket, completed over Whigham's head when he tried to play run, Whitner Tackle
13:53 1st and 10 SU 20 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Run Right 5 yard gain Winfield Tackle
13:27 2nd and 5 SU 15 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB MLB and Safety Blitz (rush 6) Run Right 13 yard gain Winfield Tackle
13:00 1st and goal SU 2 3 RB, 2 TE 5 DL, 3 LB, 3 DB LOLB Blitz (rush 6) Run Middle 2 yard TD
DRIVE 6
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
11:15 1st and 10 FSU 41 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Screen Pass Middle Incomplete Illegal block after play, 15 yard penalty
11:13 2nd and 25 FSU 26 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 2 LB, 5 DB N/A Pass Left 18 yard gain Franklin Tackle
10:30 3rd and 7 FSU 44 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB MLB, LOLB and ROLB Blitz (rush 6) Pass Middle 13 yard gain Diving catch underneath coverage, which gave too much of a buffer
9:50 1st and 10 SU 43 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Pass Right 7 yard gain Dowels Tackle, big cushion in coverage
9:11 2nd and 3 SU 36 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB ROLB Blitz (rush 5) PA WR Screen Pass Left 7 yard gain Hudson Tackle
8:43 1st and 10 SU 29 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Pass Right Incomplete Simmons, Clark hit QB, almost a backwards pass, ruled incomplete
8:37 2nd and 10 SU 29 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 2 LB, 5 DB N/A Pass Left 1 yard gain Simmons, Raymon on pressure, Holding wipes out play, 10 yard penalty
8:17 2nd and 20 SU 39 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 2 LB, 5 DB N/A Run Left 3 yard gain Morgan Tackle
7:45 3rd and 17 SU 36 1 RB, 4 WR 3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB N/A Pass Left 12 yard gain Morgan, Hodge Tackle
DRIVE 7
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
4:07 1st and 10 FSU 20 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 2 LB, 5 DB N/A Run Left 3 yard gain Hodge, Franklin Tackle
3:41 2nd and 7 FSU 23 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 2 LB, 5 DB N/A Run Left 5 yard loss Slayton Tackle
3rd and 12 FSU 18 False Start 5 yard penalty
2:38 3rd and 17 FSU 13 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB LOLB and LCB Blitz (rush 5) Pass Right Incomplete Blitz forced a rushed throw wide of receiver
DRIVE 8
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
0:54 1st and 10 FSU 42 1 RB, 4 WR 3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB MLB Blitz (rush 4) Screen Pass Left 20 yard gain Vigille Tackle, Hodge missed tackle
0:47 1st and 10 SU 38 1 RB, 4 WR 3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB MLB and LCB Blitz (rush 5) Pass Middle 17 yard gain Perfect pass between LBs in zone, Whitner Tackle
0:32 1st and 10 SU 21 1 RB, 4 WR 3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB LOLB Blitz (rush 4) Pass Middle Incomplete Thrown behind open receiver
0:29 2nd and 10 SU 21 1 RB, 4 WR 3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB MLB and LCB Blitz (rush 5) Pass Left Incomplete Overthrew receiver in good coverage
3rd and 10 SU 21 False Start 5 yard penalty
0:25 3rd and 15 SU 26 1 RB, 4 WR 3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB MLB Blitz (rush 4) Pass left 19 yard gain Corner gave up 10 yard cushion, but great cut after catch for extra yards, Winfield Tackle
0:19 1st and goal SU 7 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB LOLB and ROLB Blitz (rush 6) Run Right 6 yard gain Franklin Tackle just before goal line
0:12 2nd and goal SU 1 3 RB, 2 TE 5 DL, 3 LB, 3 DB ROLB Blitz (rush 6) Run Middle 1 yard TD

Florida State Play Calls: 8 runs, 17 passes

Defensive personnel: 8 base defense, 17 subpackages

Blitzes: 14/25 (56%)

When's the last time you saw a team trot out four defensive linemen, seven defensive backs and ZERO linebackers? I can't say I've ever seen it before. With Florida State spreading the field multiple times with five wide receivers, Chuck Bullough countered with a brand new formation that the Seminoles could not have possibly been prepared for. Problem was, Bullough called the exact same play on the next play, and gave up a 35-yard completion. He might want to spread that one out a bit next time.

The defense could have turned in an OK quarter here, stepping up for a big stop to force a long (missed) field goal, and following that up with a huge 3-and-out. But thanks to another special teams miscue, Florida State got one more chance, and made the Orange pay with a backbreaking 58-yard touchdown drive. I criticized the defense for being too conservative in a similar situation against, Pitt. This time, they were much more aggressive, blitzing on all seven plays, but the result was the same.

Third Quarter

DRIVE 9
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
11:03 1st and 10 FSU 20 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB RCB Blitz (rush 5) PA Pass Left 11 yard gain Franklin Tackle
10:40 1st and 10 FSU 31 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB LOLB Blitz (rush 5) Run Left No gain Hodge, Raymon Tackle
10:04 2nd and 10 FSU 31 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Pass Right 5 yard gain Taylor Tackle
9:30 3rd and 5 FSU 36 1 RB, 4 WR 4 DL, 2 LB, 5 DB N/A Pass Middle Incomplete Franklin probably got away with pass interference, but pass was high
DRIVE 10
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
8:26 1st and 10 SU 23 2 RB, 1 WR, 2 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Run Left 3 yard gain Thomas Tackle
7:51 2nd and 7 SU 20 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Pass Right 1 yard gain Thomas Great Solo Tackle at catch
7:08 3rd and 6 SU 19 1 RB, 4 WR 4 DL, 2 LB, 5 DB N/A Pass Right 19 yard TD Corner route, between CB and Safety, perfect pass and catch at highest point
DRIVE 11
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
6:08 1st and 10 FSU 35 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Pass Left Incomplete Dropped pass, Hudson was in decent coverage right there
6:00 2nd and 10 FSU 35 2 RB, 3 WR 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Pass Left Incomplete Overthrew receiver
5:57 3rd and 10 FSU 35 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB ROLB and RCB Zone Blitz (rush 4) LDE in coverage Pass Right Incomplete
DRIVE 12
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
1:37 1st and 10 FSU 18 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Run Middle 8 yard gain Thomas Tackle
1:01 2nd and 2 FSU 26 2 RB, 1 WR, 2 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB MLB Blitz (rush 5) Run Left 9 yard gain Scissum Tackle
0:35 1st and 10 FSU 35 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Run Left 6 yard gain Thomas Tackle

Florida State Play Calls: 5 runs, 13 passes

Defensive personnel: 10 base defense, 3 subpackages

Blitzes: 4/13 (30.8%)

This quarter was pretty representative of the game as a whole for the defense. They showed signs they could hang with Florida State, forcing two short drives and punts. But the second drive showed you everything you needed to know. Syracuse played stout defense, forced a 3rd and 6, and then the Seminoles executed a perfect 19-yard touchdown pass that split decent zone coverage and the receiver caught the ball at the highest point. The Orange simply couldn't stop a play like that.

Fourth Quarter

DRIVE 12 (cont)
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
15:00 2nd and 4 FSU 41 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB RCB Blitz (rush 5) Run Left 7 yard gain CB blitz almost made play in backfield, missed tackle, Thomas Tackle
14:33 1st and 10 FSU 48 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Run Right 8 yard gain Franklin Tackle
14:05 2nd and 2 SU 44 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB MLB Blitz (rush 5) Run Right 16 yard gain Cordy Tackle
13:42 1st and 10 SU 28 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Run Right 28 yard TD 3 broken tackles on way to end zone
DRIVE 13
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
9:47 1st and 10 FSU 27 1 RB, 2 WR, 2 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB MLB Blitz (rush 5) Run Left 7 yard gain Raymon tackle
9:09 2nd and 3 FSU 34 1 RB, 2 WR, 2 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB MLB and ROLB Blitz (rush 6) Run Middle 12 yard gain Scissum Tackle
8:39 1st and 10 FSU 46 1 RB, 2 WR, 2 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB MLB Blitz (rush 5) Run Right 1 yard loss Franklin Tackle
8:03 2nd and 11 FSU 45 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB LOLB and LCB Blitz (rush 6) PA Pass Left 10 yard gain Hudson missed initial tackle then made tackle
7:30 3rd and 1 SU 45 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB LOLB and MLB Blitz (rush 6) Run Right 26 yard gain Winfield Tackle
7:06 1st and 10 SU 19 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Pass Right Incomplete Pass short of receiver in end zone
7:02 2nd and 10 SU 19 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB ROLB and LOLB Blitz (rush 6) Run Left 1 yard gain Taylor Tackle
6:18 3rd and 9 SU 18 5 WR 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB MLB Blitz (rush 5) Pass Middle Incomplete Scissum Pass Breakup, great hit as receiver caught ball
DRIVE 14
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
3:27 1st and 10 FSU 7 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A Run Right 16 yard gain Whitner Tackle
3:08 1st and 10 FSU 23 1 RB, 4 WR 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A WR Screen Pass Left 7 yard gain Hudson Tackle
2:38 2nd and 3 FSU 30 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB N/A WR Screen Pass Right 1 yard loss Thomas, Whitner Tackle
3rd and 4 FSU 29 False Start 5 yard penalty
1:41 3rd and 9 FSU 24 2 RB, 3 WR 4 DL, 2 LB, 4 DB N/A Pass Left Incomplete Hudson Pass Breakup
DRIVE 15
Time Down Ball O Personnel D Personnel Blitz Run/Pass Direction Result Note
1:15 1st and 10 FSU 20 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB LOLB Blitz (rush 5) Run Middle 2 yard gain Vigille Tackle
0:34 2nd and 8 FSU 22 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE 4 DL, 3 LB, 4 DB LOLB Blitz (rush 5) Run Right 1 yard gain Hudson, Ealey Tackle

Florida State Play Calls: 12 runs, 6 passes

Defensive personnel: 17 base defense, 1 subpackages

Blitzes: 11/18 (61.1%)

The game was over at this point, so it's hard to really analyze the fourth quarter. Florida State committed to the run to end the game sooner, and Syracuse gave up some chunk yards at times but made some nice plays on the few times the Seminoles did go to the air. Nothing flashy or exotic for either side here.

  • Total Yards (per play): 575 (8.0) - Both highest of season
  • Total Rushing Yards (per carry): 221 (6.5) - Highest YPC of season
  • Total Passing Yards (per attempt): 25-for-38 for 354 yards (9.3)
  • Play Action Calls Against - 5 (77 on season)
  • Play Action Results - 5-for-5, 76 yards, 1 TD
  • Play Action Results (Season) - 45-of-67 (67.2%), 645 yards, 4 TDs, 2 Pass Interference, 4 sacks, 1 fumble recovery for touchdown
  • Plays in base defense (4-3): 48 of 72 (66.7%)
  • Plays in subpackages: 24 of 72 (33.3%)
  • Blitzes: 38 of 72 (52.8%)