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Syracuse Football: Predicting How Coaches Will Divide Offensive Touches in 2015

Whether it's a wide receiver, running back, hybrid, or even an ExpressBack, there's only one ball and only so many plays in the year. So how will the SU coaches divide the carries, receptions and overall touches in the offense in 2015? Here's one guess on how it will break down.

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

We've spent a lot of time talking about who's playing where for the Syracuse Orange this year. Who should be playing running back? Who should be playing receiver? What is an H-back or a hybrid or an ExpressBack?

But ultimately this all comes down to one bigger question: Who's going to have the ball in their hands?

The goal of every offense should be to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers in places they can do just that - make plays. Pretty simple.

But in our quest to predict the offense, it's pretty easy to make up unrealistic goals for those playmakers. I know I'm guilty of it, often saying Erv Philips should get a minimum of 15 touches, Brisly Estime should get 10, Steve Ishmael should get 8-10 catches and Terrel Hunt should carry the ball another 10-12 times. The big problem is, of course, there are only so many plays in a game and a season, and only one ball to go around.

So what are some realistic goals for SU's offensive players this year? First, we need to guess how many plays they will run. How many will be runs, how many will be passes, and how many will actually turn into receptions?

I wrestled with whether or not to make this a prediction or a post about what I would do if I were running the offense. But I personally would have Philips starting at running back and getting 15-20 carries a game, and it doesn't seem like that's a real possibility the way the offense is set up right now. So we'll call this an optimistic prediction of what I hope will happen this year given the roster breakdown and how the coaches have indicated they may use these guys.

I have no inside information and I haven't been to any practices, so this is purely a hypothesis based on some coach comments, previous production and gut feeling. Some of you may know more than me or have different gut feelings and that's one of the reasons I wrote this post, so chime in down in the comments if you have different opinions. They're all welcome.


Last year's regrettable offense ran a paltry 807 plays. You have to hope that will increase this year. While I wouldn't suggest they match the potent 2012 team, which amassed 958 plays in 13 games (79 per game), the 2013 version of 73.7 plays per game sounds realistic. Let's round up to 74 to make it easy, leading to 888 total plays in 12 games (for this post, we won't include a bowl game to make things easier, but you can project the extra game based on the numbers below if you'd like).

The Orange ran the ball on 52.5 percent of its offensive plays last year, a ratio I think most of us agree was not ideal, considering that team's strengths and weaknesses. Back in 2013, they leaned a lot more on the run with an inexperienced quarterback, leading to carries on 57.7% of plays. Given Hunt is now in his senior year and third season as the starting QB, they don't need to quite revert to the 2013 ratio, but splitting the difference at 55% seems like a good start. That projects to 488 rushes on the season.

Subtracting rushes from total plays leaves 400 passing attempts projected for the season. Hunt has a career completion percentage of 60%, and while some might project that to go up with another year's experience, I think it's an accurate number, as the bubble screens should be replaced by some deeper passes. So even if he's more accurate on the deeper throws, 60% should be a decent target. That leaves us with 240 passes completed as a projection.

The Breakdown

Name Rushing Att. Catches Total Touches Per Game
Devante McFarlane 168 9 177 14.75
Terrel Hunt 105 105 8.75
Erv Philips 72 28 100 8.33
George Morris II 90 90 7.50
Brisly Estime 6 56 62 5.17
Steve Ishmael 1 50 51 4.25
Dontae Strickland 35 1 36 3.00
Ben Lewis 33 33 2.75
Josh Parris 19 19 1.58
Jamal Custis 14 14 1.17
Sean Avant 2 12 14 1.17
Tyrone Perkins 8 5 13 1.08
Trey Dunkelberger 6 6 0.50
Alvin Cornelius 5 5 0.42
Adly Enoicy 2 2 0.17
Riley Dixon 1 0 1 0.08

Devante McFarlane - 168 carries, 9 catches, 14.75 touches per game

By all accounts he appears to be the feature back heading into the season. For comparison, Prince-Tyson Gulley racked up 128 carries as the lead back last year, while Jerome Smith tallied 200 and 227 in the two years before. McFarlane likely fits somewhere between the two, as more of a lead back than Gulley but not quite the workhorse Smith was. His 6.1 career yards per carry is encouraging, but he's been mostly boom-bust in his career with 56 of his 292 yards in his first year coming on a single carry and 86 of his 169 yards last year - more than half - coming on one run. It will be interesting to see how he handles the load of being the every-down back for the first time.

Terrel Hunt - 105 carries, 8.75 touches per game

Hunt's carries are difficult to project because sacks are included in the total. Since becoming starter, Hunt has averaged 9.3 carries per game (including sacks), and has actually been a fantastic rusher, averaging 44 yards per game and scoring 13 touchdowns in 17 games. What he lacks in speed he makes up for in smart decisions, good cuts and his bulldozer-like strength. All that being said, the hope would be that Hunt has improved his pocket presence and his throwing ability, and he doesn't have to run as much because everything is breaking down around him. His legs should be a factor, but hopefully the team doesn't have to depend on them.

Erv Philips - 72 carries, 28 catches, 8.33 touches per game

I want Philips to get 10-15 touches per game, but I'm not sure how that's going to be possible from the hybrid role. But if the sophomore can get to 100 touches in the offense, finishing third in carries and fourth in receptions, then the hybrid role is mostly a success and I won't complain. I'll even start calling it the ExpressBack. With McFarlane's inexperience as a lead back, and no clear superstar in waiting behind him, it would definitely behoove the coaching staff to get Philips carries if they can. 72 carries may be optimistic, given their history with h-backs, but Philips is too talented to be wasted as a slot receiver.

George Morris II - 90 carries, 0 catches, 7.5 touches per game

Morris only had 35 carries last year, taking a big step back from his 79 as a freshman. He also didn't do much with those carries, gaining only 2.9 yards per attempt, so he didn't exactly warrant an increased workload. With Philips moving to hybrid, Morris should be the clear No. 2 back this year though, so 90 carries seems reasonable. Watch out for one of the freshmen to challenge him later in the year though. Morris only has two catches in his career, and given the push on hybrids this season, I wouldn't expect him to be involved with the passing game.

Brisly Estime - 6 carries, 56 catches, 5.17 touches per game

With Estime it's all about health. He needs to play all 12 games to reach these numbers, and he only suited up for 16 over his first two seasons. He's also only averaged 2.4 catches per game in that career, but man he just seems so due for a big season. While Ishmael is the best receiver on the team and will likely lead in yards, Estime seems like the perfect slot receiver for the offense and may be due for a real breakout. I'd love to see him more involved in the run game, but even six carries would more than double his career total (5), so I need to be realistic.

Steve Ishmael - 1 carry, 50 catches, 4.25 touches per game

Speaking of Ishmael, he's also a huge candidate for a breakout. He averaged three catches per game once Tim Lester took over the offense last season - behind only Jarrod West - so clearly the coach has faith in him. A 50-catch season would put him just behind Ashton Broyld's 52 catches as a sophomore in 2013, but Ishmael should stretch the field more than Broyld and have an even bigger season with yards and touchdowns. He's a star in the making. We'll give him one carry on an end-around this year, because why not?

Dontae Strickland35 carries, 1 catch, 3.0 touches per game

If there's a true wild card in this whole group, it's Dontae Strickland. He could overtake Morris as the No. 2 back at some point in the season. He could even rise to the feature back role by the end of the year if the coaches realize McFarlane is a better fit as a change-of-pace back. Or he could find himself at the bottom of the depth chart thanks primarily to a numbers game. My guess is he starts slow, but eats into Morris' carries in the second half of the season.

Ben Lewis - 33 catches, 2.75 touches per game

Lewis really came on strong last year totaling 11 catches in five games after Lester took over the offense. He was the third-leading receiver under Lester last season, and stands to slot into the same role behind Estime and Ishmael this year. The 33 catches would be a slight increase over his 24 receptions last year, but given Lester's trust in him, it would make logical sense. His hybrid role will most likely be a traditional h-back where he is part receiver and part tight end, so I'd be surprised if he's involved in the run game as anything other than a blocker.

Josh Parris19 catches, 1.58 touches per game

Parris is the only pass-catching tight end who will see much time this year, but he still may struggle to see a lot of balls coming his way. Parris has averaged exactly one catch per game in both his seasons in Orange, but that production fell to just four catches in six games under Lester as coordinator. I expect a slight increase this season, but not enough to make him a major contributor.

Jamal Custis - 14 catches, 1.17 touches per game

It's no secret the Orange struggled to score last year. Ishmael is the only SU wide receiver to get in the end zone more than once (he did it three times), and only Estime and Lewis got there at all. You have to think Custis can help and you have to hope the coaches will call at least a few throws up top to the 6-5, 223-pound sophomore. Custis only had four catches last year, none of which came in the second half of the season, so maybe this is the most unlikely prediction on the board.

Sean Avant - 2 carries, 12 catches, 1.17 touches per game

Avant is a player the coaches always seem to be talking about in preseason, but it hasn't translated to the field yet. All three of Avant's catches last year came after Lester started calling plays though, and with Broyld's departure there is likely an opening in the slot for more production.

Tyrone Perkins - 8 carries, 5 catches, 1.08 touches per game

Another player that could benefit from Broyld's departure, Perkins seems most likely to get some mop-up work. If there aren't enough balls to go around for Philips to get his touches, it would be disappointing to see too many important ones go to Perkins, but he could surprise if he gets the chance.

Trey Dunkelberger - 6 catches, 0.5 touches per game

Dunkelberger should be the No. 2 tight end in the offense, but the JUCO transfer has been lauded mostly for his blocking. Still, he should get a few catches here and there, if only to keep the defense honest when he comes onto the field. With that in mind, I wouldn't be shocked if at least one of those six catches is a touchdown off a play fake on the goal line where he slips into the corner. Mark it down.

Alvin Cornelius - 5 catches, 0.42 touches per game

If my Custis prediction turns into just wishful thinking, Cornelius could be the beneficiary for sure. Cornelius hauled in just three passes last year - after nine in the previous season - but two came in the final four games. He seems like he should be involved more because of how he finished 2013, but we just haven't seen it since.

Adly Enoicy - 2 catches, 0.17 touches per game

He's 6-5, 227 pounds, so basically the same size as Custis. Could he be in line for some of those red zone touches? It's certainly possible, though coming off a lost season due to injury, it's anyone's guess.

Riley Dixon - 1 carry, 0.08 touches per game

The man averaged 42 yards per carry last season, so the fact that he's not in line for 200+ carries is a minor travesty. In all seriousness though, Dixon is clearly a very athletic punter, and has shown the ability to both run and pass, so the odds of at least one fake punt or field goal seems pretty high this year.

What do you think? Am I too high or too low on anyone? Did I miss a sleeper entirely? Let me know in the comments.