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Syracuse Football: Breaking Down Offensive Play-Calling vs. Central Michigan

Part of this was fun. Part of this was not...

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

I don't need to remind you of what occurred during the Syracuse Orange victory over the Central Michigan Chippewas. No, this is just about the specifics of how we got to that final result. Plenty to discuss in the weeds, of course. But with that, we'll try to avoid harping on Eric Dungey's injury wherever possible.

First Quarter


Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:54 1st and 10 SYR 11 Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete
12:51 2nd and 10 SYR 11 Run McFarlane Dive L 1 Yard Gain
12:18 3rd and 9 SYR 12 Pass Dungey Deep R Incomplete

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:31 1st and 10 SYR 19 Run McFarlane Option R 9 Yard Gain
7:59 2nd and 1 SYR 28 Run McFarlane Off Tackle R 6 Yard Gain
7:33 1st and 10 SYR 34 PENALTY (False Start) Palmer N/A 5 Yard Loss
7:12 1st and 15 SYR 29 Run Estime Option R 11 Yard Gain
6:32 2nd and 4 SYR 40 Pass Cornelius Short L 6 Yard Gain
6:07 1st and 10 SYR 46 Run Dungey Sweep L 8 Yard Gain

CMU 46 Lateral; Run Fredericks N/A 36 Yard Gain
5:29 1st and Goal CMU 10 Play Action; Run Dungey Off Tackle L 7 Yard Gain
4:55 2nd and Goal CMU 3 Run McFarlane Dive R 0 Yard Gain
4:34 3rd and Goal CMU 3 Play Action; Pass Dungey Mid Range L Incomplete
4:25 4th and Goal CMU 3 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is Good

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:52 1st and 10 SYR 34 Play Action; Pass Ishmael Deep M 62 Yard Gain
0:17 1st and Goal CMU 4 Run Dungey Off Tackle L 4 Yard Gain; TD

Play-Call Breakdown: 8 runs, 5 passes

The first drive looks like a failure in black and white, but truly, it was a Kendall Moore drop away from materializing into something a little bit more. The second drive -- though it did stall out at the three -- featured the Dungey-iest of Dungey plays: the ballsy-as-hell lateral to Fredericks. That presence of mind turned an already impressive eight-yard pickup into a monster gain. You can't teach this stuff, nor can you even put it in the playbook.The Eric Dungey experience typically guides the most fun elements of the SU offense, and this was no exception. Same goes for the gorgeous ball delivered right to Ishmael late in the quarter, and the fighting four-yard score. It's not flawless. It's confident, which is why it works.

Second Quarter


Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:15 1st and 10 SYR 20 PENALTY (Offsides) Dean N/A 5 Yard Gain
11:15 1st and 5 sYR 25 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End L 31 Yard Gain
10:42 1st and 10 CMU 44 Run Fredericks Off Tackle L 9 Yard Gain
10:05 2nd and 1 CMU 35 Run Fredericks Dive R 10 Yard Gain
9:30 1st and 10 CMU 25 Play Action; Pass Strickland Short R 25 Yard Gain; TD

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:51 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run McFarlane Dive L 2 Yard Gain
5:17 2nd and 8 SYR 27 Pass Avant Mid Range L 12 Yard Gain
4:49 1st and 10 SYR 39 Run McFarlane Off Tackle L 5 Yard Gain
4:39 2nd and 5 SYR 44 PENALTY (Unsportsmanlike Conduct) Moore N/A 0 Yard Gain
4:39 2nd and 5 SYR 44 PENALTY (Unsportsmanlike Conduct) Coleman N/A 0 Yard Gain
4:24 2nd and 5 SYR 44 Pass Wilson Screen R incomplete
4:19 3rd and 5 SYR 44 Pass Wilson Short R Incomplete

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:01 1st and 10 CMU 41 Play Action; Pass Estime Deep R 22 Yard Gain
2:33 1st and 10 CMU 19 Run Fredericks Off Tackle R 1 Yard Loss
1:55 2nd and 11 CMU 20 Run Mahoney Off Tackle R 12 Yard Gain
1:49 1st and Goal CMU 8 Run Fredericks Dive R 1 Yard Gain
1:16 2nd and Goal CMU 7 Pass Custis Deep L 7 Yard Gain; TD

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:33 1st and 10 SYR 10 Run McFarlane Off Tackle R 0 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 8 runs, 7 passes

If you tell yourself to forget what you know happened on drive four, it ends up being a delight to look at. The Syracuse offense literally could not be stopped, and was moving at a fun and productive tempo that made you want to just keep on watching. Wilson's arrival showed a slight shift toward the pass, something that had minimal results on drive five, but quality results on drive six, especially the fantastic pass to Jamal Custis in the back of the end zone. Reminder: he needs to be used like this all the time.

Third Quarter


Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:59 1st and 10 SYR 45 Run Fredericks Off Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
14:35 2nd and 8 SYR 47 Run Fredericks Dive L 5 Yard Gain
13:56 3rd and 3 CMU 48 Run Morris Dive R 1 Yard Loss

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:58 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Lewis Short L 8 Yard Gain
8:32 2nd and 2 SYR 33 Run Fredericks End R 1 Yard Loss
7:50 3rd and 3 SYR 32 Run Strickland Off Tackle L 0 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 5 runs, 1 pass

For the second straight week, the offense vanishes in the third quarter. Now against Wake Forest, at least there was an 89-yard touchdown pass to lean on. But here? Just boring, uninspired play-calling that became overly telegraphed and played right into what CMU wanted: a slow, slog of a game that could quickly give them the ball right back too. Not much else to say here beyond "UGH."

Fourth Quarter


Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:24 1st and 10 SYR 32 Play Action; Pass Wilson Deep M Interception

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:49 1st and 10 SYR 23 PENALTY (Holding) Shanley N/A 10 Yard Loss
11:30 1st and 20 SYR 13 Pass Strickland Screen R 7 Yard Loss
10:48 2nd and 27 SYR 6 Pass; Sack Wilson N/A 2 Yard Loss
10:04 3rd and 29 SYR 4 Run McFarlane Dive R 4 Yard Gain

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:33 1st and 10 CMU 50 Run McFarlane End L 4 Yard Loss
3:50 2nd and 14 SYR 46 Pass McFarlane Short R 4 Yard Gain
3:09 3rd and 10 CMU 50 Pass Lewis Short R 9 Yard Gain

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:01 1st and 10 SYR 21 Kneel Wilson N/A 2 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 5 passes, 2 runs

Wut. Honestly, what is this quarter of football? Plays were so telegraphed that CMU was able to blow them up right at the line. The passing game was utilized far more, but was also ineffective. Despite having the ball four separate times in a period they led for all but seven seconds of, the Orange only held the ball for just over three minutes. This is when you, John Q Fan, felt like the wheels were coming off. And I was at peak ALL CAPS reacting. I still stand by the belief that punting from the CMU 41 on fourth and a very short one was bad.



Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
N/A 1st and 10 CMU 25 Run Fredericks Dive R 8 Yard Gain
N/A 2nd and 2 CMU 17 Run Fredericks Off Tackle L 3 Yard Loss
N/A 3rd and 5 CMU 20 Pass Moore Short R 13 Yard Gain
N/A 1st and Goal CMU 7 Run Fredericks Dive R 3 Yard Gain
N/A 2nd and Goal CMY 4 Run Fredericks Option R 4 Yard Gain; TD

Play-Call Breakdown: 4 runs, 1 pass

Okay... THIS was actually effective. Run-focused, heavy on option and Fredericks, and IT WORKED! The pass to Moore was obviously the big catalyst to get the first down, but the runs were what put us in position and what ultimately got us in the end zone. Why we departed from this for so long in this game I have no idea.


  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 27 called runs vs. 19 called passes (last week: 30:20). How we accomplished what we did despite running just 46 actual plays is beyond me.
  • First half play-calling: 16 runs vs. 12 passes (7:6 in second half, 4:1 in OT)
  • First downs: 11 total (5 rushing, 6 passing, 1 penalty; 11:3:1 last week... none occurred in third or fourth quarters)
  • First down play selection: 15 called runs, 7 called passes (16:7 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 8 called runs, 3 called passes (12:3 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 12 (last week: 12)
  • Second down play selection: 9 called runs, 6 called passes (11:7 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 3 called runs; 4 called passes (4:5 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 1-for-8 (0 runs, 1 pass)
  • 20 of Syracuse's 46 play calls (43 percent) took place in Central Michigan territory (last week, 48 percent of plays took place in the opponent's territory) . Just three of these occurred during the third or fourth quarters, while five were in OT (when you're automatically given the ball at the opponent's 25 anyway).
  • Not as much play-action, but much more option. Before Dungey left the game, more than half of Syracuse's running plays were out of the option (and... THEY WERE WORKING SO WELL!!!).
  • Like we saw last year, when Syracuse gets away from the run, bad things happen. A move toward the pass in the second half was one of many reasons why SU was doomed to play poorly in the third and fourth quarters.
  • Five of Syracuse's plays (or 12 percent) went for 15 yards or more. Additionally, Syracuse had five more plays that totaled between 10 and 14 yards each. Explosiveness can help gloss over a lot. Like struggling to possess the football. Or failing to get into your opponents' zone much.
  • Syracuse scored all four times it was in the red zone, including three touchdowns.


Obviously this offense is not at all the same without Dungey under center. But that doesn't give anyone a free pass for a putrid second half, either. For all the excuses about what wasn't on the field for the third and fourth quarters, it can't be forgotten that the same group was out there for a couple productive drives in the second quarter. What happened at halftime that suddenly made them completely inept? It couldn't be the CMU defense alone.

Where an Austin Wilson-led offense will always falter for Lester's scheme is that you're not scared he'll take off. For Mahoney, he can throw the ball, but you're expecting him to take off and are ready for it. Dealing with these two issues are no easy fixes, especially when acknowledging that Dungey can do both. As much as it hurts at times, Syracuse may just have to keep to an option attack with the freshman QB out, even if that means Mahoney taking more of the snaps.

Thea above showed us everything on Saturday: the best this offense can be, and also the worst. I'm not convinced that Lester's scheme is all hype after a disappointing half of football (Wilson and Mahoney did manage to move the football in spurts, after all). But I'm also not convinced it's as rousing a success without Dungey either. His improvisation skills have obviously brought something special to the fold, and each of is games feature at least two or three individual plays to prove it. The sooner he gets back, the sooner we can get back to watching some entertaining football.


Anything else? Share any and all thoughts below.