Syracuse lost to LSU this past Saturday, but the game was not only watchable -- it was fun too. Beyond the first quarter, this was an Orange offense worth sticking around for, and they fought until the end. We'll get into specifics below, recapping a surprisingly enjoyable afternoon of offensive execution from SU against the vaunted Tigers defense.
|14:54||1st and 10||SYR 37||Run||McFarlane||Off Tackle L||0 Yard Gain|
|14:15||2nd and 10||SYR 37||Pass||Ishmael||Short R||7 Yard Gain|
|13:38||3rd and 3||SYR 44||PENALTY (Illegal Formation)||Lewis||N/A||5 Yard Loss|
|13:12||3rd and 8||SYR 39||Run; Fumble||Mahoney||Off Tackle L||2 Yard Gain|
|8:19||1st and 10||SYR 47||Play Action; Pass||Mahoney||Short R||Incomplete (Lewis)|
|8:15||2nd and 10||SYR 47||Direct Snap; Run||Fredericks||Dive R||2 Yard Gain|
|7:36||3rd and 8||SYR 49||Pass||Mahoney||Mid Range R||Incomplete (Lewis)|
|3:49||1st and 10||SYR 27||Run||McFarlane||Off Tackle L||3 Yard Gain|
|3:11||2nd and 7||SYR 30||Play Action; Pass||Mahoney||Screen R||Incomplete (Estime)|
|3:06||3rd and 7||SYR 30||Pass; Sack||Mahoney||N/A||8 Yard Loss|
|0:38||1st and 10||LSU 47||Run||Fredericks||End R||2 Yard Gain|
|0:01||2nd and 8||LSU 45||Pass||Mahoney||Short R||Incomplete|
Play-Call Breakdown: 6 passes, 5 runs
Through one quarter of this game, I was losing my goddamn mind. "More passes than runs, with ZACK MAHONEY at QB?!" I screamed at the television. Given this team's success running the ball through the season's first four games -- spurred on by the QB position, really -- it made zero sense to suddenly lean on the pass, especially when putting the more mobile of the team's two passer options under center. Mahoney looked jittery throwing the ball early, completing just one throw (the first one). I try not to wonder how this game could've gone differently with a different approach to start off.
|15:00||3rd and 8||LSU 45||Option; Run||Strickland||End L||5 Yard Gain|
|14:16||4th and 3||LSU 40||Play Action; Pass||Mahoney||Short R||Incomplete (Strickland)|
|11:40||1st and 10||SYR 40||Pass||Estime||Mid Range L||10 Yard Gain|
|11:16||1st and 10||LSU 50||Direct Snap; Run||Fredericks||Off Tackle L||3 Yard Gain|
|10:33||2nd and 7||LSU 47||Option; Run||Estime||End R||1 Yard Gain|
|9:51||3rd and 6||LSU 46||Pass||Parris||Short R||5 Yard Gain|
|9:09||4th and 1||LSU 41||Direct Snap; Run||Fredericks||Dive R||10 Yard Gain|
|8:39||1st and 10||LSU 31||Option; Run||Morris||End L||2 Yard Loss|
|7:53||2nd and 12||LSU 33||Pass||Mahoney||Deep R||Incomplete (Estime)|
|7:48||3rd and 12||LSU 33||Run||Morris||Counter L||7 Yard Gain|
|7:04||4th and 5||LSU 26||Field Goal||Murphy||N/A||FG is Good|
|4:16||1st and 10||SYR 26||Run||Morris||Dive L||5 Yard Gain|
|3:32||2nd and 5||SYR 31||Run||Morris||Off Tackle L||7 Yard Gain|
|2:58||1st and 10||SYR 38||Reverse; Run||Estime||End L||8 Yard Gain|
|2:14||2nd and 2||SYR 46||Pass||Mahoney||Screen L||Incomplete (Morris)|
|2:10||3rd and 2||SYR 46||Run||Morris||Dive L||5 Yard Gain|
|1:37||1st and 10||LSU 49||PENALTY (Pass Interference)||Jefferson||N/A||14 Yard Gain|
|1:31||1st and 10||LSU 35||Run||Fredericks||Off Tackle L||6 Yard Gain|
|0:52||2nd and 4||LSU 29||Direct Snap; Run||Fredericks||Dive L||2 Yard Loss|
|0:44||3rd and 6||LSU 31||Pass||Lewis||Screen R||2 Yard Gain|
|0:38||4th and 4||LSU 29||Fake FG; Run||Dixon||End R||5 Yard Gain|
|0:13||1st and 10||LSU 24||Play Action; Pass||Parris||Mid Range R||11 Yard Gain|
|0:07||1st and 10||LSU 13||Pass||Mahoney||Mid Range M||Incomplete (Ishmael)|
|0:03||2nd and 10||LSU 13||Field Goal||Murphy||N/A||FG is No Good|
Play-Call Breakdown: 13 runs, 8 passes
Following a stalled fourth drive in LSU territory, the offense begins to show signs of life. While the Wildcat and option looks fail to produce much in terms of yardage, they're still able to keep the defense honest, opening up the passing game a little for Mahoney, who needs completions under his belt to really get confident and rolling. Sure, the sixth drive is assisted by a penalty, but it's tough to blame the Orange for LSU's penchant for committing those. Riley Dixon's fake FG run was a risk, but became a masterstroke when the TIgers failed to recognize the odd personnel (assisted by the PA announcer calling out Cole Murphy as well). SU knew it needed to empty the bag of tricks to compete, and did so admirably.
|9:37||1st and 10||SYR 21||Run||McFarlane||Dive L||1 Yard Gain|
|8:58||2nd and 9||SYR 22||PENALTY (Pass Interference)||Ishmael||Deep L||11 Yard Loss|
|8:53||2nd and 20||SYR 11||Run||McFarlane||Dive L||4 Yard Gain|
|8:08||3rd and 16||SYR 15||Pass||Mahoney||Short M||Incomplete (Lewis)|
|7:40||1st and 10||SYR 33||Run||Mahoney||End R||0 Yard Gain|
|7:02||2nd and 10||SYR 33||PENALTY (Personal Foul)||Neal||N/A||15 Yard Gain|
|6:39||1st and 10||SYR 48||Option; Run||Morris||End L||12 Yard Gain|
|6:09||1st and 10||LSU 40||Play Action; Pass||Estime||Deep M||40 Yard Gain; TD|
|4:02||1st and 10||SYR 20||Run||Mahoney||Off Tackle L||20 Yard Gain|
|3:33||1st and 10||SYR 40||Option; Run||Lewis||End L||2 Yard Loss|
|2:48||2nd and 12||SYR 38||Pass||Ishmael||Mid Range L||14 Yard Gain|
|2:16||1st and 10||LSU 48||Run||Morris||Dive R||2 Yard Gain|
|1:30||2nd and 8||LSU 46||Pass||Mahoney||Short M||Incomplete (Strickland)|
|1:27||3rd and 8||LSU 46||Pass||Mahoney||Mid Range L||Incomplete (Strickland)|
Play-Call Breakdown: 7 runs, 5 passes
The third quarter has been weird for three straight games now, with the team running the least amount of plays and completing the least drives during that period. At least in the case of this contest, those low totals resulted in a score (that excellent 40-yard touchdown strike to Brisly Estime). The shift back toward run in the two middle quarters yielded some quality looks for Mahoney, who began to settle in. And again, while the option may have seemed like wasted plays, it allowed him to continue to throw the football (which paid off even more later).
|14:46||1st and 10||SYR 44||Play Action; Pass||Lewis||Short R||12 Yard Gain|
|14:37||1st and 10||LSU 44||PENALTY (Facemask)||Thomas||N/A||15 Yard Gain|
|14:19||1st and 10||LSU 29||PENALTY (Pass Interference)||Toliver||Deep R||15 Yard Gain|
|14:12||1st and 10||LSU 14||Play Action; Pass||Mahoney||Deep R||Incomplete (Ishmael)|
|14:07||2nd and 10||LSU 14||Option; Run||Strickland||End R||2 Yard Gain|
|13:38||3rd and 8||LSU 12||Pass||Parris||Mid Range M||8 Yard Gain|
|13:01||1st and Goal||LSU 4||Pass||Mahoney||Mid Range R||Incomplete (Custis)|
|12:55||1st and Goal||LSU 4||Direct Snap; Run||Fredericks||Dive R||2 Yard Gain|
|12:10||2nd and Goal||LSU 2||Play Action; Pass||Lewis||Short R||2 Yard Gain; TD|
|9:10||1st and 10||SYR 18||Pass||Lewis||Screen R||5 Yard Gain|
|8:28||2nd and 5||SYR 23||Run||Lewis||Off Tackle R||2 Yard Gain|
|7:49||3rd and 3||SYR 25||Pass||Mahoney||Short L||Interception|
|5:05||1st and 10||SYR 25||Pass||Mahoney||Deep M||Incomplete (Parris)|
|5:00||2nd and 10||SYR 25||Pass||Mahoney||Short L||Incomplete (McFarlane)|
|4:55||3rd and 10||SYR 25||Pass||Lewis||Mid Range R||12 Yard Gain|
|4:27||1st and 10||SYR 37||Pass||Mahoney||Mid Range M||Incomplete (Parris)|
|4:23||2nd and 10||SYR 37||Pass||Parris||Short M||8 Yard Gain|
|3:59||3rd and 2||SYR 45||Pass||Mahoney||Short M||Incomplete (Ishmael)|
|3:54||4th and 2||SYR 45||Run||Mahoney||Off Tackle R||16 Yard Gain|
|3:35||1st and 10||LSU 39||Pass||Ishmael||Short R||5 Yard Gain|
|3:08||2nd and 5||LSU 34||Pass||Ishmael||Short R||8 Yard Gain|
|2:54||1st and 10||LSU 26||Pass||Mahoney||Deep R||Incomplete (Lewis)|
|2:48||2nd and 10||LSU 26||Pass||Mahoney||Mid Range M||Incomplete (Strickland)|
|2:44||3rd and 10||LSU 26||PENALTY (Offsides)||Neal||N/A||5 Yard Gain|
|2:40||3rd and 5||LSU 21||Pocket Breakdown; Run||Mahoney||End L||10 Yard Gain|
|2:13||1st and 10||LSU 11||Pass||Mahoney||Short R||Incomplete (McFarlane)|
|2:09||2nd and 10||LSU 11||Pass||Mahoney||Mid Range L||Incomplete (Parris)|
|2:05||3rd and 10||LSU 11||PENALTY (Personal Foul)||Jones||N/A||6 Yard Gain|
|1:57||1st and Goal||LSU 5||Pass||Strickland||Short L||5 Yard Gain; TD|
Play-Call Breakdown: 21 passes, 4 runs
Due to the score, I can't and won't assail this breakdown above, nor will I fault this team for taking advantage of penalties afforded them. Even the interception from Mahoney wasn't really on him -- it was a tipped ball. The walk-on really came into his own as a passer in the fourth, with 65 yards and two scores through the air. His running also seemed more emboldened by the stakes, even as we reached supposed "garbage time." Like I said: early stress on various run looks allowed him to throw more later, and it paid off (even if not ultimately in a win).
- Overall play-calling breakdown: 29 called runs vs. 40 called passes (last week: 27:19). This number is entirely skewed by the fourth quarter, which demanded a pass-centric offense.
- First half play-calling: 18 runs vs. 14 passes (11:26 in second half)
- First downs: 21 total (9 rushing, 8 passing, 4 penalty; none in first quarter; 5:6:1 last week)
- First down play selection: 16 called runs, 17 called passes (15:7 last week)
- First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 10 called runs, 11 called passes (8:3 last week)
- First down plays for five or more yards: 12 (last week: 12)
- Second down play selection: 8 called runs, 12 called passes (9:6 last week)
- Third down play selection: 4 called runs; 12 called passes (3:4 last week)
- Third down conversion: 5-for-12 (2 runs, 2 pass, 1 penalty)
- 35 of Syracuse's 69 play calls (51 percent) took place in LSU territory (last week, 43 percent of plays took place in the opponent's territory) . Just two of the game's first 11 did, but then 33 of the next 58 would end up being on the Tigers' half of the field.
- Early on, play action was not very apparent, but as LSU needed to account for the run more (despite its lack of success for large patches of the game), Mahoney was able to utilize that play action a whole lot more in kind. He was 4-for-8 with two scores out of play action, despite starting 0-for-3 out of it.
- We've noticed this a bit here and there, but another big shift toward certain sides for rush pass. The large majority of run plays were taken toward the (more experienced) left side, while more passing plays headed right. Again, let's hope opposing defenses aren't wise to it.
- Three of Syracuse's plays went for 15 yards or more. Additionally, Syracuse had eight more plays that totaled between 10 and 14 yards each. And these don't even take into account the long LSU penalties that handed the Orange even more yards but were very much of the "explosive" distance.
- Syracuse was 2-for-3 on red zone opportunities, but both of those conversions were touchdowns (both passing, however). Cole Murphy's missed field goal was the team's first failed red zone try all season.
Obviously it's still tough to tell exactly what Lester's offense IS from week to week given the different players under center, but you have to like the wrinkles added during this one. Those Wildcat looks for Fredericks were a perfect way to give him a good head of steam at the line without starting further back from the line of scrimmage, and they drew attention inward. The option's not as feasible against fast teams on the outside, so this was good practice for what works/doesn't work against opponents like Florida State and Clemson. The Orange also got into a nice rhythm of regular targets: Steve Ishmael, Ben Lewis and Josh Parris, with Brisly Estime targeted on deep balls. Throw Ervin Philips into the mix when he returns and this is a scary group for any defense to keep track of.
One slight issue not captured above: the offense rarely looks set when the ball is snapped, and many times, actually isn't -- a hybrid or tight end can regularly be seen moving/rocking prior to the snap. That can not only be an easy way to draw a false start penalty, but can also be a tip to defenses of where the ball's headed (even more dangerous with the team's young passers out there). Just something to watch out for, as it's yet to have an effect but very well could soon.
Lester has done a great job of creating varying, less-than-predictable looks for much of this season -- though we've still yet to see a full game of it. Part of that is a product of the quarterback situation, which is far from his fault at all. With luck, Eric Dungey can come out there against USF and continue the offense's effective work predicated on keeping defenses off balance and uncomfortably aware of every Orange player on the field.
Anything else? Share any and all thoughts below.