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Syracuse football: Breaking down offensive play-calling vs. Wake Forest

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I cry out, “WHY?” And the world answers, “Because you missed it the first time.”

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in a very long time I missed a live Syracuse Orange football game. Thanks to the power of technology, I got to watch it anyway. I can’t say I was thrilled to do so, however. As you know, it was a 28-9 loss to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons that perplexed, aggravated, stunned and much more. Given all of that, it should be right in my wheelhouse, right? We dive in...

First Quarter

DRIVE 1




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Strickland Dive L 2 Yard Loss
14:28 2nd and 12 SYR 23 Run Strickland Dive R 6 Yard Gain
14:12 3rd and 6 SYR 29 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 4 Yard Loss
DRIVE 2




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:29 1st and 10 SYR 34 Run Dungey Off Tackle L 0 Yard Gain
11:13 2nd and 10 SYR 34 Pass Ishmael Screen R 2 Yard Gain
10:42 3rd and 8 SYR 36 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive R 2 Yard Gain
DRIVE 3




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:31 1st and 10 SYR 13 Run Strickland Dive L 3 Yard Gain
6:10 2nd and 7 SYR 16 Pass Riley Screen R 1 Yard Gain
5:39 3rd and 6 SYR 17 PENALTY (False Start) Adams N/A 5 Yard Loss
5:23 3rd and 11 SYR 12 Run Dungey End R 2 Yard Gain
DRIVE 4




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:50 1st and 10 SYR 20 Pass MacPherson Mid Range R 12 Yard Gain
1:35 1st and 10 SYR 32 Play Action; Pass MacPherson Mid Range M 14 Yard Gain
1:15 1st and 10 SYR 46 Pass Etta-Tawo Short L 5 Yard Gain
1:03 2nd and 5 WF 49 Run; Fumble Dungey Dive R 7 Yard Loss
0:27 3rd and 12 SYR 44 Play Action; Pass Dungey Deep R Incomplete (Ishmael)

Play-Call Breakdown: 8 passes, 6 runs

With the wind against them, Syracuse didn’t really want to test out the downfield passing game. Still, the Orange tried some short stuff, while Eric Dungey got hit a bunch. The run game was far from effective (not surprising), which eventually forced SU to actually throw it past the line of scrimmage on drive four. It was working until an unfortunate fumble. "Boooooo."

Second Quarter

DRIVE 5




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:00 1st and 10 SYR 23 Pass Ishmael Screen R 3 Yard Gain
10:47 2nd and 7 SYR 26 Run Strickland Sweep L 5 Yard Gain
10:24 3rd and 2 SYR 31 Play Action; Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete (Estime)
DRIVE 6




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:07 1st and 10 SYR 41 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End R 6 Yard Gain
7:39 2nd and 4 SYR 47 Play Action; Pass Dungey Mid Range M Incomplete (Moore)
7:35 3rd and 4 SYR 47 Run Dungey Off Tackle L 27 Yard Gain
7:19 1st and 10 WF 26 Run Strickland End L 4 Yard Gain
6:55 2nd and 6 WF 22 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End R 5 Yard Gain
6:15 3rd and 1 WF 17 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Gain
6:08 1st and 10 WF 14 Run Dungey Off Tackle L 0 Yard Gain
5:38 2nd and 10 WF 14 Pass Etta-Tawo Screen L 11 Yard Gain
5:15 1st and Goal WF 3 Run Strickland Dive L 2 Yard Gain
4:49 2nd and Goal WF 1 Run Strickland Dive L 1 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 7




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:43 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Dungey Dive L 2 Yard Gain
1:20 2nd and 8 SYR 27 Pass Strickland Screen L 11 Yard Gain
1:09 1st and 10 SYR 38 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 3 Yard Loss
1:00 2nd and 13 SYR 35 Run Dungey Dive L 4 Yard Gain
0:20 3rd and 9 SYR 39 Run Strickland Dive R 49 Yard Gain
0:06 1st and 10 WF 12 Pass Dungey Mid Range R Interception

Play-Call Breakdown: 10 runs, 9 passes

By this point (and despite the wind actually helping SU now), you know what’s coming: a Dungey run or a Dontae Strickland run — or every so often, a Dungey pass to Strickland. That 27-yard Dungey scamper is the only thing that saves drive six to set up Syracuse’s first touchdown. Strickland actually saves drive seven. But then Dungey rushes a throw when a spike and field goal (or a non-rushed pass) would’ve done just fine. This will haunt the Orange later.

Third Quarter

DRIVE 8




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:49 1st and 10 SYR 11 Run Strickland Dive R 1 Yard Loss
11:20 2nd and 11 SYR 10 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Gain
10:39 3rd and 8 SYR 13 Pass Strickland Short L 7 Yard Gain
DRIVE 9




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:52 1st and 10 WF 50 Run Dungey Off Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
7:30 2nd and 8 WF 48 Run Strickland Dive R 1 Yard Loss
6:59 3rd and 9 WF 49 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 13 Yard Loss
DRIVE 10




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:49 1st and 10 SYR 6 Run Strickland Dive L 2 Yard Gain
2:27 2nd and 8 SYR 8 Pass Dungey Deep R Incomplete (Estime)
2:22 3rd and 8 SYR 8 Run Philips Sweep R 5 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 6 runs, 3 passes

Down by five for this entire quarter, you’d think Syracuse would either throw more or mix up who’s running with the ball. Nope. No player other than Dungey and Strickland touches the football until Ervin Philips finally gets involved on the final play of the quarter (first and only time with the ball, FYI). One thing I will say is that Dino Babers did do what we hoped and mimic that Erv handoff from last week. It was very close to being a first down here.

Fourth Quarter

DRIVE 11




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:20 1st and 10 SYR 9 Play Action; Pass Dungey Screen L Incomplete (Estime)
13:16 2nd and 10 SYR 9 Run Neal Dive R 4 Yard Gain
12:44 3rd and 6 SYR 13 Pass Ishmael Deep R 33 Yard Gain
12:26 1st and 10 SYR 46 Pass Ishmael Short R 6 Yard Gain
12:05 2nd and 4 WF 48 Run Neal Off Tackle L 1 Yard Gain
11:40 3rd and 3 WF 47 Reverse; Run Estime Sweep L 11 Yard Gain
11:10 1st and 10 WF 36 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 7 Yard Loss
10:56 2nd and 17 WF 43 Pass Dungey Mid Range M Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
10:52 3rd and 17 WF 43 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 4 Yard Loss
DRIVE 12




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:09 1st and 10 SYR 38 PENALTY (False Start) McGloster N/A 5 Yard Loss
8:09 1st and 15 SYR 33 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 11 Yard Gain
7:48 2nd and 4 SYR 44 PENALTY (False Start) Etta-Tawo N/A 5 Yard Loss
7:49 2nd and 9 SYR 39 Run Neal Dive R 3 Yard Loss
7:04 3rd and 12 SYR 36 Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete (Philips)
DRIVE 13




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
3:50 1st and 10 SYR 30 Pass Ishmael Mid Range R 12 Yard Gain
3:38 1st and 10 SYR 42 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End R 2 Yard Gain
3:20 2nd and 8 SYR 44 Run Fredericks Dive R 12 Yard Gain
2:57 1st and 10 WF 44 Pass Dungey Mid Range R Incomplete (Fredericks)
2:50 2nd and 10 WF 44 Run Dungey Dive R 1 Yard Loss
2:18 3rd and 11 WF 45 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 9 Yard Gain
1:54 4th and 2 WF 36 Pass Fredericks Mid Range L 8 Yard Gain
1:46 1st and 10 WF 28 Pass Fredericks Mid Range L 8 Yard Gain; Fumble
DRIVE 14




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:30 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Neal Dive L 37 Yard Gain
1:13 1st and 10 WF 38 Run Neal Dive L 3 Yard Gain
0:43 2nd and 7 WF 35 Pass Riley Screen R 12 Yard Gain
0:22 1st and 10 WF 23 Fumble; Run Mahoney Dive L 1 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 15 passes, 9 runs

For a second drive 11 looks like a real Syracuse possession, then falls apart by way of sacks and Dungey holding the ball too long. Drive 12 was a failure. Drive 13 meandered a lot for being down just 12, and leaned on the minimally-used Jordan Fredericks too much (he should’ve been in earlier). You can get mad at the fumble if you want, but it’s a proper exclamation point on a fourth quarter bobbled away by overly conservative play-calling.

***

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 35 called passes vs. 31 called runs. For once, this team’s balanced, but it’s largely as a result of a pass-heavy fourth quarter. This game was run all the way and the results are similar to the offensive question marks we witnessed vs. USF.
  • First half play-calling: 17 passes vs. 16 runs (18:15 in second half)
  • First downs: 14 total (8 passing, 6 rushing, 0 penalty; 15:7:3 last week)
  • First down play selection: 16 called passes, 12 called runs (28:11 last week) — first and last three were runs, so not as balanced as it looks
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 9 called passes, 5 called runs (14:11 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 9, which is the lowest total of the season (previous low was 11).
  • Second down play selection: 9 called passes, 12 called runs (21:10 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 10 called passes; 6 called runs (11:4 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 5-for-16 (1 passes, 4 runs, 0 penalty; 0:2:1 last week)
  • Fourth down conversion: 1-for-1 (1-for-2 last week)
  • This week, 25 of Syracuse's 66 play calls (38 percent) took place in Wake Forest territory, which sounds great except for the fact that these are all confined into a few drives.
  • Play-action fell off considerably this week, as Dungey went just 1-for-5, for 14 yards. Syracuse had utilized play-action nine times last week, and 18 the week before. It would’ve seemed that with so much running the ball in this game that the Orange could’ve used it to at least some moderate success against Wake Forest. Steady pressure didn’t allow much time to throw, however, which likely influenced the play-action decision a bit.
  • Syracuse had four plays of 15 or more yards (six last week vs. Notre Dame). All of those went for 25 yards or more, however (vs. three such plays vs. ND). Another nine plays gained between 10 and 14 yards. Those 13 total plays accounted for 252 of the Orange’s horrible 326 yards from scrimmage. That means the other 53 plays averaged just 1.39 yards per. Yikes.
  • Including penalties, 14 plays went for a loss (four more than last week’s 10). And two more went for zero yards. Having 16 plays fall into this category is how you get the very bad per-play average above.
  • Syracuse found themselves in the red zone just twice against the Deacs, scoring once (the other was an interception). That’s a bad change after last week’s 4-for-5 effort inside the 20.
  • There were seven three-and-outs in this one, including the first three drives of each half too. That’s unacceptable, and the easiest explanation for how the Orange lost this game.

Yesterday, Dino Babers talked about how he wished SU had run it more in the first half, because the hits Dungey took early hurt the passing game late. There’s some credence to that, though the Orange QB actually took most of his first-half hits from running the ball. The second half is where he really took punishment while throwing the football.

Takeo Spikes was terrible in the booth for much of the game, but he did nail one thing correctly: the misuse of Amba Etta-Tawo the entire game. The nation’s leading receiver had just four catches for 36 yards, and a lot of that was due to the Orange using him as a decoy and lining him up outside the numbers. When the production crew focused on it a bit later in the game, you saw it clear as day. Etta-Tawo was an obvious decoy and the defense wasn’t falling for it. Perhaps Babers out-thought this one a bit?

There was good and bad play-calling, as you probably noticed above. The good: Babers opened up the playbook a bit with the run by Philips and the reverse by Brisly Estime. The bad: the slower tempo in part forced by the weather made Syracuse’s attack incredibly predictable for the Wake Forest defense. That was compounded by the constant Dungey/Strickland focus, and the offense’s inability to get other running backs involved (Fredericks and Moe Neal were both willing and able). Timeout usage was also poor, which reminds me...

That final quarter was a miserable display of what this offense is incapable of when it’s not focused or being guided in the right direction (that can fall to Dungey, Babers or both in this case). With time and timeouts while down just 12 in the fourth quarter, SU showed little urgency to score points at all. Down 19 after an untimely fumble gave Wake a scoop-and-score, the Orange conceded the game by way of running the ball.

For an aggressive offense and coach, Babers has really tended to take his foot off the gas this season with regard to fourth downs, scoring late and attacking opposing defenses when they’re on their heels. This could become a sticking point, unfortunately.

***

Anything else that caught your eye above, or from watching the game yourself? Go ahead and add below.