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Syracuse football: Breaking down midseason 2016 offensive play-calling

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Let’s take a look and what’s happened and how things are trending in year one.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Connecticut Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

With Dino Babers’s arrival as the new head coach of the Syracuse Orange, fans were pretty excited about the impact of his up-tempo attack. While the points haven’t necessarily come in bunches yet, the team’s obviously moving with a new urgency and racking up quite a few yards so far.

Now that we’re six games in, how has the offense performed so far? Are we still pretty excited? Anything we’re concerned about going forward? Diving into the breakdown below, consider this an extension of the weekly play-calling posts. Hopefully, it’s a way to better identify week-to-week trends and greater first-half-of-the-season narratives.

Run vs. pass distribution

With a banged-up offensive line and no true "power" back to run the offense’s dive plays, SU’s run game takes a major backseat to the passing attack through six games. Babers’s offense is run-heavy, FYI, so this isn’t what we’re typically supposed to see. You’ll also notice these numbers don’t add up to the overall rushing vs. passing totals on the year because these are "called" runs and passes. So anytime Eric Dungey is under pressure and then takes off is a called pass play. Notably, the two games where the ratio has been closest (USF, Wake Forest) have produced the most puzzling final results.


Colgate Louisville USF at UConn Notre Dame at Wake Total Pct.
Called Runs 29 33 47 23 27 31 190 38%
Called Passes 52 60 58 43 61 35 309 62%

Passing spike on third down

The down-by-down breakdown show a pass-focused attack, but it only gets significantly skewed on third down, as you’ll notice below. Syracuse throws passes at a three-to-one rate vs. running the ball, which makes things a little predictable for defenses. It’s also indicative of (once again) the team’s lack of a short yardage rushing option. Plus, the fact that the team gets into frequent third-and-long scenarios, making running less practical.


Colgate Louisville USF at UConn Notre Dame at Wake Total Pct.
First Down Plays 34 38 41 29 46 28 216
Run 14 15 23 15 13 12 92 43%
Pass 20 23 18 14 33 16 124 57%

Colgate Louisville USF at UConn Notre Dame at Wake Total Pct.
Second Down Plays 26 30 35 22 31 21 165
Run 9 11 19 5 10 12 66 40%
Pass 17 19 16 17 21 9 99 60%

Colgate Louisville USF at UConn Notre Dame at Wake Total Pct.
Third Down Plays 18 23 24 15 15 16 111
Run 4 5 6 3 4 6 28 25%
Pass 14 18 18 12 11 10 83 75%

The first down play information here expands upon how the Orange get into these third-and-long scenarios. Smaller numbers of big first down gains frequently force them into pass mode on second, and likely pass mode on third too. When they run on second after a short first down gain, it’s typically a short drive.


Colgate Louisville USF at UConn Notre Dame at Wake Total Avg.
5-Plus Yard 1st Down 14 13 12 11 16 9 75 12.5

Conversions

Struggles in the last two games have really tanked the third down conversion numbers, and the fourth down conversion attempts have taken a steady drop (we’ve talked about this lack of aggression multiple times since the USF game). How we pick up first downs shouldn’t surprise at all. We’re pass-centric there without the aforementioned short yardage option (Dungey sneaks aside).


Colgate Louisville USF at UConn Notre Dame at Wake Total Pct.
Third Down Conversions 8 10 12 8 3 5 46 41%
Third Down Attempts 18 23 24 15 15 16 111

Colgate Louisville USF at UConn Notre Dame at Wake
Total Pct.
Fourth Down Conversions 3 0 2 0 1 1 7 58%
Fourth Down Attempts 3 1 5 0 2 1 12


Colgate Louisville USF at UConn Notre Dame at Wake Total Pct.
First Downs 25 24 30 19 25 14 137
Run 5 10 11 4 7 6 43 31%
Pass 18 11 16 15 15 8 83 61%
Penalty 2 3 3 0 3 0 11 8%

Behind enemy lines

This number doesn’t much matter if you’re not converting the trips to points. But they’re also deceptive in some ways since Syracuse is among the top 20 teams in the nation in terms of plays of 40 yards or more. That lack of ball control is fine, since it’s not a goal of the offense. Just stating how quick scoring drives from well outside the red zone have contributed to lower numbers past the 50 yard line.

All of that said, there’s a direct correlation with the percentage below and SU’s competitiveness, so take that for... something.


Colgate Louisville USF at UConn Notre Dame at Wake Total Pct.
No. in Opposing Territory 38 31 39 24 40 25 197 39%
Total Plays 81 93 105 66 88 66 499

Explosiveness

This is where Syracuse is supposed to be much improved, yet they’re the 86th-most explosive team in the country. Having 19 percent of your plays go for 10 or more yards sounds awesome, but the other side of that count is the average yards per play on OTHER plays. In most games, that’s well under three. So most of SU’s yardage totals are populated by big gains only. The ability to break big plays (you’ll see the numbers below without comparison points around the country, unfortunately) is a plus. But you need to be moving the ball consistently to set those things up. If you do that more effectively, you’ll also earn more big plays.

(still, considering where we came from, 26 plays of 25 yards or more sounds pretty awesome, no?)


Colgate Louisville USF at UConn Notre Dame at Wake Total Pct.
Big Plays (10+) 16 16 14 16 19 13 94 19%
Bigger Plays (15+) 8 11 11 9 6 4 49 10%
Biggest Plays (25+) 7 3 5 4 3 4 26 5%
Total Plays 81 93 105 66 88 66 499

***

Anything else pique your interest here? I’ll be re-running for the end of the season as well, to see how Babers’s offense grades out in year one. Hopefully the Wake Forest loss is a temporary setback, rather than a sign of what’s to come as the schedule gets tougher in the second half.