clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Syracuse football: Breaking down offensive play-calling vs. Virginia Tech

New, 4 comments

Lots of positives to take from this win, and we try to stay focused on those as much as possible.

Virginia Tech v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

As you’re fully aware, the Syracuse Orange upset the Virginia Tech Hokies 31-17 on Saturday. While that score’s impressive, it could’ve been a far wider margin, which you’ll quickly notice below. We stay focused on the positives from a great win, though we can’t avoid pointing out a few things that could use some improvement.

First Quarter

DRIVE 1




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Estime Short L 6 Yard Gain
14:43 2nd and 4 SYR 31 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive L 1 Yard Gain
14:20 3rd and 3 SYR 32 Pass Philips Short R 4 Yard Gain
14:09 1st and 10 SYR 36 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End R 1 Yard Loss
13:43 2nd and 11 SYR 35 Pass Etta-Tawo Short L 7 Yard Gain
13:20 3rd and 4 SYR 42 Pass Philips Deep R 58 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 2




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:48 1st and 10 SYR 20 Pass Dungey Screen L Incomplete (Philips)
11:45 2nd and 10 SYR 20 Run Strickland Dive R 7 Yard Gain
11:21 3rd and 3 SYR 27 Pass Estime Short L 6 Yard Gain
11:02 1st and 10 SYR 33 PENALTY (False Start) Etta-Tawo N/A 6 Yard Loss
10:57 1st and 16 SYR 27 Pass Ishmael Short R 3 Yard Gain
10:17 2nd and 13 SYR 30 PENALTY (False Start) Byrne N/A 5 Yard Loss
10:12 2nd and 18 SYR 25 Play Action; Pass Dungey Deep R Incomplete (Ishmael)
10:07 3rd and 18 SYR 25 Play Action; Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Ishmael)
DRIVE 3




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:07 1st and 10 SYR 11 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Off Tackle L 5 Yard Gain
5:41 2nd and 5 SYR 16 Run Strickland Dive L 3 Yard Gain
5:21 3rd and 2 SYR 19 Pass Dungey Deep L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
DRIVE 4




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:18 1st and 10 SYR 35 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive L 0 Yard Gain
3:55 2nd and 10 SYR 35 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Off Tackle L 1 Yard Gain
3:12 3rd and 9 SYR 36 Pass Dungey Mid Range M Incomplete (Estime)
DRIVE 5




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:05 1st and 10 SYR 11 Pass Estime Short L 5 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 17 passes, 2 runs

It’s clear early that Dino Babers isn’t even going to pretend we can run the ball anymore — at least in the traditional sense. Eric Dungey still managed to take off several times to pick up yards on the ground, but those were all due to pressure (a constant in this game for him). Drive one’s interesting because it looks like it’ll stall more than once before that long touchdown. Beyond that, not much happens early, as SU gets a feel for a tough Hokies defense.

Second Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 2nd and 5 SYR 16 Lateral; Pass Estime Deep M 84 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 6




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:52 1st and 10 SYR 40 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive R 12 Yard Gain
12:38 1st and 10 VT 48 Pass Philips Short L 5 Yard Gain
12:04 2nd and 5 VT 43 Run Dungey Dive R 5 Yard Gain
11:52 1st and 10 VT 38 PENALTY (False Start) Conway N/A 5 Yard Loss
11:49 1st and 15 VT 43 Play Action; Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete
11:41 2nd and 15 VT 43 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 10 Yard Gain
11:17 3rd and 5 VT 33 Pass Dungey Deep L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
11:11 4th and 5 VT 33 Play Action; Pass Ishmael Deep L 31 Yard Gain
10:52 1st and Goal VT 2 PENALTY (Pass Interference) Reynolds N/A 1 Yard Gain
10:46 1st and Goal VT 1 Play Action; Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete
10:40 2nd and Goal VT 1 Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
10:36 3rd and Goal VT 1 Pass Dungey Mid Range L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
10:32 4th and Goal VT 1 Run Dungey Dive R 0 Yard Gain
DRIVE 7




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:31 1st and 10 SYR 13 PENALTY (False Start) McGloster N/A 4 Yard Loss
7:31 1st and 14 SYR 9 Play Action; Pass Ishmael Mid Range R 11 Yard Gain
7:12 2nd and 3 SYR 20 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive R 6 Yard Gain
6:58 1st and 10 SYR 26 Run Neal Dive R 1 Yard Loss
6:28 2nd and 11 SYR 25 Pass Estime Screen L 5 Yard Gain
5:59 3rd and 6 SYR 30 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range M 18 Yard Gain
5:44 1st and 10 SYR 48 Lateral; Pass Ishmael Mid Range R 10 Yard Gain
5:32 1st and 10 VT 42 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive R 4 Yard Gain
5:12 2nd and 6 VT 38 Pass Ishmael Mid Range R 10 Yard Gain
5:03 1st and 10 VT 28 Play Action; Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Ishmael)
4:56 2nd and 10 VT 28 Pass Dungey Mid Range R Incomplete (Strickland)
4:51 3rd and 10 VT 28 Run; Fumble Mahoney N/A 7 Yard Loss
4:08 4th and 17 VT 35 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is No Good
DRIVE 8




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:47 1st and 10 SYR 27 Run Strickland Dive L 1 Yard Loss
1:05 2nd and 11 SYR 26 Run Strickland Dive L 3 Yard Gain
0:59 3rd and 8 SYR 29 Play Action; Pass Estime Short R 9 Yard Gain
0:46 1st and 10 SYR 38 Play Action; Pass Estime Short L 12 Yard Gain
0:36 1st and 10 VT 50 Pass Dungey Mid Range M Incomplete (Philips)
0:32 2nd and 10 VT 50 Pass Ishmael Screen R 16 Yard Gain
0:20 1st and 10 VT 34 Pass Dungey Screen R Incomplete (Ishmael)
0:15 2nd and 10 VT 34 Play Action; Pass Dungey Deep R Incomplete (Ishmael)
0:09 3rd and 10 VT 34 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is Good

Play-Call Breakdown: 25 passes, 6 runs

This was Syracuse’s busiest second quarter since the Louisville game. Things start with the gorgeous 84-yard trick play from Dontae Strickland to Brisly Estime -- doubt that’s the last time we see Strickland throw this year based on how that ball came off. SU also gets inside the Tech 40 on three more drives, though only come away with three points. While I mentioned there are a lot of positives to take from this game, one glaring negative is the play calling from the goal line on drive six. You have a mobile QB, yet call three passes (two with empty backfields) from the one? I had Iowa flashbacks and I didn’t like them. Let’s never speak of THIS again now, either.

Third Quarter

DRIVE 9




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:19 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Philips Mid Range M 22 Yard Gain
10:59 1st and 10 SYR 47 Pass Philips Short L 10 Yard Gain
10:44 1st and 10 VT 43 Pass Dungey Mid Range L Incomplete (Philips)
10:40 2nd and 10 VT 43 PENALTY (Offside) Mihota N/A 5 Yard Gain
10:35 2nd and 5 VT 38 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive R 2 Yard Gain
10:05 3rd and 3 VT 36 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 2 Yard Loss
9:24 4th and 5 VT 38 Pass Etta-Tawo Screen M 8 Yard Gain
9:07 1st and 10 VT 30 Pass Dungey Short L Incomplete
8:59 2nd and 10 VT 30 Run Neal Dive R 1 Yard Gain
8:30 3rd and 9 VT 29 Pass Dungey Deep M Interception
DRIVE 10




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:10 1st and 10 SYR 20 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive R 1 Yard Gain
5:41 2nd and 9 SYR 21 Run Strickland Dive L 9 Yard Gain
5:24 1st and 10 SYR 30 Run Strickland Dive R 1 Yard Gain
5:18 2nd and 9 SYR 31 PENALTY (Facemask) Motuapuaka N/A 15 Yard Gain
5:11 1st and 10 SYR 46 PENALTY (False Start) McGloster N/A 5 Yard Loss
4:50 1st and 15 SYR 41 Run Dungey Dive L 7 Yard Gain
4:12 2nd and 8 SYR 48 Pass Dungey Short L Incomplete
4:08 3rd and 8 SYR 48 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End R 5 Yard Gain
3:29 4th and 3 VT 47 Pass Estime Short L 4 Yard Gain
3:19 1st and 10 VT 43 Pass Philips Short L 9 Yard Gain
2:55 2nd and 1 VT 34 Run Strickland Dive R 2 Yard Gain
2:40 1st and 10 VT 32 Lateral; Run Philips Screen L 10 Yard Loss
2:07 2nd and 20 VT 42 Run Strickland Dive R 8 Yard Gain
1:48 3rd and 12 VT 34 Pass Dungey Mid Range M Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
1:42 4th and 12 VT 34 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is No Good

Play-Call Breakdown: 14 passes, 7 runs

In some ways, this was another frustrating third quarter for SU, with zero points and an open invite for Virginia Tech to come back. And while it’s frustrating to see the team stall out around the 30 twice (why force that interception ball, Dungey?), this wa a valuable quarter to the game’s long-term goal of a win. These two drives kept the defense fresh and off the field for over half of the third quarter. When the D was needed in the fourth, they were far from exhausted. This is a plus. (still, let’s just score more too, please)

Fourth Quarter

DRIVE 11




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:53 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Dungey Screen R Incomplete (Strickland)
13:50 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Pass Philips Short L 8 Yard Gain
13:22 3rd and 2 SYR 33 Pass Philips Short M 4 Yard Gain
13:05 1st and 10 SYR 37 Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete (Philips)
13:01 2nd and 10 SYR 37 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End R 7 Yard Gain
12:33 3rd and 3 SYR 44 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 11 Yard Gain
12:20 1st and 10 VT 45 Run Strickland Dive R 0 Yard Gain
11:48 2nd and 10 VT 45 Pass Dungey Deep M Incomplete (Riley)
11:43 3rd and 10 VT 45 Pass Philips Short R 8 Yard Gain
11:00 4th and 2 VT 37 Pass Philips Short M 5 Yard Gain
10:43 1st and 10 VT 32 Pass Philips Short M 6 Yard Gain
10:26 2nd and 4 VT 26 PENALTY  (Ill. Participation) Click N/A 5 Yard Gain
10:12 1st and 10 VT 21 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Off Tackle R 5 Yard Gain
9:50 2nd and 5 VT 16 Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete
9:42 3rd and 5 VT 16 Run Dungey Dive R 9 Yard Gain
9:10 1st and Goal VT 7 Run Strickland Dive R 4 Yard Gain
8:22 2nd and Goal VT 3 Run Dungey Dive R 2 Yard Gain
8:03 3rd and Goal VT 1 Run Dungey Dive L 1 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 12




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:59 1st and 10 VT 37 Pass Dungey Deep L Incomplete
6:54 2nd and 10 VT 37 Run Dungey Dive L 18 Yard Gain
6:15 1st and 10 VT 19 Run Dungey Dive L 3 Yard Gain
5:30 2nd and 7 VT 16 Run Strickland Dive R 16 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 13




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:08 1st and 10 SYR 38 Run Strickland Dive R 2 Yard Gain
3:27 2nd and 8 SYR 40 Run Dungey Dive L 4 Yard Gain
2:42 3rd and 4 SYR 44 Run Strickland Dive R 5 Yard Gain
2:08 1st and 10 SYR 49 Run Strickland Dive R 0 Yard Gain
2:03 2nd and 10 SYR 49 Run Dungey End L 11 Yard Gain
1:27 1st and 10 VT 40 Run Strickland Dive R 9 Yard Gain
1:15 2nd and 1 VT 31 Run Strickland Dive R 1 Yard Gain
0:38 1st and 10 VT 30 QB Kneel Dungey
2 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 16 runs, 13 passes

That 17-play drive to break the tie was a thing of beauty and should be framed on a wall somewhere. Dungey made big throws and tossed the team on his back — something he’d do twice more in the quarter too. The run/pass ratio’s way off because of the run-heavy nature of running out the clock. Also have to say that the delayed handoffs were working pretty well. Expect more of it going forward.

***

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 69 called passes vs. 31 called runs. Zero balance whatsoever, but Dungey made it work... against a good defense no less. Let’s see where this goes against another good D in Boston College.
  • First half play-calling: 42 passes vs. 8 runs (27:23 in second half)
  • First downs: 32 total (19 passing, 10 rushing, 3 penalty; 18:6:0 last week)
  • First down play selection: 29 called passes, 12 called runs (16:12 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 21 called passes, 11 called runs (9:5 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 14, which is the same number they had against Colgate — not bad considering the step up between that defense and the Hokies’
  • Second down play selection: 19 called passes, 14 called runs (9:12 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 17 called passes; 4 called runs (10:6 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 10-for-21 (7 passes, 3 runs, 0 penalty; 1:4:0 last week)
  • Fourth down conversion: 4-for-5 (1-for-1 last week)
  • This week, 59 of Syracuse's 100 play calls (50 percent) took place in Virginia Tech territory. That’s an insanely high number that you’re very impressed with until you get angry about the lack of points.
  • Play-action picked up a bit as Dungey was 6-for-12, 91 yards. Nothing amazing, but it was effective in spurts. In some ways, you’re surprised it worked all that often at all given the team’s lack of a real running game.
  • Syracuse had eight plays of 15 or more yards (four last week vs. Wake Forest). Of those, three went for 25 yards or more (also had three vs. Wake Forest). Another 10 plays gained between 10 and 14 yards. Those 18 total plays accounted for 303 of the Orange’s much-improved 561 yards from scrimmage. That means the other 82 plays averaged just 3.14 yards per. That’s a pretty excellent rate.
  • Including penalties, 12 plays went for a loss (four more than last week’s 10). And four more went for zero yards. All of that isn’t great, though it also highlights just how effective this Orange offense was.
  • Syracuse was 2-for-3 in the red zone, with the rest of the points coming from outside the 20-yard line. This has a direct correlation to issues with finishing drives, clearly.
  • Just two three-and-outs, and both were in the first quarter. That’s a really nice shift for a team that ran 13 offensive drives.

You did start to see Babers’s playbook open up a little bit this week, with the "double pass" plays getting dialed up three separate times. Given the speed of Virginia Tech’s corners, it seems the Orange went to that well one too many times — the last instance resulted in a 10-yard loss for Philips who was sniffed out immediately. As mentioned, delayed handoffs are also good, and seem to help Strickland find his lanes better.

Without getting into it too much more, that turnover on downs from the one-yard line looked like the type of series that would lose us the game later on. Ends up it wasn’t, but still doesn’t excuse the decision-making there. Use play-action, or two backs or a tight end — anything to stop yourself from telegraphing a likely (misguided pass). On Dungey’s touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Cameron MacPherson served as a blocker on the edge and he ended up setting a perfect pick on a defender to open room. Let’s do that more often.

Recent iterations of this article were openly questioning why the team was failing to go for it on fourth down as much as they had previously. That call was answered on Saturday, as SU went 4-for-5 on fourth and took a mental and physical toll on Virginia Tech’s defenders. Keeping drives alive was a big reason SU won. These decisions have more reward than risk, in my book.

The 30-yard line appeared to be a bit of a wall for the Orange offense. Not including the final kneel, SU stopped dead at or near the 30 four separate times. Settling for 50-yard field goals can’t be a habit, especially given how suddenly erratic Cole Murphy and the kicking game have been.

This was the first second half we’ve seen like this, with the team running an expert iteration of this offense, despite leaving some points on the table as well. Fourth quarters resembling this one will put SU in a much better position to win more games this year (obviously), so I’d recommend they continue whatever it is they were doing.

***

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