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Syracuse football: Breaking down offensive play-calling vs. Notre Dame

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Spoiler: You’ll like the first quarter.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame vs Syracuse Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange could not get it done against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at MetLife Stadium on Saturday. The 50-33 defeat wasn’t always pleasant, but did give us some offensive highlights near the start. Defensively, SU had no answers, leading to a perpetual game of catch-up (which should stick in your mind while glancing over these results). Still, The offense did get off-track once again for an extended period in the middle of the contest (as you’ll surely notice).

First Quarter

DRIVE 1




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:42 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Philips Mid Range M 25 Yard Gain
14:28 1st and 10 ND 50 Pass Estime Short L 6 Yard Gain
14:13 2nd and 4 ND 44 Pass Dungey Deep M Incomplete (Philips)
14:08 3rd and 4 ND 44 PENALTY (Offside) Jones N/A 5 Yard Gain
14:03 1st and 10 ND 39 Pass Ishmael Short R 18 Yard Gain
13:43 1st and 10 ND 21 Pass Ishmael Screen R 2 Yard Gain
13:21 2nd and 8 ND 19 Run Strickland Dive L 13 Yard Gain
13:08 1st and Goal ND 6 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Gain
12:40 2nd and Goal ND 3 Run Dungey Off Tackle L 3 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 2




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:16 1st and 10 SYR 21 Pass Estime Short R 5 Yard Gain
10:47 2nd and 5 SYR 26 Run Strickland End L 2 Yard Gain
10:26 3rd and 3 SYR 28 Pass Etta-Tawo Deep L 72 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 3




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
10:01 1st and 10 SYR 26 Play Action; Run Dungey End R 8 Yard Gain
9:44 2nd and 2 SYR 34 Pass Butler Screen R 1 Yard Loss
9:24 3rd and 3 SYR 33 Play Action; Pass Dungey Short L Incomplete
DRIVE 4




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:37 1st and 10 SYR 1 Play Action; Pass Estime Screen R 10 Yard Gain
4:15 1st and 10 SYR 11 Pass Philips Short L 9 Yard Gain
3:56 2nd and 1 SYR 20 Run Strickland Off Tackle L 18 Yard Gain
3:41 1st and 10 SYR 38 Run Strickland Dive L 2 Yard Gain
3:19 2nd and 8 SYR 40 Pass Dungey Short L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
3:16 3rd and 8 SYR 40 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End L 3 Yard Gain
DRIVE 5




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:30 1st and 10 SYR 22 Play Action; Run Dungey Dive L 1 Yard Gain
1:24 2nd and 9 SYR 23 PENALTY (Targeting) Studstill N/A 15 Yard Gain
1:05 1st and 10 SYR 38 Run Neal Dive L 2 Yard Gain
0:33 2nd and 8 SYR 40 PENALTY (Illegal Shift) Estime N/A 5 Yard Loss
0:17 2nd and 13 SYR 35 Pass Riley Mid Range M 23 Yard Gain
0:06 1st and 10 ND 42 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 1 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 16 passes, 8 runs

Syracuse comes out hot once again, moving swiftly on the first drive — though it could’ve been quicker if Eric Dungey hadn’t overthrown Ervin Philips on the third play. For the first time, Etta-Tawo is not really involved in the opening drive of the game, which is likely a result of increased defensive focus for the Irish. He still makes his presence known on drive two, scoring on the exact same play he did vs. UConn last week. Stalling on the third drive is what you’ve come to expect, sadly.

Second Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 2nd and 11 ND 43 Pass Ishmael Deep L 36 Yard Gain
14:50 1st and Goal ND 7 Run Neal Sweep L 1 Yard Gain
14:28 2nd and Goal ND 6 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive L 5 Yard Gain
14:10 3rd and Goal ND 1 Run Neal Dive L 0 Yard Gain
13:27 4th and Goal ND 1 Run Dungey Dive R 1 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 6




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:06 1st and 10 SYR 23 Play Action; Pass Ishmael Screen R 4 Yard Gain
11:45 2nd and 6 SYR 27 Run Strickland Dive L 1 Yard Gain
11:16 3rd and 5 SYR 28 Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete (Strickland)
DRIVE 7




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:12 1st and 10 SYR 1 Pass Philips Short L 5 Yard Gain
8:56 2nd and 5 SYR 6 Pass Dungey Short L Incomplete (Philips)
8:53 3rd and 5 SYR 6 Pass Estime Screen R 3 Yard Loss
DRIVE 8




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:57 1st and 10 SYR 36 Pass Dungey Screen R incomplete (Butler)
4:52 2nd and 10 SYR 36 Play Action; Pass Butler Short R 15 Yard Gain
4:37 1st and 10 ND 49 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 14 Yard Gain
4:15 1st and 10 ND 35 Play Action; Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete
4:12 2nd and 10 ND 35 Run Strickland Dive R 4 Yard Loss
3:37 3rd and 14 ND 39 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive R 1 Yard Gain
DRIVE 9




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:38 1st and 10 ND 14 Pass Dungey Short L Incomplete (Philips)
0:35 2nd and 10 ND 14 Pass Philips Mid Range M 14 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 10




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:16 1st and 10 ND 34 Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Philips)
0:12 2nd and 10 ND 34 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 11 Yard Gain
0:08 1st and 10 ND 23 Play Action; Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete
0:02 2nd and 10 ND 23 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is No Good

Play-Call Breakdown: 17 passes, 5 runs

The lop-sided nature of the second quarter is due to a combination of Notre Dame’s lead and the time crunch SU is under late in the half. The end of drive five is actually a perfect example of what this Orange offense should be, and the fourth instance of Dungey abusing Notre Dame for going offside. But that effectiveness isn’t heard from until the team scores with a short field late. The Cole Murphy miss kills a last-second scoring chance to make it a three-point game at half. They wouldn’t get any closer.

Third Quarter

DRIVE 11




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Gain
14:40 2nd and 7 SYR 28 Run Strickland Dive L 4 Yard Gain
14:16 3rd and 3 SYR 32 Run Dungey Off Tackle L 10 Yard Gain
14:00 1st and 10 SYR 42 Run Strickland Dive L 0 Yard Gain
13:38 2nd and 10 SYR 42 PENALTY (Offside) Mokwuah N/A 5 Yard Gain
13:32 2nd and 5 SYR 47 Pass Dungey N/A Incomplete
13:29 3rd and 5 SYR 47 Run; Fumble Dungey N/A 5 Yard Loss
DRIVE 12




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:18 1st and 10 SYR 21 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 15 Yard Gain
11:00 1st and 10 SYR 36 PENALTY (False Start) Dungey N/A 5 Yard Loss
10:50 1st and 15 SYR 31 Play Action; Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Butler)
10:41 2nd and 15 SYR 31 Pass Dungey Short L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
10:38 3rd and 15 SYR 31 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive R 0 Yard Gain
DRIVE 13




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:26 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 12 Yard Gain
8:10 1st and 10 SYR 37 Pass Dungey Mid Range L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
8:02 2nd and 10 SYR 37 Pass Etta-Tawo Short L 6 Yard Gain
7:34 3rd and 4 SYR 43 Pass Dungey Short L Incomplete (Fredericks)
DRIVE 14




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:49 1st and 10 ND 44 Pass Strickland Short L 7 Yard Gain
5:30 2nd and 3 ND 37 PENALTY (False Start) Dungey N/A 5 Yard Loss
5:13 2nd and 8 ND 42 Run Strickland Dive R 1 Yard Loss
4:46 3rd and 9 ND 43 Pass Strickland Screen L 0 Yard Gain
DRIVE 15




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:19 1st and 10 ND 34 Pass Strickland Short M 10 Yard Gain
1:57 1st and 10 ND 24 Pass Ishmael Screen R 7 Yard Gain
1:30 2nd and 3 ND 17 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End L 6 Yard Gain
1:13 1st and 10 ND 11 Run Strickland Sweep L 2 Yard Gain
0:48 2nd and 8 ND 9 Pass Etta-Tawo Short L 4 Yard Gain
0:22 3rd and 4 ND 5 Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (MacPherson)
0:17 4th and 4 ND 5 Pass Dungey Mid Range M Incomplete (Philips)

Play-Call Breakdown: 17 passes, 7 runs

Syracuse does nothing with something for an entire quarter, abandoning the run early despite the Irish actually seeming to struggle to stop it much given their extra defensive backs out in coverage. There were plenty of opportunities in this quarter, before the game got out of reach. Dungey’s receivers contributed four drops (two from Philips, including one in the end zone). The sophomore QB also hung tight under pressure as Notre Dame ratcheted up the blitz knowing the Orange would throw.

Fourth Quarter

DRIVE 16




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:14 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Dungey Mid Range R Incomplete (Estime)
11:06 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Pass Riley Mid Range M 13 Yard Gain
10:54 1st and 10 SYR 38 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End R 4 Yard Gain
10:25 2nd and 6 SYR 42 Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Estime)
10:20 3rd and 6 SYR 42 Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete (Strickland)
10:17 4th and 6 SYR 42 PENALTY (Holding) Fertitta N/A 10 Yard Gain
10:12 1st and 10 ND 48 Run Dungey Dive L 5 Yard Gain
9:47 2nd and 5 ND 43 Play Action; Pass Philips Mid Range R 10 Yard Gain
8:30 1st and 10 ND 33 Pass Philips Short M 5 Yard Gain
9:09 2nd and 5 ND 28 Pass Strickland Short L 10 Yard Gain
8:49 1st and 10 ND 18 Pass Strickland Short M 1 Yard Loss
8:24 2nd and 11 ND 19 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End L 3 Yard Gain
7:52 3rd and 8 ND 16 Run Philips Dive R 11 Yard Gain
7:29 1st and Goal ND 5 Run Dungey Dive R 0 Yard Gain
7:01 2nd and Goal ND 5 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End R 5 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 17




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:11 1st and 10 SYR 22 Run Fredericks Dive L 9 Yard Gain
0:50 2nd and 1 SYR 31 Run Fredericks Dive L 6 Yard Gain
0:27 1st and 10 SYR 37 Run Fredericks Dive R 3 Yard Gain
0:11 2nd and 7 SYR 40 Run Fredericks Dive R 2 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 passes, 7 runs

The closer run/pass split here can be disregarded given the last four plays being Jordan Fredericks handoffs in garbage time to close out the game. With Notre Dame playing prevent on drive 16, Dungey did seem to develop a little bit of a rhythm, despite pressing somewhat too. That fake punt, however, was horrendously executed, and it’s a miracle the Orange wound up converting by way of penalty. We’ll get to fourth down decisions below, but there were disheartening, to say the least.

***

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 61 called passes vs. 27 called runs. Again, Syracuse trailed throughout, so that’s how you get complete and utter abandonment of the run like this (for a run-heavy offense).
  • First half play-calling: 33 passes vs. 13 runs (28:14 in second half)
  • First downs: 25 total (15 passing, 7 rushing, 3 penalty; 15:4:0 last week)
  • First down play selection: 28 called passes, 11 called runs (14:25 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 14 called passes, 11 called runs (8:11 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 16, which is the most since the Colgate game (14). Most of these were clustered in the first few drives, however, further showing where this offense loses effectiveness.
  • Second down play selection: 21 called passes, 10 called runs (17:5 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 11 called passes; 4 called runs (12:3 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 3-for-15 (0 passes, 2 runs, 1 penalty; 8:2:0 last week)
  • Fourth down conversion: 1-for-2 (0-for-0 last week)
  • This week, 40 of Syracuse's 88 play calls (45 percent) took place in Notre Dame territory, the best rate of the year. The team’s longer second-half drives actually tilted the balance away from the first half for the first time all season. But the successful scoring drives of the first half are more of a thing to hang your hat on than possessions on one half of the field or the other.
  • Play-action dropped off quite a bit this week, in part due to the lack of running. After using it 18 times against UConn, they threw just nine out of play action vs. Notre Dame, but completed seven for 64 yards (Dungey was 11-for-18 for 182 yards and two TDs vs. the Huskies). SU could’ve used it more early, but did not. And it obviously fell off late given lack of run believability.
  • Syracuse had six plays of 15 or more yards (nine last week vs. UConn). Three of those went for 25 yards or more, however (vs. four such plays vs. UConn). Another 13 plays gained between 10 and 14 yards. Those 19 plays accounted for 350 of the Orange’s 489 yards from scrimmage, meaning that the other 69 (nice.) plays averaged 2.01 yards per. It’s been dropping for a couple weeks in a row now. That’s not awesome. Most big plays were also confined to the first half, as you’d guess.
  • Including penalties, 10 plays went for a loss (double last week’s mark). And five went for zero yards. Having 15 plays fall into this category starts to negate the big plays.
  • Five red zone trips for Syracuse this week, is a season-high. They scored touchdowns on four of them, while failing to convert a on fourth down from the five-yard line on another.
  • There were four three-and-outs in this one, which is how you do a struggling defense zero favors whatsoever.

Offensive line (getting its own post, don’t worry) injuries have hurt the run game enormously. But you see it in the passing game as well, obviously. Dungey faces far more pressure in the second half of games in which Syracuse is trailing, leading to more blitzing AND more players in coverage. The line’s young and inexperienced, which will change. But for now, it’s contributing to the offense’s inability to put together a full game.

It’s not great to notice trends. Simple ones like starting hot and fizzling are fine. More egregious ones like Etta-Tawo catching the exact same touchdown pass two weeks in a row, or Etta-Tawo only catching passes on the short side of the field (nearly always the left) are bad because it’s very likely opposing defenses have already noticed too. It’s one thing if you’re still going fast, since you can get away with it. If pace slow the way it has, it’s far too easy to sniff out and stop.

Dungey hasn’t been perfect this year by any stretch. I counted four overthrows (including that otherwise easy TD on drive on) and one short pass that could’ve elevated the offense and Dungey’s day in this one. He also made a couple bad reads on screens that punished receivers in coverage. Still, he contended with five drops — three by Ervin Philips (one of which was that fourth down ball in the end zone that was definitely catchable). Not Erv’s best day, despite finding the end zone.

Fourth down decision-making was a sore subject for Dino Babers in the post-game presser, and it’s one here as well. SU has gone for it just twice total in the last two games. In a contest where they trailed Notre Dame for all but 18 seconds, it’s tough to understand why Babers didn’t dial up fourth down tries (a huge advantage of this offense) more often. Five different times on Saturday, Babers elected to punt with the Orange on their own 40 or further.

***

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