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Syracuse football: Breaking down offensive play-calling vs. NC State

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Figured this photo will put you in a better mood than the article will.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned on Sunday, the Syracuse Orange offense needs Eric Dungey in order to function properly. That’s not just limited to production, but the form and function of the play-calling, too. The loss to the NC State Wolfpack looked nothing like the previous games. So while we’re breaking it down below just like every other game, it says very little about Dino Babers’s scheme -- now and in the future.

First Quarter

DRIVE 1




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:16 1st and 10 SYR 39 Pass Philips Short R 5 Yard Gain
11:01 2nd and 5 SYR 44 Pass Philips Mid Range R 9 Yard Gain
10:37 1st and 10 NCSU 47 Play Action; Pass Mahoney Deep R Incomplete (Cornelius)
10:31 2nd and 10 NCSU 47 Run Mahoney Dive R 6 Yard Gain
10:12 3rd and 4 NCSU 41 Run Strickland Dive L 5 Yard Gain
9:55 1st and 10 NCSU 36 Play Action; Pass Cornelius Short R 8 Yard Gain
9:39 2nd and 2 NCSU 28 Run Strickland Dive R 1 Yard Gain
8:59 3rd and 1 NCSU 27 Run Mahoney Dive R 1 Yard Loss
8:20 4th and 2 NCSU 28 Pass Philips Screen L 12 Yard Gain
8:03 1st and 10 NCSU 16 Pass Etta-Tawo Screen L 4 Yard Gain
7:46 2nd and 6 NCSU 12 Pocket Breakdown; Run Mahoney Dive R 2 Yard Gain
7:10 3rd and 4 NCSU 10 Wildcat; Run Strickland Dive L 10 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 2




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:16 1st and 10 SYR 44 Play Action; Pass Mahoney Deep R Interception

Play-Call Breakdown: 8 passes, 5 runs

The first drive was truly the only complete drive of the game. This was really the only time short passes were utilized well, the run game was open up the middle and the miss downfield had no negative consequences (Alvin Cornelius was wide open, however). The Wildcat was a solid wrinkle to add in the red zone. You also can’t blame anyone for being pissed about the missed pass interference that led to the interception on the first play of drive two. It wasn’t a bad ball at all.

Second Quarter

DRIVE 3




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:55 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Strickland Off Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
14:40 2nd and 8 SYR 27 Run Strickland Dive L 0 Yard Gain
14:20 3rd and 8 SYR 27 Play Action; Pass Cornelius Deep R 46 Yard Gain
13:59 1st and 10 NCSU 27 Run Neal Dive R 1 Yard Loss
13:28 2nd and 11 NCSU 28 Run; Fumble Mahoney Dive R 2 Yard Loss
13:01 3rd and 13 NCSU 30 Pass Philips Short L 4 Yard Gain
12:25 4th and 9 NCSU 26 PENALTY (False Start) Roberts N/A 5 Yard Loss
12:12 4th and 14 NCSU 31 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is Good
DRIVE 4




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:38 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Mahoney Mid Range M Incomplete (Philips)
8:36 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Pass; Sack Mahoney N/A 8 Yard Loss
7:55 3rd and 18 SYR 17 Pass Strickland
6 Yard Loss
DRIVE 5




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:47 1st and 10 SYR 20 Run Strickland Off Tackle L 1 Yard Loss
0:25 2nd and 11 SYR 19 Pass Cornelius Screen R 6 Yard Gain
0:20 3rd and 5 SYR 25 Run Strickland Dive L 1 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 6 passes, 6 runs

The deep ball to Cornelius on drive three was a heave, but it worked well. It was one of just two plays the entire quarter to go for more than five yards. Playing in place of Steve Ishmael, active but sidelined for undisclosed reasons, Cornelius had a solid chemistry with Zack Mahoney from their shared time on the second time offense in practice. Still, NC State adjusted to Mahoney by the second quarter and the offense stalled as a result.

Third Quarter

DRIVE 6




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:53 1st and 10 SYR 31 Wildcat; Run Strickland Off Tackle L 1 Yard Loss
14:26 2nd and 11 SYR 30 Run Mahoney Dive R 5 Yard Gain
14:05 3rd and 6 SYR 35 Pass Mahoney Screen R Incomplete (Philips)
DRIVE 7




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:10 1st and 10 SYR 18 Run Neal Dive R 1 Yard Gain
12:50 2nd and 9 SYR 19 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Deep M 81 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 8




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:42 1st and 10 NCSU 17 Run Mahoney Dive R 3 Yard Loss
11:15 2nd and 13 NCSU 20 Pass Mahoney Short M Incomplete (Philips)
11:10 3rd and 13 NCSU 20 Pass Etta-Tawo Short R 1 Yard Loss
10:34 4th and 14 NCSU 21 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is Good
DRIVE 9




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:22 1st and 10 SYR 34 Run Strickland Pitch R 1 Yard Gain
8:06 2nd and 9 SYR 35 Pass Mahoney Screen R Incomplete (Philips)
7:59 3rd and 9 SYR 35 Pass Mahoney Deep R Incomplete (Cornelius)
DRIVE 10




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:10 1st and 10 SYR 25 PENALTY (Holding) Jones N/A 10 Yard Gain
0:04 1st and 10 SYR 35 Pass Mahoney Deep L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)

Play-Call Breakdown: 7 passes, 5 runs

The offense moves at a noticeably slower pace in the third quarter, and as a result, SU’s toned-down "playbook" for Mahoney looks a bit exposed. His 81-yard touchdown pass to Etta-Tawo was actually a pretty solid throw. And Amba makes a great adjustment to it in stride to get past the coverage with ease. Other than that, Syracuse squanders quality field position on drive eight — their last real shot to score in the game.

Fourth Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 2nd and 10 SYR 35 PENALTY (False Start) Moore N/A 5 Yard Loss
15:00 2nd and 15 SYR 30 Run Strickland Dive R 2 Yard Loss
14:18 3rd and 17 SYR 28 Run Mahoney Dive L 2 Yard Gain
DRIVE 11




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:26 1st and 10 SYR 30 Run Mahoney Dive L 6 Yard Gain
11:10 2nd and 4 SYR 36 Wildcat; Run Strickland Dive L 13 Yard Gain
10:50 1st and 10 SYR 49 Wildcat; Run Strickland Dive R 1 Yard Gain
10:23 2nd and 9 NCSU 50 Run Mahoney Off Tackle L 5 Yard Loss
9:53 3rd and 14 SYR 45 Pass Estime Short M 17 Yard Gain
9:40 1st and 10 NCSU 38 Pass Etta-Tawo Screen L 4 Yard Gain
9:25 2nd and 6 NCSU 34 PENALTY (Personal Foul) Strickland N/A 15 Yard Loss
9:14 2nd and 21 NCSU 49 Pass; Sack Mahoney N/A 13 Yard Loss
8:33 3rd and 34 SYR 38 Pass Mahoney Short R Incomplete
DRIVE 12




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:50 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Mahoney Short R Incomplete (Philips)
4:46 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Run Mahoney Dive R 11 Yard Gain
4:30 1st and 10 SYR 36 Pass Mahoney Short R Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
4:22 2nd and 10 SYR 36 Pass Cornelius Screen L 1 Yard Gain
4:06 3rd and 9 SYR 37 Pocket Breakdown; Run Mahoney Dive L 4 Yard Gain
3:32 4th and 5 SYR 41 Pass; Sack Mahoney N/A 3 Yard Loss; Fumble

Play-Call Breakdown: 9 passes, 7 runs

Drive 11 is this game in a nutshell. Questionable penalties (the "chop block" that negated the best-placed ball he’s thrown at Syracuse, perhaps), dangerously lobbed passes and happy feet leaving the pocket negated a promising drive. The game looked lost for SU by the time they repossessed the ball with around four minutes to go, and the inability to move the ball reflected that. Playing Donnie Foster at center also took its toll on the line and Mahoney as State ramped up pressure as the game wore on.

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 30 called passes vs. 23 called runs. No surprise this was the lowest total of the season for the Orange.
  • First half play-calling: 14 passes vs. 11 runs (16:12 in second half)
  • First downs: 10 total (4 passing, 5 rushing, 1 penalty; 9:5:1 last week)
  • First down play selection: 10 called passes, 9 called runs (16:13 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 6 called passes, 4 called runs (10:5 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: three, which cut last week’s season-low in half (which itself cut the previous season low in half as well).
  • Second down play selection: 9 called passes, 9 called runs (14:8 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 8 called passes, 5 called runs (14:2 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 4-for-13 (2 passes, 2 runs, 0 penalty; 4:1:0 last week)
  • Fourth down conversion: 1-for-2 (1-for-2 last week)
  • This week, 19 of Syracuse's 53 play calls (36 percent) took place in NC State territory. That’s much better than last week, but volume of plays is also down, so still negative.
  • With some dedication to the run game, play-action seemed to be a bit more effective too. Mahoney was 3-for-5 for 135 yards, one touchdown and one interception. You could’ve added the Cornelius called-back touchdown to this list as well.
  • Syracuse had just three plays of 15 or more yards (only four last week vs. Clemson). Of those, two went for 25 yards or more. Another three plays gained between 10 and 14 yards. Those six total plays accounted for 180 of the Orange’s awful 218 yards from scrimmage. That means the other 47 plays averaged a putrid 0.81 yards per. Another season low figure.
  • Including penalties, 17 plays went for a loss. And additional play went for zero yards. Even taking out the three offensive penalties, over 25 percent of SU’s snaps went for negative yardage. That’s trash.
  • Syracuse was 1-for-1 in the red zone, but did managed to score three times from outside of the 20-yard line.
  • The Orange had five three-and-outs, plus a turnover. So half of SU’s drives went for more than three plays.

As mentioned above, the lack of speed really did hurt this group’s production and ability. Mahoney’s not the first-team quarterback, but the simplified play-calling and slower tempo made it very easy for the Wolfpack to figure him out. Once they did so around the second quarter, his only chance was to throw it up near Etta-Tawo and Cornelius and hope for the best — a tactic he utilized frequently.

Also mentioned earlier, but Foster coming in to play center had a huge impact as the Pack crashed the middle of the line to both sell out on the run and put pressure on Mahoney. Mahoney gets some happy feet and has a tendency to run backwards when the blitz bears down. This created some big negative plays that derailed the Orange offense immensely.

Less than half (five out of 12) Syracuse drives started any further back than their own 30. To struggle as much as they did given those circumstances was unsettling. NC State looked better for stretches, sure. But the SU defense and special teams also gave the home team every opportunity to put more points on the board, yet they couldn’t.

It’s hard to choose what Babers should commit to if Mahoney’s truly at the helm in place of Dungey. He can’t run the true offensive system at the moment, and his passing is never going to be at the level of Dungey’s. Mahoney runs were not always super effective, but worked in spurts. TBD on the Wildcat’s incorporation, since it’s there out of necessity right now.

For the most part, I feel like this poor execution couldn’t have been cooked up in a Tim Lester fever dream, and yet, we were in position to potentially win in the fourth quarter. That may provide more positive feedback about Babers’s system than we think.

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