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

A tale of two (bad in different ways) halves.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange are not playing "their" game without Eric Dungey. That’s apparent. And the proof came out once again vs. the Florida State Seminoles, as Zack Mahoney struggled to keep SU’s offense running long enough to keep up. Granted, it’s unlikely we were "keeping up" with FSU anyway, no matter who was under center. But as you’ll see below, there were ample opportunities to make this a little more interesting than it ended up being. Syracuse just needed an offense.

First Quarter

DRIVE 1




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:56 1st and 10 SYR 16 Pocket Breakdown; Run Mahoney End R 2 Yard Gain
14:26 2nd and 8 SYR 18 Pass Mahoney Short R Incomplete (Cornelius)
14:21 3rd and 8 SYR 18 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 12 Yard Gain
14:03 1st and 10 SYR 30 Pass Philips Short L 4 Yard Gain
13:42 2nd and 6 SYR 34 Run Strickland Off Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
13:16 3rd and 3 SYR 37 Pass Mahoney Short M Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
DRIVE 2




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:07 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Mahoney Deep L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
11:02 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Play Action; Pass Cornelius Deep R 29 Yard Gain
10:49 1st and 10 FSU 46 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Gain
10:25 2nd and 7 FSU 43 PENALTY (Illegal Block) Foster N/A 13 Yard Loss
10:13 2nd and 20 SYR 44 Reverse; Pass Avant Deep R Incomplete (Estime)
10:05 3rd and 20 SYR 44 Pass; Sack Mahoney N/A 4 Yard Loss
DRIVE 3




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:03 1st and 10 SYR 28 PENALTY (Delay of Game) Mahoney N/A 5 Yard Loss
7:03 1st and 15 SYR 23 Pass Mahoney Short M Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
6:58 2nd and 15 SYR 23 Play Action; Pass Mahoney Deep R Incomplete (Philips)
6:52 3rd and 15 SYR 23 Pass; Sack Mahoney N/A 2 Yard Loss
DRIVE 4




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:11 1st and 10 FSU 39 Run Estime End L 0 Yard Gain
3:42 2nd and 10 FSU 39 Pass; Sack Mahoney N/A 4 Yard Loss
3:11 3rd and 14 FSU 43 Pass Mahoney Short M Incomplete
DRIVE 5




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:48 1st and 10 FSU 50 Pass Mahoney Mid Range R Incomplete (Ishmael)
0:42 2nd and 10 FSU 50 Run Neal Dive R 2 Yard Gain
0:17 3rd and 8 FSU 48 Pass; Sack Mahoney N/A 4 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 16 passes, 4 runs

If you’re terrible at running the football, don’t run the football. But if you’re terrible at throwing the football, you can’t do that a ton either. That’s Syracuse’s problem right now, and it’s on full display in the first quarter. Mahoney has a habit of locking onto receivers (usually a deep option) and holding onto the ball too long -- both of which derail the speed and efficiency of this offense pretty quickly. FSU figured things out by drive three, and next come the three-and-outs.

Second Quarter

DRIVE 6




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:28 1st and 10 SYR 48 Run Strickland Dive R 7 Yard Gain
13:07 2nd and 3 FSU 45 Run Strickland Dive R 0 Yard Gain
12:47 3rd and 3 FSU 45 PENALTY (Offsides) Jones N/A 5 Yard Gain
12:40 1st and 10 FSU 40 Pass Philips Short M 7 Yard Gain
12:28 2nd and 3 FSU 33 Pass Philips Short M 7 Yard Gain
12:11 1st and 10 FSU 26 PENALTY (Offsides) Nnadi N/A 5 Yard Gain
11:56 1st and 5 FSU 21 Pass Philips Screen R 13 Yard Gain
11:37 1st and Goal FSU 8 PENALTY (False Start) McGloster N/A 5 Yard Loss
11:19 1st and Goal FSU 13 Fumble; Run Mahoney End R 2 Yard Gain
10:59 2nd and Goal FSU 11 Run Mahoney Dive L 7 Yard Gain
10:23 3rd and Goal FSU 4 PENALTY (False Start) Etta-Tawo N/A 5 Yard Loss
10:08 3rd and Goal FSU 9 Pass Mahoney Mid Range L Interception
DRIVE 7




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:35 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Neal Dive L 2 Yard Gain
6:11 2nd and 8 SYR 27 PENALTY (False Start) Adams N/A 5 Yard Loss
5:58 2nd and 13 SYR 22 Pass Mahoney Deep R Interception
DRIVE 8




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:56 1st and 10 SYR 24 Pass Estime Short R 4 Yard Gain
4:36 2nd and 6 SYR 28 Run Strickland Dive R 1 Yard Loss
3:55 3rd and 7 SYR 27 Pass; Sack Mahoney N/A 3 Yard Loss
DRIVE 9




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:06 1st and 10 SYR 37 Pass Mahoney Screen L Incomplete (Estime)
1:01 2nd and 10 SYR 37 Run Strickland Off Tackle L 1 Yard Gain
0:17 3rd and 9 SYR 38 Pass Estime Screen R 17 Yard Gain
0:08 1st and 10 FSU 46 Pass Mahoney Mid Range R Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
0:03 2nd and 10 FSU 46 Pass Etta-Tawo Deep R 46 Yard Gain; TD

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 passes, 7 runs

Drive six started out exactly like this offense should run with Mahoney. Quick screens and the occasional seam route from the slot had the offense moving fast and keeping FSU’s defense on their heels. Unfortunately, the typical red zone false starts arrive, and then a forced ball means a turnover instead of a field goal attempt. Drive nine’s the next opportunity to make something happen, and thanks to Amba Etta-Tawo, "something" is a 46-yard TD grab as time expires. This team can run a two-minute offense better than most, and it was on display here again.

Third Quarter

DRIVE 10




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:40 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Estime Short R 4 Yard Gain
11:24 2nd and 6 SYR 29 Pass Philips Short R 7 Yard Gain
11:01 1st and 10 SYR 36 Play Action; Pass Mahoney Deep R Incomplete (Cornelius)
10:55 2nd and 10 SYR 36 Run Mahoney Dive R 6 Yard Gain
10:31 3rd and 4 SYR 42 Run Mahoney Dive R 3 Yard Gain
10:07 4th and 1 SYR 45 PENALTY (False Start) Conway N/A 5 Yard Loss
DRIVE 11




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:52 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Gain
5:31 2nd and 7 SYR 28 Play Action; Pass Mahoney Short R Incomplete (Estime)
5:20 3rd and 7 SYR 28 Play Action; Pass Mahoney Mid Range R Incomplete (Ishmael)
DRIVE 12




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:08 1st and 10 FSU 22 Pass Estime Short L 5 Yard Gain
4:48 2nd and 5 FSU 17 Run Strickland Dive R 0 Yard Gain
4:35 3rd and 5 FSU 17 Pass Philips Mid Range L 17 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 13




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:30 1st and 10 SYR 36 Run Neal Dive L 5 Yard Gain
1:16 2nd and 5 SYR 41 Run Neal Dive L 7 Yard Gain
1:00 1st and 10 SYR 48 Run Neal Dive R 3 Yard Gain
0:40 2nd and 7 FSU 49 Play Action; Pass Mahoney Deep L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
0:33 3rd and 7 FSU 49 Pass Philips Short M 8 Yard Gain
0:10 1st and 10 FSU 41 Run Neal Off Tackle R 2 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 9 passes, 8 runs

This quarter actually seemed like it took what went well in the second quarter and improved upon it here and there. The problems were the team couldn’t score enough to keep up with the ‘Noles and the defense couldn’t stop FSU enough to keep it a game. Mid-field stalling has been a theme no matter who’s at quarterback, and you saw it plenty here.

Fourth Quarter

Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 2nd and 12 FSU 43 Pass Mahoney Deep M Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
14:55 3rd and 12 FSU 43 Pass; Sack Mahoney N/A 3 Yard Loss
DRIVE 14




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
13:01 1st and 10 FSU 49 Run Strickland Dive L 1 Yard Gain
12:37 2nd and 9 FSU 48 PENALTY (Pass Interference) White N/A 15 Yard Gain
12:31 1st and 10 FSU 33 Pass Mahoney Screen R Incomplete (Cornelius)
12:27 2nd and 10 FSU 33 Pass; Sack Mahoney N/A 6 Yard Loss
11:46 3rd and 16 FSU 39 PENALTY (Holding) Becker N/A 10 Yard Gain
11:36 1st and 10 FSU 29 Run Neal Off Tackle L 2 Yard Gain
11:12 2nd and 8 FSU 27 Pass Mahoney Deep L Incomplete (Neal)
11:04 3rd and 8 FSU 27 PENALTY (Pass Interference) MacPherson N/A 15 Yard Loss
10:55 3rd and 23 FSU 42 Pass Estime Short M 12 Yard Gain
10:35 4th and 11 FSU 30 Pass; Sack Mahoney N/A 3 Yard Loss
DRIVE 15




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:41 1st and 10 SYR 25 Play Action; Pass Mahoney Deep L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
5:34 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Pass Estime Screen R 5 Yard Gain
5:13 3rd and 5 SYR 30 Pass Mahoney Screen R Incomplete (Cornelius)
DRIVE 16




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:28 1st and 10 FSU 42 Run Morris End L 6 Yard Gain
1:51 2nd and 4 FSU 36 Run Morris Dive L 2 Yard Gain
1:31 3rd and 2 FSU 34 Run Morris Dive L 0 Yard Gain
0:55 4th and 2 FSU 34 Run Wilson Off Tackle R 0 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 10 passes, 6 runs

The game’s over by this point, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating to see Brisly Estime’s touchdown negated by a penalty on drive 14. It was also a nice tough to get as many seniors in as possible come the end. Austin Wilson and George Morris both received carries on the final drive, which ended in a four-and-out.

***

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 46 called passes vs. 25 called runs. I’d say it was a plus that the total plays trended back up, but little was done with those extra snaps.
  • First half play-calling: 27 passes vs. 11 runs (19:14 in second half)
  • First downs: 13 total (9 passing, 1 rushing, 3 penalty; 4:5:1 last week)
  • First down play selection: 15 called passes, 12 called runs (10:9 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 7 called passes, 6 called runs (6:4 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: six, which is twice last week’s total, but still bad. The offense relies on this number being higher.
  • Second down play selection: 15 called passes, 10 called runs (9:9 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 15 called passes, 2 called runs (8:5 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 4-for-17 (3 passes, 0 runs, 1 penalty; 2:2:0 last week)
  • Fourth down conversion: 0-for-2 (1-for-2 last week)
  • This week, 34 of Syracuse's 71 play calls (48 percent) took place in Florida State territory. That sounds good, until you remember that Syracuse only scored 14 points.
  • Play-action didn’t go well at all, as Mahoney was just 1-for-7 for 29 yards when utilizing it. Given how quickly the Florida State pass rush was able to get after him, it was less of an asset that it may have been otherwise.
  • Syracuse had just four plays of 15 or more yards (only three last week vs. NC State). Of those, two went for 25 yards or more. Another three plays gained between 10 and 14 yards. Those seven total plays accounted for 146 of the Orange’s terrible 233 yards from scrimmage. That means the other 64 plays averaged an awful 1.35 yards per. Gross.
  • Including penalties, 17 plays went for a loss. And additional five plays went for zero yards. Sacks were a significant part of the problem, but not the only issue.
  • Syracuse was 1-for-2 in the red zone, continuing the team’s woes from inside the 20.
  • The Orange had four three-and-outs, plus two picks. The one bright side is that those were largely confined to the first half.

Sean Avant arguably threw the best ball of the day -- a reverse-turned-deep-pass that was just out of reach of a streaking Brisly Estime (who did have his man completely beat). Mahoney showed this year and last that he can throw an accurate long pass in spurts, but just not enough to be relied upon. That was evident here especially as he locked onto those big plays.

FSU’s high sack total (seven) was part their own talent, part Syracuse’s banged-up offensive line and part Mahoney holding the ball too long. When he released the ball quickly, good things happened, and the team got back to the screen game that keeps this offense going. Mahoney seemed to skip the part where you draw the defense in, and was just heaving passes deep all game.

More than half (nine) of Syracuse’s drives spent some time in Florida State territory, but those resulted in just two touchdowns. That lack of execution in the opposing zone has been a running theme all year, and a frustrating one at that. But it’s also proof that this offense COULD be doing a whole lot more. Optimistic, sure. I’ll cling to that, however, over the other (angrier) side of that conversation.

It was mentioned earlier, but that quick seam route we’ve seen from Estime and Ervin Philips from time to time needs to happen more. It’s brutally effective and nearly always results in gains of 10 or more yards. Philips and potentially Sean Riley could see that play called five times per game next year, and it’s unlikely it would lose much on the execution front.

***

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