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Syracuse football: Full 2016 season offensive play-calling breakdown

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After another full season of doing this, I had to dive in to recap.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Year one of the Dino Babers era is over for the Syracuse Orange. There were some great things, and some less-than-great things. Obviously I’m focusing in on the offensive side of things here (Julian Whigham did a great job with the defense yesterday), as has been the case all year. There’s a lot to digest, especially in light of what happened vs. Pitt.

The below is an extension of the 12 offensive play-calling articles that preceded it this season. The trends we may have identified week-to-week can now be summarized as results and a real, solid narrative for Babers’s first year at SU.

Run vs. pass distribution

The offensive line struggled all season, which took its toll on the run game, which then took its toll on the entire offense’s production. The one major exception to that rule was the final game, when everything seemed to work (against a quality defensive front, no less). That still doesn’t affect the pass-heavy nature of the season, which looks even more skewed below. As always, these are "called" passes, which include pocket breakdowns that turn into QB scrambles.


CG UL SF UC ND WF VT BC CU NCS FS PITT Total Pct.
Runs 29 33 47 23 27 31 31 28 24 23 25 37 358 37%
Passes 52 60 58 43 61 35 69 45 43 30 46 69 611 63%

Third downs were clearly passing downs

HI OPPOSING DEFENSES! WE’RE PASSING!

Things skewed nearly 60 percent pass to 40 percent run as it is on both first and second down. But on third, it jumped all the way up to 77 percent. That’s a huge beacon to opposing pass rushers that Syracuse would be throwing, or at least attempting to on third down. If they didn’t? Well, either it was telegraphed, or defenses were willing to take the risk. Third-and-long was a common occurrence, which is how this happens as often as it did.


CG UL SF UC ND WF VT BC CU NCS FS PITT Total Pct.
1st Down Plays 34 38 41 29 46 28 41 33 29 19 27 47 412
Run 14 15 23 15 13 12 12 15 13 10 12 16 170 41%
Pass 20 23 18 14 33 16 29 18 16 9 15 31 242 59%

CG UL SF UC ND WF VT BC CU NCS FS PITT Total Pct.
2nd Down Plays 26 30 35 22 31 21 33 26 22 18 25 35 324
Run 9 11 19 5 10 12 14 9 8 9 10 17 133 41%
Pass 17 19 16 17 21 9 19 17 14 9 15 18 191 59%

CG UL SF UC ND WF VT BC CU NCS FS PITT Total Pct.
3rd Down Plays 18 23 24 15 15 16 21 14 16 13 17 20 212
Run 4 5 6 3 4 6 4 4 2 5 2 4 49 23%
Pass 14 18 18 12 11 10 17 10 14 8 15 16 163 77%

Poor execution on first down is how third down becomes third and long so often. And while the numbers were never great on first, they tanked heavily in the early games post-Eric Dungey. Zack Mahoney clearly rights the ship and then some vs. Pitt. But the other three games largely without Dungey, things are very, very unfortunate on first (and it shows on third).


CG UL SF UC ND WF VT BC CU NCS FS PITT Total Avg.
5+ on 1st 14 13 12 11 16 9 14 15 5 3 6 23 141 11.75

Conversions

Third down success was... not successful, and got less so once first down success dropped off as far as it did. Fourth down, however, worked out pretty well — especially once Babers got his bearings on what this team could and couldn’t do on that down. The run rarely worked (unless it was executed by Dungey). But the pass showed some real promise given the large number of options to throw to.


CG UL SF UC ND WF VT BC CU NCS FS PITT Total Pct.
3rdConv 8 10 12 8 3 5 10 6 5 4 4 9 84 40%
3rdAtt 18 23 24 15 15 16 21 14 16 13 17 20 212

CG UL SF UC ND WF VT BC CU NCS FS PITT Total Pct.
4thConv 3 0 2 0 1 1 4 0 1 1 0 4 17 63%
4thAtt 3 1 5 0 2 1 5 0 2 2 2 4 27


CG UL SF UC ND WF VT BC CU NCS FS PITT Total Pct.
1st Downs 25 24 30 19 25 14 32 23 15 10 13 38 268
Run 5 10 11 4 7 6 10 6 5 5 1 15 85 32%
Pass 18 11 16 15 15 8 19 14 9 4 9 20 158 59%
Pen. 2 3 3 0 3 0 3 3 1 1 3 3 25 9%

Behind enemy lines

This stat of plays in opposing territory means nothing if you don’t do anything with those possessions. And as Bill Connelly’s numbers will tell you, we rarely did much with them at all. On the season, Syracuse was 104th overall in terms of finishing drives inside the opponents’ 40. There’s a 10-yard gulf between Bill’s measure for success and what we measure here. But the point stands that the Orange were unable to make enough happen past midfield.


CG UL SF UC ND WF VT BC CU NCS FS PITT Total Pct.
No. Past 50 38 31 39 24 40 25 59 39 17 19 34 53 418 43%
Total 81 93 105 66 88 66 100 73 67 53 71 106 969

Explosiveness

Syracuse made progress over the course of the season here. SU was 73rd in the country, which is bad until you consider where we were in 2015 (much, much worse). They were also 86th at the halfway point. Again, this is without comparison to teams around the country, but running five percent of your overall plays for 25 yards or more means you ARE finding ways to move the football. Running 17 percent of your overall plays for 10 yards or more is okay. But if you remove the three very rocky efforts vs. Clemson, NC State and Florida State, that "10 yards or more" number jumps all the way up to 22 percent. That is pretty excellent, I’d say.

Excuse the shorthand below. But these are the "long" plays measured in the weekly breakdowns. "10+ plays" are plays that gain 10 or more yards, "15+ plays" is for 15 or more yards, etc.


CG UL SF UC ND WF VT BC CU NCS FS PITT Total Pct.
10+ Plays
16 16 14 16 19 13 18 16 8 6 7 20 169 17%
15+ Plays
8 11 11 9 6 4 8 10 4 3 4 10 88 9%
25+ Plays
7 3 5 4 3 4 3 5 1 2 2 6 45 5%
Total Plays
81 93 105 66 88 66 100 73 67 53 71 106 969

***

Anything to add? Anything to question? There are certainly pluses and minuses to this presentation, so I’m all ears about how to improve it (right now and in the future). Hopefully this is just the start of SU’s progress toward a whole lot more offense. And if the final game was any indication, we should be very excited for what’s to come in 2017.