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Syracuse football: Breaking down offensive play-calling vs. UConn

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As is seemingly always the case, there’s a mixed bag of results with these.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Connecticut Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange won their second game of the season on Saturday, a 31-24 triumph over the UConn Huskies that was far more stressful than it ever should have been. Once again, upon rewatch, you could see where things derailed at times for the Orange offense. But you could also see plenty of moments that went well. This thing’s working, even if it’s not "there" yet, trust me.

First Quarter

DRIVE 1




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
15:00 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Philips)
14:57 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range M 15 Yard Gain
14:40 1st and 10 SYR 40 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Gain
14:20 2nd and 7 SYR 43 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Deep L 57 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 2




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:10 1st and 10 SYR 41 Run Strickland Dive R 9 Yard Gain
11:55 2nd and 1 CONN 50 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Screen L 2 Yard Loss
11:31 3rd and 3 SYR 48 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range M 18 Yard Gain
11:10 1st and 10 CONN 34 Run Strickland Dive R 4 Yard Gain
10:54 2nd and 6 CONN 30 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Deep L 30 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 3




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:17 1st and 10 SYR 20 Run Strickland Dive L 1 Yard Gain
5:53 2nd and 9 SYR 21 Run Strickland Dive R 2 Yard Gain
5:25 3rd and 7 SYR 23 Play Action; Pass Dungey Mid Range M Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
DRIVE 4




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:07 1st and 10 SYR 20 Pass Dungey Deep L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
4:00 2nd and 10 SYR 20 Play Action; Pass Dungey Deep L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
3:52 3rd and 10 SYR 20 Pass Philips Mid Range M 21 Yard Gain
3:33 1st and 10 SYR 41 Run Neal Dive R 2 Yard Gain
3:16 2nd and 8 SYR 43 Pass Estime Screen L 6 Yard Gain
2:44 3rd and 2 SYR 49 Run Neal Dive R 1 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 passes, 7 runs

For the second straight week, Syracuse’s offense opened the game by scoring quickly and efficiently. In just nine plays from scrimmage, the team managed two touchdowns -- both by way of gorgeous connections from Eric Dungey to Amba Etta-Tawo. The two have a clear chemistry out there, and it shows by how much the QB leans on the transfer wideout (five throws his way in the first two drives alone). They also identified a weakness in the UConn defense in Jamar Summers, whose name will come up a lot. Etta-Tawo could’ve scored on him three times if not for a drop on drive no. 4.

Second Quarter

DRIVE 5




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:13 1st and 10 SYR 34 Pass Ishmael Short R 9 Yard Gain
11:50 2nd and 1 SYR 43 Play Action; Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 11 Yard Loss
11:09 3rd and 12 SYR 32 Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Strickland)
DRIVE 6




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:01 1st and 10 SYR 13 Play Action; Pass Philips Short R 5 Yard Gain
5:37 2nd and 5 SYR 18 Play Action; Pass Ishmael Mid Range R 11 Yard Gain
5:21 1st and 10 SYR 29 Run Neal Dive R 3 Yard Gain
4:59 2nd and 7 SYR 32 Play Action; Pass Philips Screen L 5 Yard Gain
4:28 3rd and 2 SYR 37 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Deep L 29 Yard Gain
4:04 1st and 10 CONN 34 Run Neal Dive L 2 Yard Gain
3:42 2nd and 8 CONN 32 Pass Dungey Deep R Incomplete (Philips)
3:36 3rd and 6 CONN 32 Pass Dungey Mid Range M Incomplete (Philips)
3:32 4th and 6 CONN 32 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is No Good
DRIVE 7




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:28 1st and 10 SYR 26 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range M 24 Yard Gain
0:14 1st and 10 CONN 50 Pass Strickland Short M 13 Yard Gain
0:06 1st and 10 CONN 37 Pass Ishmael Short R 7 Yard Gain
0:02 2nd and 3 CONN 30 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is Good

Play-Call Breakdown: 12 passes, 2 runs

Once the team abandoned balance in the second quarter, you saw UConn bring the blitz and get to Dungey. Still, play-action was working well, and if not for the field goal miss, we’d look back at drive no. 6 fondly. The hurry-up seventh drive was some really nice work in a small amount of space. With 28 seconds left, the team ran three plays for 40 yards AND kicked a field goal. Not bad, even wen taking UConn’s prevent formation in mind.

Third Quarter

DRIVE 8




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
11:54 1st and 10 SYR 6 Play Action; Pass Estime Screen R 7 Yard Gain
11:35 2nd and 3 SYR 13 Run Strickland Sweep R 6 Yard Gain
11:14 1st and 10 SYR 19 Play Action; Pass Dungey Deep Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
11:07 2nd and 10 SYR 19 PENALTY (Holding) Byrne N/A 10 Yard Loss
10:57 2nd and 20 SYR 9 Pass Philips Short L 9 Yard Gain
10:35 3rd and 11 SYR 18 PENALTY (False Start) Roberts N/A 5 Yard Loss
10:21 3rd and 16 SYR 13 Pass Dungey Screen L Incomplete (Strickland)
DRIVE 9




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:05 1st and 10 SYR 27 Run Dungey End R 1 Yard Gain
4:38 2nd and 9 SYR 28 Pass Philips Short L 8 Yard Gain
4:23 3rd and 1 SYR 36 Run Dungey Dive R 3 Yard Gain
4:09 1st and 10 SYR 39 Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete (Philips)
4:02 2nd and 10 SYR 39 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Screen L 11 Yard Gain
3:44 1st and 10 CONN 50 Play Action; Pass Dungey Mid Range L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
3:38 2nd and 10 CONN 50 Run Strickland Dive L 2 Yard Gain
3:16 3rd and 8 CONN 48 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End L 1 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 9 passes, 4 runs

Here’s where Syracuse completely allowed UConn to dictate the pace of the game -- something that could’ve lost SU the game if not for a timely interception return for a touchdown. Additionally, Dungey’s arm looked shot for this entire quarter. For those that remember, these two drives were the sequences that had us all wondering what was wrong as he failed to deliver passes with the same zip and accuracy we saw in the first half and the fourth quarter.

Fourth Quarter

DRIVE 10




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:47 1st and 10 SYR 27 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 12 Yard Gain
14:29 1st and 10 SYR 39 Run Strickland Dive R 2 Yard Gain
14:10 2nd and 8 SYR 41 Play Action; Pass Ishmael Short R 13 Yard Gain
13:52 1st and 10 CONN 46 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 11 Yard Gain
13:35 1st and 10 CONN 35 Run Strickland Dive L 14 Yard Gain
13:22 1st and 10 CONN 21 Run Strickland Dive L 0 Yard Gain
13:02 2nd and 10 CONN 21 Play Action; Pass Dungey Deep M Incomplete (Moore)
12:58 3rd and 10 CONN 21 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End L 5 Yard Gain
12:19 4th and 5 CONN 16 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is No Good
DRIVE 11




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:12 1st and 10 SYR 1 Run Strickland Dive L 1 Yard Gain
5:48 2nd and 9 SYR 2 Run Dungey Off Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
5:12 3rd and 7 SYR 4 Pass Etta-Tawo Deep L 59 Yard Gain
4:41 1st and 10 CONN 37 Run Strickland Dive L 3 Yard Gain
4:17 2nd and 3 CONN 34 Play Action; Pass Dungey Deep R Incomplete (Ishmael)
4:11 3rd and 3 CONN 34 Pass Strickland Short L 16 Yard Gain
3:52 1st and 10 CONN 18 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Screen L 6 Yard Gain
3:11 2nd and 4 CONN 12 Play Action; Pass Dungey Mid Range M Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
3:07 3rd and 4 CONN 12 Pass Philips Short M 7 Yard Gain
2:30 1st and Goal CONN 5 Run Strickland Dive L 1 Yard Gain
2:23 2nd and Goal CONN 4 PENALTY (False Start) Byrne N/A 5 Yard Loss
2:23 2nd and Goal CONN 9 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Gain
2:18 3rd and Goal CONN 6 Run Dungey Off Tackle L 6 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 12




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:33 1st and 10 SYR 46 QB Kneel Dungey N/A 2 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 11 passes, 10 runs

Outside of another missed field goal, drive 10 could’ve been perfect. The sequence of quick big-chunk gains in rapid succession had the UConn defense clearly gassed. They also would’ve had a TD if not for a missed pass interference call on second and 10 from UConn’s 21. The 11th drive was equally fun, mostly because of the fantastic 59-yard bomb Dungey delivered right to Etta-Tawo. Dungey ran on that drive too, but was also smarter about doing so than ever before.

***

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 43 called passes vs. 23 called runs. The team’s balance skewed back to lopsided toward the pass. But the pass was also incredibly effective in this one, while stopping the run was a UConn strength.
  • First half play-calling: 23 passes vs. 9 runs (20:14 in second half)
  • First downs: 19 total (15 passing, 4 rushing, 0 penalty; 16:11:3 last week)
  • First down play selection: 14 called passes, 15 called runs (18:23 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 8 called passes, 11 called runs (15:15 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 11 — this figure’s dropped by one each week since the season started, but this time it’s warranted given how many fewer plays SU ran this week (66) vs. last week (105). Still, a lot of them are clustered into certain drives. These gains usually dictate successful drives as well.
  • Second down play selection: 17 called passes, 5 called runs (16:9 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 12 called passes; 3 called runs (18:6 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 8-for-15 (8 runs, 2 runs, 0 penalties; 9:2:1 last week)
  • Fourth down conversion: 0-for-0 (2-for-5 last week)
  • This week, 24 of Syracuse's 66 play calls (36 percent) took place in UConn territory, and 17 of those were in the second half (a nice change). Additionally, the Orange made it to the red zone for the first time in two weeks, which is a positive development.
  • Play-action came back in a very big way this week, with much success. Dungey was 11-for-18 off of play-action, for 182 yards and two touchdowns. More than half of those incompletions have caveats too.
  • Syracuse had nine plays of 15 or more yards (11 last week vs. USF). Four of those went for 25 yards or more, however (vs. five such plays vs. Louisville). Another seven plays gained between 10 and 14 yards. Those 16 plays accounted for 343 of the Orange’s 469 yards from scrimmage, meaning that the other 50 plays averaged 2.52 yards per. It was 3.2 last week. The drop’s not great, but the number’s not in the tank either.
  • Including penalties, five plays went for a loss (a second straight week of improvement). And just one went for zero yards. Penalties were killers, but again, improvement this week with "just" four.
  • Two red zone trips for Syracuse this week, after non against USF. They scored a touchdown on one (the final full drive), and missed a field goal on the other.
  • Despite perceptions that the offense was pretty derailed in this one, just two three-and-outs against UConn, and no turnovers.

The lack of balance is disconcerting, but at the same time, the few times the team did run appeared to set up the pass pretty well, as indicated by those quality play-action numbers. But this IS a run-first offense, believe it or not. And the lack of a quality rushing attack is half of the problem right now. Offensive line issues and now injuries are the other.

Other than the second quarter struggles, this was probably Dungey’s best passing day of his career. The numbers in terms of completions may not back that up, sure. Looking at the amount of drops or missed pass interference calls, however (I have six noted on my end), you can see just how "on" Dungey really was. That doesn’t mean he’s perfect, anti-Dungey crowd (you know who you are). But he is progressing as a passer and you see the added elements to his game every week. This week, he threw a great deep ball, took time to hit receivers over the middle and best of all, protected himself while running the football.

Looking over the drives here, you don’t see the same issues as previous weeks where the offense stopped producing for extended periods. Rather, this was a case of going up against a quality defense and having some little issues bite them here and there. Despite the statistical dip from the USF game to this one, there was clear progress that was disrupted from time to time. You’re able to point to more and more drives that are doing portions of what Dino Babers intends. That rate will go up, especially when the team gets back to running at the proper pace (likely this week).

We talked about Dungey’s passing already, but it’s worth revisiting to mention how well he and the play-calling exploited all-conference corner Jamar Summers for much of the game. Lined up against Etta-Tawo, Summers was burned via isolation routes all game and looked downright silly getting beat on the same sideline call at least four times. This offense didn’t have the advantage of its typical screen game (notice how few were called vs. previous weeks). But they made up for it by going after a mismatch repeatedly. That bunch formation on the left set up the ISO for Etta-Tawo every time. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s there again vs. Notre Dame.

***

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