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

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ALL HAIL DINO

NCAA Football: Colgate at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

You remember these, of course. But now, they’re a whole lot more fun -- for me, and hopefully for you, too. In year one of the Dino Babers era, we’ll be looking at the Syracuse Orange’s play-calling each week for trends, strengths, weaknesses and more while marveling at an offense that can actually function. No, SU may not always win. But the offense promises to bring some intrigue each week just the same.

So how’d things go against Colgate last Friday? Pretty damn well, actually.

First Quarter

DRIVE 1




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:52 1st and 10 SYR 21 Play Action; Pass Philips Short R 9 Yard Gain
8:23 2nd and 1 SYR 30 Pass Philips Short R 12 Yard Gain
8:07 1st and 10 SYR 42 Pass Philips Screen R 6 Yard Gain
7:51 2nd and 4 SYR 48 Play Action; Run Strickland Dive L 1 Yard Gain
7:37 3rd and 3 SYR 49 Pass Philips Screen L 8 Yard Gain
7:22 1st and 10 GATE 43 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Deep L 43 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 2




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:32 1st and 10 SYR 13 Play Action; Pass Philips Mid Range L 11 Yard Gain
5:17 1st and 10 SYR 24 Run Strickland Dive R 1 Yard Gain
4:55 2nd and 9 SYR 25 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 8 Yard Gain
4:47 3rd and 1 SYR 33 Pass Etta-Tawo Screen L 8 Yard Gain
4:31 1st and 10 SYR 41 Pass Estime Short R 2 Yard Gain
4:02 2nd and 8 SYR 43 Bad Snap; Run Dungey Off Tackle L 2 Yard Gain
3:39 3rd and 6 SYR 45 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Off Tackle L 5 Yard Gain
3:23 4th and 1 GATE 50 Run Dungey Off Tackle L 4 Yard Gain
3:10 1st and 10 GATE 46 Play Action; Pass Ishmael Mid Range R 11 Yard Gain
2:51 1st and 10 GATE 35 Play Action; Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 5 Yard Loss
2:04 2nd and 15 GATE 40 Pass Philips Short M 6 Yard Gain
1:35 3rd and 9 GATE 34 Play Action; Run Dungey Dive L 12 Yard Gain
1:15 1st and 10 GATE 22 Pass Etta-Tawo Screen L 6 Yard Gain
0:57 2nd and 4 GATE 16 Pass Philips Short L 8 Yard Gain
0:31 1st and Goal GATE 8 Run Strickland Dive L 0 Yard Gain
0:13 2nd and Goal GATE 8 Run Dungey Off Tackle R 2 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 15 passes, 7 runs

It looked like Babers wanted to showcase the differences in this offense right away, so the team came out firing — passing the ball twice as much as it ran (a theme of the night). You’ll notice that the offense doesn’t take a ton of deep shots (just one in this quarter). Rather, it’s a lot of dink-and-dunk, quick reads and screen passes to the Orange’s collection of speedy wideouts. Eric Dungey quickly found a groove with Ervin Philips and road that on the first drive. Despite his fairly recent arrival, Amba Etta-Tawo was also a quick favorite. The run game wasn’t working very well early with Dontae Strickland as the primary ball-carrier.

Second Quarter

15:00 3rd and Goal GATE 10 PENALTY (False Start) Emerich N/A 5 Yard Loss
15:00 3rd and Goal GATE 15 Pass Dungey Mid Range M Incomplete (Philips)
14:55 4th and Goal GATE 15 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is Good
DRIVE 3




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
12:40 1st and 10 GATE 49 Run Neal Off Tackle L 49 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 4




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
6:10 1st and 10 SYR 13 Run Neal Off Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
5:50 2nd and 7 SYR 16 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Short R 6 Yard Gain
5:14 3rd and 1 SYR 22 Run Strickland Dive R 7 Yard Gain
5:01 1st and 10 SYR 29 Run Strickland Dive R 5 Yard Gain
4:37 2nd and 5 SYR 34 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Deep R 37 Yard Gain
4:15 1st and 10 GATE 29 Run Strickland Off Tackle R 0 Yard Gain
3:54 2nd and 10 GATE 29 Run Neal Dive L 2 Yard Loss
3:34 3rd and 12 GATE 31 Pass Ishmael Short R 7 Yard Gain
2:51 4th and 5 GATE 24 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is Good
DRIVE 5




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:18 1st and 10 SYR 36 Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Ishmael)
1:13 2nd and 10 SYR 36 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End L 1 Yard Gain
1:04 3rd and 9 SYR 37 Pass Philips Short M 4 Yard Gain
0:17 4th and 5 SYR 41 PENALTY (Delay of Game) Hofrichter N/A 5 Yard Loss

Play-Call Breakdown: 7 passes, 6 runs

After a pass-heavy first quarter, Babers tries to course-correct to more balance in the second and largely succeeds. Moe Neal’s 49-yard touchdown run becomes a nice table-setter to pull the defense inside on the ensuing drive, and that creates the necessary space outside to hit Etta-Tawo deep. Again, one huge passing play (a 37-yarder to Etta-Tawo), and other than that, it’s very quick (and efficient) calls to pick up significant chunks of yardage. The eight-play fourth drive took just over three game minutes to travel over 50 yards and kick a field goal. Not bad at all.

Third Quarter

DRIVE 6




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:55 1st and 10 SYR 21 Pass Ishmael Screen R 7 Yard Gain
14:37 2nd and 3 SYR 28 Pass Philips Screen R 4 Yard Gain
14:29 1st and 10 SYR 32 PENALTY (Personal Foul) Ishmael N/A 15 Yard Loss
14:23 1st and 10 SYR 17 Run Neal Dive L 3 Yard Gain
13:58 2nd and 7 SYR 20 Play Action; Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 2 Yard Loss
13:18 3rd and 9 SYR 18 Pass Philips Screen L 8 Yard Gain
12:40 4th and 1 SYR 26 Pass Etta-Tawo Mid Range L 14 Yard Gain
12:26 1st and 10 SYR 40 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Off Tackle L 1 Yard Loss
11:50 2nd and 11 SYR 39 PENALTY (Pass Interference) Castillo N/A 15 Yard Gain
11:44 1st and 10 GATE 46 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Deep R 28 Yard Gain
11:11 1st and 10 GATE 18 Run Strickland Dive R 4 Yard Gain
10:44 2nd and 6 GATE 14 Pass Ishmael Screen R 4 Yard Gain
10:14 3rd and 2 GATE 10 PENALTY (Holding) Palmer N/A 10 Yard Loss
9:38 3rd and 12 GATE 20 Pass Philips Short L 5 Yard Gain
9:05 4th and 7 GATE 15 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is Good
DRIVE 7




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:04 1st and 10 SYR 37 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Deep R 40 Yard Gain
7:51 1st and 10 GATE 23 Pass Ishmael Short R 4 Yard Gain
7:37 2nd and 6 GATE 19 Run Fredericks Sweep R 4 Yard Gain
7:14 3rd and 2 GATE 15 Play Action; Pass Philips Screen L 1 Yard Loss
6:29 4th and 3 GATE 16 Field Goal Murphy
FG is Good
DRIVE 8




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:48 1st and 10 SYR 27 Run Neal Dive L 9 Yard Gain
4:31 2nd and 1 SYR 36 Play Action; Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Ishmael)
4:26 3rd and 1 SYR 36 Run Strickland Off Tackle R 1 Yard Loss
DRIVE 9




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
1:48 1st and 10 SYR 48 Run Neal Dive L 1 Yard Loss
1:26 2nd and 11 SYR 47 Pass Dungey Mid Range L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
1:21 3rd and 11 SYR 47 Pass Estime Mid Range L 20 Yard Gain
0:59 1st and 10 GATE 33 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Screen L 3 Yard Gain
0:36 2nd and 7 GATE 30 Pass Neal Short R 5 Yard Gain
0:05 3rd and 2 GATE 25 Run Fredericks Dive R 1 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 16 passes, 8 runs

In the third, Syracuse fails to put Colgate away on the scoreboard (damn red zone troubles return), but keeping up the pace continues to exhaust the Raiders defense. While Dungey seemed to lean very heavily on his two primary targets, Philips and Etta-Tawo, in the first half, you start to see him mix it up here. Steve Ishmael appears doomed to be underutilized just by way of coverage on him, yet still makes his mark. Jordan Fredericks also makes his first appearance, which is surprising considering how few run plays were working with other ball carriers out there.

Fourth Quarter

15:00 4th and 1 GATE 24 Pass Philips Screen L 3 Yard Gain
14:35 1st and 10 GATE 21 Run Neal Dive L 1 Yard Gain
14:06 2nd and 9 GATE 20 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Off Tackle L 11 Yard Gain
13:35 1st and Goal GATE 9 Run Neal Dive L 2 Yard Gain
13:00 2nd and Goal GATE 7 Run Strickland Dive L 3 Yard Gain
12:37 3rd and Goal GATE 4 Pass Philips Short R 4 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 10




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
10:29 1st and 10 SYR 38 Play Action; Pass Etta-Tawo Screen L 13 Yard Gain
10:03 1st and 10 GATE 49 Run Neal Dive L 4 Yard Gain
9:46 2nd and 6 GATE 45 Pass Etta-Tawo Screen L 2 Yard Gain
9:40 2nd and 6 GATE 43 PENALTY (Personal Foul) Philips N/A 15 Yard Loss
9:33 2nd and 19 SYR 42 Pass Dungey Mid Range L Incomplete (Etta-Tawo)
9:29 3rd and 19 SYR 42 Pass Dungey Mid-Range M Incomplete (Philips)
DRIVE 11




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:41 1st and 10 SYR 18 Run Fredericks Off Tackle R 3 Yard Gain
5:24 2nd and 7 SYR 21 Play Action; Run Mahoney Off Tackle L 4 Yard Gain
5:02 3rd and 3 SYR 25 Pass Riley Deep R 27 Yard Gain
4:48 1st and 10 GATE 48 Pass Ishmael Screen R 3 Yard Gain
4:28 2nd and 7 GATE 45 Bad Snap; Fumble Mahoney N/A 2 Yard Loss; Fumble
DRIVE 12




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:26 1st and 10 SYR 21 Play Action; Pass Riley Short L 1 Yard Gain
1:47 2nd and 9 SYR 22 Run Fredericks Dive R 2 Yard Gain
1:04 3rd and 7 SYR 24 Pass Riley Short R 10 Yard Gain
0:56 1st and 10 SYR 34 Play Action; Pass Enoicy Deep R 35 Yard Gain
0:44 1st and 10 GATE 31 Pass; Sack Mahoney N/A 6 Yard Loss
0:16 2nd and 16 GATE 37 Pass Riley Short M 6 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 14 passes, 8 runs

The first part of the quarter sees Dungey continue his efficient effort, though with some diminishing yardage returns (and an increased Colgate blitz). Zack Mahoney enters the game for the final two drives, and the pace seems to return for him and the other reserves — fatigue is something to watch out for early on the Orange offense. Mahoney’s passing abilities do appear to have improved, throwing some nice balls to both Sean Riley and Adly Enoicy. Fredericks gets some more carries in the fourth quarter, though ‘Gate bottles him up pretty quick just as they did with most runs on the evening (Neal’s TD aside).

***

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 52 called passes vs. 29 called runs. This is a far-cry from last year’s option-heavy attack and honestly, overall numbers probably could’ve crept toward 90-95 plays without much issue.
  • First half play-calling: 22 passes vs. 13 runs (30:16 in second half)
  • First downs: 25 total (18 passing, 5 rushing, 2 penalty)
  • First down play selection: 20 called passes, 14 called runs
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 15 called passes, 10 called runs
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 14 — not much higher than last season’s average of around 11 or 12 such plays per game, but they’re obviously still breaking in the offense and experimenting with some things.
  • Second down play selection: 17 called passes, 9 called runs
  • Third down play selection: 14 called passes; 4 called runs
  • Third down conversion: 8-for-18 (5 passes, 3 runs)
  • Fourth down conversion: 3-for-3 (2 passes, 1 run)
  • 38 of Syracuse's 81 play calls (47 percent) took place in Colgate territory. That might seem low, but it’s impacted a lot by big gains to move them deep into/near the Raiders’ red zone on just one play.
  • Play action was a huge part of Dungey’s throwing game and a big reason why those longer throws were available. He was 9-for-10 for 204 yards and a score coming out of play action. Mahoney was 2-for-2 for 36 yards on play action as well. Not bad at all for the two QBs.
  • Syracuse’s top four receivers (Ishmael, Philips, Estime, Etta-Tawo) were targeted 41 times out of a possible 46 throws. Doubt we’ll need much of this "four playmakers" tracker anymore in this offense.
  • Syracuse had eight plays of 15 or more yards, with seven (!!!) of those going for 25 or more. Another eight plays gained between 10 and 14 yards. Those 16 plays accounted for 373 of the Orange’s 553 yards of offense. The 2.7 yards per play on the other 65 plays from scrimmage isn’t all that great, but having 20 percent of your plays go for 10 or more is still pretty commendable, so it’s not as much of a concern.
  • Including penalties, 15 plays went for a loss, which... is actually not great. Some smart play early in the game gave away to some silly personal fouls. And the run game’s struggles certainly show there.
  • Syracuse was four for four in the red zone, which is cool. But that only resulted in one TD, vs. three field goals. You won’t be able to settle that often and have a chance against better competition.
  • The Orange had just one drive end with a turnover, and the game was already in hand at that juncture in the fourth. There were also two three-and-outs. All of this makes for a lot more offensive production than what we saw last year.

While Dungey clearly favored Philips and Etta-Tawo for large swathes of this game, Colgate’s inability to stop them from getting the ball anyway is a testament to the speed of the offense (and the obvious talent gap between the two programs). As the game wore on, involving other targets was likely a result of him getting more comfortable with the flow of the game and operating the offense. He’ll probably diversify receivers more in the early parts of subsequent contests.

The bunch formation SU trotted out a couple times after several quick succession plays was highly effective, as it caught the defense completely out of position and set up Etta-Tawo for maybe his best asset: blocking. Screens are a big part of this attack, and you saw already how well they work if blocked for correctly. Etta-Tawo was a major part of that effectiveness when he wasn’t catching the ball himself. Would expect Jamal Custis to be a factor in blocking too when he returns from his undisclosed injury.

While getting into the red zone a bunch is nice, this team’s inability to punch it in is startling as it enters a fourth straight year of this sort of futility. There are no natural backs for the "tank package" and the run game will certainly struggle against bigger teams in short yardage. They’ll need to figure out a solution within the 20. Perhaps it’s Custis/Enoicy?

The right side of the field was one to keep an eye on, and I certainly paid closer attention on the re-watch. No run play gained more than four yards to that side, and most of the zero-yard or negative rushes were to the right. Conversely, All of the team’s long completions were to the right. If we’re noticing these trends in week one, Babers certainly has as well and will address. Don’t want opposing secondaries playing heavy to the right, or lines run-blitzing that side on every handoff.

***

Anything else you might’ve noticed? These are largely focused on the same takeaways as last year too, so if there are other aspects of the offense (within reason) you’d like me to look at each week, I’m always happy to take suggestions into consideration.