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

This game had its moments; both good and bad.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange offense suffered from a detrimentally slow start against the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday -- a key factor in the eight-point road loss. While it’s easy to just point to the turnovers as a reason for failure, that’s far from the entire story. We dive into what else happened below.

This week’s play-calling breakdown:

First Quarter

Play-Call Breakdown: 9 called passes, 7 called runs

There’s far more balance here than usual, though it comes as a necessity early given Miami’s pressure and Eric Dungey’s interceptions (two in the first quarter). We’ll discuss his game more at the end, but the QB was plagued just as much by his receivers as the defense. There was a drop, a fallen receiver and a tipped ball, plus a miscommunication issue that seemed to cause the second pick. At least Dontae Strickland turned in his third straight strong rushing effort.

Second Quarter

Play-Call Breakdown: 16 called passes, 15 called runs

Both second quarter picks were bad decisions by Dungey (overthrow, and blanket coverage). But it is worth highlighting drive No. 6 for a few reasons. First, this is where Airon Servais’s snap issues started, actively harming the rhythm of the offense. There were also two bogus calls on that drive (Steve Ishmael catch, Strickland run) that led to SU needing to regain yards already earned. Also, squandering drives that started at or past midfield were obviously a big part of how SU got into an early hole.

Third Quarter

Play-Call Breakdown: 13 called passes, 13 called runs

Drive No. 9 started well as Syracuse mixed up play-calling, used tempo to keep Miami off balance and (best of all) earned quick first downs. There were three or four Dungey passes that really should’ve been caught, and you definitely started to see the hits wear on the QB in this quarter too. Strickland’s running gets the attention, but it was Neal’s that set the tone at this stage while SU kept up its third quarter reputation. Neal can identify defenses as well as Strickland can, but he’s not big enough to block. Also, Drive No. 11 was a joy to watch.

Fourth Quarter

Play-Call Breakdown: 13 called passes, 7 called runs

Syracuse ran out of gas here, but not without a fight. Dungey couldn’t even get up on his own, and unfortunately the hits kept on coming (partly due to the low snaps). Servais wasn’t the only member of the O-line that contributed negatively on Saturday, either. The entire line let Dungey get mugged throughout the contest. That did wind up setting up some impressive runs for the QB, though. I can’t say enough about the effort he put in under fire (especially that 33-yard sprint).


  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 51 called passes vs. 42 called runs (last week: 45:38)
  • First half play-calling: 25 called passes vs. 22 called runs (26:20 in second half)
  • First downs: 23 total (7 passing, 15 rushing, 1 penalty; 11:12:5 last week)
  • First down play selection: 17 called passes, 19 called runs (21:20 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 12 called passes, 11 called runs (12:16 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 10 (this isn’t bad considering awful start)
  • Second down play selection: 17 called passes, 15 called runs (16:11 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 16 called passes, 7 called runs (11:8 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 9-for-23 (4 pass, 5 runs; 3:5 last week)
  • Fourth down conversion: 1-for-2
  • This week, just 31 of Syracuse's 93 play calls (33.3 percent) took place in Miami territory, which is the worst rate of the year.
  • Having a run game these past few weeks has been a boon for play-action -- though not necessarily against the U. Syracuse was 4-for-12 for 53 yards and an interception.
  • The Orange had nine plays go for 15 or more yards, which was even better than last week’s rate. Five of those went for at least 25 yards (though none more than 33 yards). Also, another six plays went for between 10 and 14 yards on the night.
  • Including penalties, 11 plays went for a loss, which is half of last week’s number. That’s progress, though with less penalties this week, that meant a higher rate of plays losing yardage. Miami really got after Dungey, as mentioned.
  • The Orange were 3-for-3 in the red zone once, with two field goals (once again). The lack of touchdowns in these scenarios makes the difference in single-possession losses to better teams.
  • Syracuse had two three-and-outs and four turnovers in the contest. None of those occurred in the second half, however.

Starting with Dungey: His throwing line of 13-for-41 is pretty bad, but there’s more to the story. Three passes were tipped at the line, five more were dropped/ruled incomplete, and another three were plays the receiver just didn’t make. That could very well have made this a 24-of-41 day, which is far more palatable. It also likely would’ve resulted in an Orange upset.

One of the reasons Dungey couldn’t operate at that level through the air, though, was the wide receivers’ vanishing act. Facing a mix of both zone and man, players struggled to get open, leaving Dungey scrambling even in the moments where he had time. That brings us to the second point: the awful performance by the O-line. Dungey has been under duress all year, but not to this extent. Pressure came at will, the second the ball was snapped. It was a joke at times (and you can add all of that to Servais’s snap issues).

Strickland, Dungey and Neal created a formidable ground attack that would’ve been even more effective had SU been able to throw the ball. Miami came with a gameplan to stop the pass and it succeeded. But the Orange tallied 264 yards on the ground as a result. Strickland continues running with a renewed purpose, too.

There were a several really puzzling play-calls/decisions:

  • Passing twice inside Miami’s six-yard line
  • Triple-covered screen before the facemask call
  • Dungey’s nearly picked screen to Devin C. Butler
  • Conservative dive on third and 10 during Drive No. 10
  • No measurement on the fourth quarter third-and-one
  • Ervin Philips and the lateral throw to Dungey
  • Throwing short of first down on final play

One final puzzling decision was the way we kept dialing up plays for Dungey to get absolutely pounded. The guy couldn’t walk by the end of the third quarter. I’m all for giving the ball to your best player, but felt like the wanton disregard for the wear-and-tear these hits take could bite us with four games left.

Anything else catch your eye? Share your own takeaways below.