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

Yet again, it’s a tale of two halves.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange didn’t complete a comeback against the N.C. State Wolfpack, but things came close. And it would’ve been even closer if not for an uneven effort from one half to the next. Still, the second half rewatch was enjoyable as Syracuse continues to show glimmers of what can be for this offense.

Let’s jump into this week’s play-calling:

First Quarter

DRIVE 1




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
8:01 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Gain
7:37 2nd and 7 SYR 28 Pass Dungey Deep L Interception
DRIVE 2




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
4:47 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Ishmael)
4:42 2nd and 10 SYR 25 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Loss
4:11 3rd and 13 SYR 22 Pass Philips Deep M 22 Yard Gain
3:57 1st and 10 SYR 44 Pass Dungey Short L Incomplete (Riley)
3:51 2nd and 10 SYR 44 Run Strickland Dive R 8 Yard Gain
3:35 3rd and 2 NCSU 48 Run Strickland Dive L 3 Yard Gain
3:15 1st and 10 NCSU 45 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Gain
2:51 2nd and 7 NCSU 42 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Off Tackle R 11 Yard Gain
2:57 1st and 10 NCSU 31 Play Action; Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete
2:32 2nd and 10 NCSU 31 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Gain
2:09 3rd and 7 NCSU 28 Run Dungey Dive R 2 Yard Loss
1:32 4th and 9 NCSU 30 Field Goal Murphy N/A FG is No Good
DRIVE 3




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:25 1st and 10 SYR 25 Run Elmore Dive R 3 Yard Gain
0:05 2nd an 7 SYR 28 Play Action; Pass Philips Deep L 37 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 7 called passes, 8 called runs

Another early Eric Dungey interception puts Syracuse behind the eight-ball early as the junior lobs one up behind Devin C. Butler in single coverage. He recovers, but mixing in too many runs on drive No. 2 seem to derail things after big plays look to be setting up the Orange for a touchdown (they settle for a field goal). At least the quarter ends with a beautiful deep ball from Dungey to Ervin Philips — who emerged as a better downfield option than what we’ve seen from him in the past.

Second Quarter

15:00 1st and 10 NCSU 35 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 4 Yard Loss
14:26 2nd and 14 NCSU 39 Run Elmore Dive R 6 Yard Gain
13:51 3rd and 8 NCSU 33 Pass Dungey Deep M Incomplete (Ishmael)
13:46 4th and 8 NCSU 33 Pass Philips Short M 9 Yard Gain
13:26 1st and 10 NCSU 24 Pass Philips Short L 3 Yard Gain
12:55 2nd and 7 NCSU 21 Pass Philips Short R 4 Yard Gain
12:35 3rd and 3 NCSU 17 Pass Philips Short L 10 Yard Gain
12:18 1st and Goal NCSU 7 Run Dungey End L 7 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 4




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:44 1st and 10 SYR 29 Run Dungey End L 2 Yard Loss
9:23 2nd and 12 SYR 27 Pass Neal Deep L 47 Yard Gain
9:01 1st and 10 NCSU 26 Run Neal Dive L 0 Yard Gain
8:38 2nd and 10 NCSU 26 Pass Dungey Deep M Incomplete (Philips)
8:31 3rd and 10 NCSU 26 Run Dungey Off Tackle R 9 Yard Gain
7:52 4th and 1 NCSU 17 Run Dungey Dive L 0 Yard Gain
DRIVE 5




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
2:17 1st and 10 SYR 32 Pass Philips Short L 5 Yard Gain
2:00 2nd and 5 SYR 37 Pass Philips Mid Range M 16 Yard Gain
1:47 1st and 10 NCSU 47 PENALTY (Holding) McGloster N/A 10 Yard Loss
1:41 1st and 20 SYR 43 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 9 Yard Loss
1:32 2nd and 29 SYR 34 Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete
1:28 3rd and 29 SYR 34 Pass Ishmael Mid Range R 13 Yard Gain
DRIVE 6




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:03 1st and 10 SYR 20 PENALTY (Delay of Game) Dungey N/A 5 Yard Loss
0:03 1st and 15 SYR 15 Pass Dungey Mid Range R Incomplete (Philips)

Play-Call Breakdown: 13 called passes, 6 called runs

Drive No. 3 wraps up nicely, as short passes move SU down the field quickly en route to a SPIN-O-RAMA touchdown run from Dungey. The fourth drive starts with a ton of promise following a great ball delivered to Moe Neal on a fade route for 47 yards. But then a tipped ball TD gets dropped, and SU leans too much on Dungey for a fourth and one (which he fails to convert after a nine-yard gain on third). Holding derails the fifth drive, which stalls out short of midfield.

Third Quarter

DRIVE 7




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
14:55 1st and 10 SYR 22 Pass Ishmael Short R 9 Yard Gain
14:33 2nd and 1 SYR 31 Pass Ishmael Mid Range R 18 Yard Gain
14:11 1st and 10 SYR 49 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Loss
13:51 2nd and 13 SYR 46 Pass Dungey Screen L Incomplete (Strickland)
13:46 3rd and 13 SYR 46 Pass Philips Short M 11 Yard Gain
13:02 4th and 2 NCSU 43 Play Action; Pass Ishmael Mid Range R 38 Yard Gain
12:47 1st and Goal NCSU 5 Run Strickland Dive R 3 Yard Gain
12:28 2nd and Goal NCSU 2 Run Strickland Dive R 1 Yard Gain
12:05 3rd and Goal NCSU 1 Run Dungey Dive L 1 Yard Gain; TD
DRIVE 8




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:45 1st and 10 SYR 4 Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Philips)
9:42 2nd and 10 SYR 4 Pass Philips Short R 6 Yard Gain
9:11 3rd and 4 SYR 10 Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Ishmael)
DRIVE 9




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
7:32 1st and 10 SYR 11 Play Action; Pass Pierce Screen L 9 Yard Gain
7:08 2nd and 1 SYR 20 Run Dungey Dive L 3 Yard Gain
6:56 1st and 10 SYR 23 PENALTY (False Start) Pierce N/A 5 Yard Loss
6:38 1st and 15 SYR 18 Pass Philips Short R 6 Yard Gain
6:19 2nd and 9 SYR 24 Run Strickland End R 4 Yard Loss
5:47 3rd and 13 SYR 20 Pass Philips Mid Range M 17 Yard Gain
5:35 1st and 10 SYR 37 Pass Philips Short R 7 Yard Gain
5:23 2nd and 3 SYR 44 Run N. Johnson End L 5 Yard Loss
4:54 3rd and 8 SYR 39 Pass Ishmael Deep R 32 Yard Gain
4:42 1st and 10 NCSU 29 Pass N. Johnson Screen R 8 Yard Gain
4:16 2nd and 2 NCSU 21 PENALTY (Personal Foul) Chubb N/A 10 Yard Gain
4:11 1st and 10 NCSU 11 Run Elmore Dive L 1 Yard Gain
3:39 2nd and 9 NCSU 10 Run Elmore Off Tackle R 2 Yard Gain
3:10 3rd and 7 NCSU 8 PENALTY (Illegal Formation) Butler N/A 6 Yard Loss
3:05 3rd and 13 NCSU 14 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey Dive L 9 Yard Gain
2:51 4th and 4 NCSU 5 PENALTY (Personal Foul) Servais N/A 15 Yard Loss
2:39 4th and 19 NCSU 19 Field Goal Hofrichter N/A FG is Good
DRIVE 10




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
0:58 1st and 10 SYR 25 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End R 9 Yard Gain
0:39 2nd and 1 SYR 34 Run Elmore Dive L 2 Yard Gain
0:14 1st and 10 SYR 36 Pass; Sack Dungey N/A 11 Yard Loss
0:09 2nd and 21 SYR 25 Play Action; Pass Dungey Short R Incomplete (Ishmael)
0:04 3rd and 21 SYR 25 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End L 0 Yard Gain

Play-Call Breakdown: 19 called passes, 10 called runs

Syracuse has scored 59 of its 165 points this season in the third quarter, and the team’s strong showing in that period continued on Saturday. The Orange led off the second half with a touchdown for the fourth time in five weeks, but in some ways, it was a disappointment overall. SU had just 10 points, though did close the gap with NC State to single-digits. Tempo was established early, but penalties derailed later. Syracuse had a touchdown nullified by an illegal formation call, and Airon Servais’s personal foul prevented a potential fourth down try from inside the five. Yes, I’m aware that Bradley Chubb’s acting job was heinous as well.

Fourth Quarter

DRIVE 11




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
9:47 1st and 10 SYR 45 Pass Philips Short L 12 Yard Gain
9:33 1st and 10 NCSU 43 Pass Philips Short R 5 Yard Gain
9:07 2nd and 5 NCSU 38 PENALTY (False Start) Servais N/A 5 Yard Loss
8:50 2nd and 10 NCSU 43 Pocket Breakdown; Run Dungey End R 1 Yard Gain
8:24 3rd and 9 NCSU 42 PENALTY (Offside) Jones N/A 5 Yard Gain
8:17 3rd and 4 NCSU 37 Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete (Philips)
8:13 4th and 4 NCSU 37 Run Dungey Dive L 22 Yard Gain
7:49 1st and 10 NCSU 15 Play Action; Pass Dungey Screen L Incomplete (Butler)
7:44 2nd and 10 NCSU 15 Pass Dungey Short M Incomplete (Neal)
7:39 3rd and 10 NCSU 15 Pass Dungey Mid Range R Incomplete (Ishmael)
7:35 4th and 10 NCSU 15 Reverse; Pass Butler
Incomplete (Pierce)
DRIVE 12




Time Down Ball Run/Pass Player Direction Result
5:42 1st and 10 NCSU 33 Pass Philips Screen M 8 Yard Gain
5:23 2nd and 2 NCSU 25 Pass Philips Short L 10 Yard Gain
5:06 1st and 10 NCSU 15 Pass Strickland Short R 5 Yard Gain
4:47 2nd and 5 NCSU 10 Pass Dungey Short L Incomplete (Riley)
4:44 3rd and 5 NCSU 10 Pass Ishmael Mid Range R 10 Yard Gain; TD

Play-Call Breakdown: 13 called passes, 1 called run

Both fourth quarter drives were excellent, even if only one resulted in points. Drive No. 12 made quick work of a short field, allowing Dungey to take advantage of Steve Ishmael’s size in the end zone. The 11th drive was set up well by a 22-yard run by Dungey, but the team couldn’t punch it in from there. On fourth down, there was an excuse for that, however: Ravian Pierce was blatantly held in the end zone as he lunged to grab a would-be touchdown. But of course, there was no call. That could’ve pulled the game to within eight points earlier, making Ishmael’s later TD a tying score.

***

  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 52 called passes vs. 25 called runs (last week: 63:19)
  • First half play-calling: 20 passes vs. 14 runs (32:11 in second half)
  • First downs: 20 total (13 passing, 6 rushing, 1 penalty; 17:6:1 last week)
  • First down play selection: 22 called passes, 10 called runs (26:8 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 13 called passes, 7 called runs (17:7 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 12, though nearly all of those were in the second half.
  • Second down play selection: 16 called passes, 10 called runs (22:14 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 13 called passes, 4 called runs (12:7 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 7-for-17 (5 pass, 2 runs, 0 penalty; 4:3:1 last week)
  • Fourth down conversion: 3-for-5
  • This week, 39 of Syracuse's 77 play calls (50.6 percent) took place in NC State territory, which is actually pretty good. The issue in this game was getting the offense back onto the field, as State played a bit more ball-control early and worked on keeping SU’s defense out there.
  • Syracuse was limited using play-action, but was 3-for-6 for 84 yards when they gave it a go. Rather than remove a receiver by dragging in an extra blocker on most plays, SU worried about quick releases and empty backfields (where you wouldn’t use play-action at all).
  • Syracuse had eight plays that went for 15 or more yards, just like the last two weeks. Four of those went for more than 25 yards, which is a nice clip. The Orange also added seven plays that gained between 10 and 14 yards, which was a good number. However the offense actually leaned on eight- and nine-yard gains more than normal (which is also good).
  • Including penalties, 15 plays went for a loss, which is even more than last week’s. That total speaks to both NC State’s pressure and the bad penalties that littered the game.
  • The Orange were 4-for-6 from the red zone, with three touchdowns. While the TD-to-FG ratio’s getting better, SU is still failing to come away with points more than they’d like when inside the 20.
  • Syracuse had just one three and out and one turnover, though in a tight game, both made a major impact.

NC State’s defense took away plays in that flat immediately, which altered the Orange’s normal gameplan a bit -- relying on short passes closer to the middle of the field, vs. the typical screens. Still, the short passing game did work, and that (and Dungey’s running ability) helped set up several long passing plays. We’re still not close to last year’s level of explosiveness, but results are improving there.

Since a breakout effort vs. Central Michigan two weeks ago, Sean Riley’s vanished from the gameplan. He was targeted just twice vs. NC State, and just once (the gut-wrenching drop) vs. LSU. The Orange have players with slightly redundant speed skill sets like Moe Neal and Nykeim Johnson that are getting more burn. You have to wonder what’s changed in just a couple weeks for Riley.

It’s not "offense" necessarily, but a second straight week with an onside kick left many fans puzzled. SU technically had plenty of time to go and since they ended up forcing a fourth down on the ensuing NC State drive (it was converted near mid-field). You have to wonder if things could’ve turned out differently had that possession been closer to the Pack’s own goal line. I’m fine with the call, honestly. But just curious if the risk outweighs the reward, especially given our kicking issues.

However, Syracuse wouldn’t have been in that position if not for penalties (or lack thereof). SU’s lack of discipline with unforced errors was directly responsible for the loss, wiping four or five points (at minimum) off the board in the third quarter. Referees’ inability to call the blatant interference against Pierce on the second-to-last drive complicate matters further. The Orange were outplayed for good stretches of this one, yet still could’ve won with a slight tweak here or there. This is where it gets toughest for fans.

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