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

(or lack thereof)

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

As some of you mentioned shortly after the game, I didn’t need to do this for the Syracuse Orange’s miserable 56-10 loss to the Louisville Cardinals. And while I’ve long been this place’s chief masochist (an achievement among Syracuse fans, really), I’d have to agree with you. From a gameplan and scheme perspective, SU’s loss is largely pointless to recap.

However, when looking at the second half as a bit of a test for much of the team’s young talent, there are some minimal rewards.

So below are a few big offensive notes I took from the game from a personnel and execution standpoint. I didn’t do a full re-watch on this, but rather, used the box score and play-by-play to help guide me to the spots that needed to be re-examined a little.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Zack Mahoney’s first interception (1st quarter, 12:51 remaining)

In what’s become a Syracuse tradition on the road this year, a first drive pass ends up in the hands of a defender instead. Mahoney locks onto Ervin Philips streaking up the right sideline and either miscommunication or an assumption by Erv puts this right in the hands of Louisville’s Jaire Alexander. This was a slight overthrow by Mahoney, but a follow-through by Erv on the route could probably break this up even if it wasn’t completed.

Drive No. 5 (2nd quarter, 11:01 remaining)

After a nice six-yard gain by Moe Neal (who ran the ball really well on Saturday), the team arrived back on the field from a long weather delay in desperation mode. While I agree that the situation was bleak down 21-3, there was no need to rush this potential comeback attempt.

A nice run by Neal on second down set up a new set of downs near mid-field, but three straight throws to Steve Ishmael couldn’t find the mark. These weren’t necessarily poor throws (the final one, particularly, was delivered on the mark). But Ishmael was blanketed, which should have created opportunities to find other receivers.

NCAA Football: Louisville vs Purdue Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Mahoney’s second interception (6:01 remaining in second quarter)

Down 21-3 still, the game was getting away from SU, but very much a competitive matchup. Mahoney locked in on Nykeim Johnson downfield on a broken third down play, however, and just heaved it into traffic. Easy pick, and a backbreaker for the Orange comeback effort. Louisville scored on the next play.

Rex Culpepper’s entrance

Culpepper actually starts off by delivering some solid passes near receivers, even if slightly off the mark. Erv’s had a great career, obviously, though I will say he missed on the same ball twice (both pretty catchable) -- plays that could have yielded first downs and potentially changed some momentum.

While I don’t love the called runs for Culpepper, he did manage to do some nice work with his legs when called upon (and especially when improvising). It wasn’t perfect, and certainly wasn’t at an Eric Dungey level. But it did work in spurts.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Culpepper’s first interception (12:38 left in third quarter)

The run was working really well with Moe Neal bursting pass some solid blocking up front, but you do want to mix in the pass a little here and there. They did, and it was picked off.

Over on the left hash mark, it was either underthrown or over overthrown between two receivers. In any case, a bad ball and one that ended any real shot SU would’ve had to come back (if there was one at all).

Culpepper’s second interception (1:00 left in third quarter)

Syracuse appeared to re-establish itself a little on offense with a run-focused approach relying on swing passes to the sideline too. It wasn’t anything overly inventive, but it was something more similar to what we’re usually seeing from this offense. Tempo was back a bit and Culpepper started to get more comfortable.

Despite driving the furthest they had since the first quarter, though, the pass eventually took precedence over a more effective run and resulted in a pick. Culpepper overthrew Ishmael near the end zone while he was well covered and it was returned to about midfield. The run was working and Louisville’s defense didn’t care anymore. Why not just keep moving the ball on the ground?


Doesn’t matter. Way to go running one in though, Erv.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned, the run game was effective, but Syracuse seemed to abandon it at odd points in drives (or the game, generally). SU averaged 4.4 yards per carry and nearly hit the 200-yard mark on the contest. Neal had his best all-around day as a member of the program and definitely gets us excited for what’s to come if he potentially takes over a larger role in this offense come 2018.

That said, Culpepper’s throwing left much to be desired. It’s something we’ll be honing in on vs. Boston College now, as he likely gets a full week to work with the first team and really get a feel for the offense and its receivers.

Have to say it was weird seeing designed runs for him too. He’s not a dual-threat. One would think we’d take those out -- and admittedly, he did well when forced to move and pick up yards as the pocket broke down.

Also, for those keeping tabs on the younger guys, who sort of worked themselves in during the second half:

  • Culpepper: 8-of-19, 89 passing yards, 2 INT (plus 47 rushing yards)
  • Markenzy Pierre: 10 carries for 26 yards; can’t say he showed us much
  • Nykeim Johnson: 3 touches, 25 yards; also got work on kick returns
  • Chris Elmore: 2 rushes, 6 yards (which is fine)
  • Devin C. Butler: 5 catches, 63 yards
  • Sean Riley: 1 catch, 23 yards