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

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Well, the Dungey-led offense was pretty good.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange lost their second game in a row, this time to the Florida State Seminoles. Frustratingly, no one really played that poorly on either side. The defeat was just a product of a couple big FSU plays, Eric Dungey’s injury and the Orange simply running out of time. That sucks, especially when you watch it a second time.

We dive into what else happened below in this week’s offensive play-calling breakdown:

First Quarter

Play-Call Breakdown: 10 called passes, 8 called runs

Dungey’s injury clearly derailed things right away, even on the subsequent interception (though really, it wouldn’t have been picked if Dontae Strickland had jumped for it). Zack Mahoney actually played well enough in relief, but he can’t make those explosive plays happen the way Dungey can. Also, had Eric been in on drive No. 2 or No. 3, SU probably would’ve gone for it on both (which could’ve equaled the game’s decisive points).

Second Quarter

Play-Call Breakdown: 18 called passes, 10 called runs

Early balance gave way to more passing as the Orange dug themselves a hole once more. And while I love the fourth down call that resulted in the Jamal Custis touchdown, I hate the fact that we settled on going for it with a conservative third down play-call. Is it just me? I’m just not a fan of the strategy to bank on fourth vs. trying to earn yardage on third. Still, this quarter turned around once Dungey returned and the team assumed its typical third quarter form. Drive No. 10 gets its own graf below.

Third Quarter

Play-Call Breakdown: 10 called passes, 5 called runs

While Syracuse scored a field goal in this quarter, it was their least effective third this season. Yet, Dungey almost connected with Steve Ishmael for a score if not for a really nice play by the FSU defender on him. And the offense started picking up some steam on the late drive, which continued into the fourth.

Fourth Quarter

Play-Call Breakdown: 25 called passes, 9 called runs

First: Syracuse ran 34 (!!!) plays in the fourth. And while there were plenty of nice moments in this period, like getting within three points, there were noticeable issues as well. With Dungey hobbled, the offense couldn’t move as swiftly as it wanted to. Also, that damn sack around the one-minute mark kills. Similarly, two straight plays that failed to stop the clock on the previous drive wasted additional time the Orange would need later. Oh, and why not spike with more than 20 seconds left? Nitpicking, for sure. But questions nonetheless.


  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 63 called passes vs. 32 called runs (last week: 51:42)
  • First half play-calling: 28 called passes vs. 18 called runs (35:14 in second half)
  • First downs: 21 total (13 passing, 7 rushing, 1 penalty; 7:15:1 last week)
  • First down play selection: 19 called passes, 18 called runs (17:19 last week)
  • First down play selection on subsequent sets of downs: 15 called passes, 6 called runs (12:11 last week)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 17 — really nice work
  • Second down play selection: 26 called passes, 6 called runs (17:15 last week)
  • Third down play selection: 17 called passes, 8 called runs (16:7 last week)
  • Third down conversion: 11-for-25 (7 pass, 4 runs; 4:5 last week)
  • Fourth down conversion: 1-for-3
  • This week, just 34 of Syracuse's 95 play calls (35.8 percent) took place in FSU territory, which isn’t great at all, but is also influenced by Dungey’s absence.
  • Play-action was effective enough, with SU quarterbacks going 4-for-9 with 54 yards and a score. Most of that yardage was on the score. It was harder to sell play-action in this one since the run game wasn’t great aside from Dungey.
  • The Orange had nine plays go for 15 or more yards, which is the same as last week’s rate. Four of those went for at least 25 yards (a nice output). Also, another four plays went for between 10 and 14 yards.
  • Including penalties, eight plays went for a loss. Still not amazing, but getting better. This week had fewer penalties, though Dungey was still under duress quite a bit.
  • The Orange were 1-for-2 in the red zone, with the spotlight no doubt shining on the points they failed to amass at the end of the first half.
  • Syracuse had four three-and-outs and one turnover in the contest. That’s not terrible but also accounts for the margin in a tight game.

These last two games, Dungey has led comebacks, but his injuries have definitely hampered the team’s ability to operate at its typical tempo too. That’s not to say Mahoney (or Rex Culpepper) could do better. But it’s clear we may be asking Dungey to do things his body simply can’t at some point. Still, hats off to the junior once again for willing his body to do things it normally could not. His heads-up running was inspired all game.

In not-so-great news: Airon Servais is having increasing troubles with snapping the football. You saw a bunch of low snaps against Miami. Most of the game was filled with low snaps in this one. It’s hurting Dungey’s progressions and the offense’s momentum.

While the majority of (designed) runs in this offense are going to be dives, we’ve seen Dino Babers mix in some edge rushes as well. That paid dividends in this one as both Strickland and Moe Neal ended up with eight-yard dashes toward the sideline.

Penalty problems: I’m not one to moan about officiating a ton, but several decisions had major impacts on SU against Florida State. No call on the facemask late in the first half, the missed offside call, and (on the other end) the Alton Robinson personal foul were all problematic. #goacc

As mentioned, we address drive No. 10 here, since it was just odd. After the uncalled facemask on first, Syracuse runs Strickland off tackle while having Elmore peel out along the edge instead of carrying or blocking. Babers also calls two timeouts inside the 10 instead of leaving personnel out there and forcing FSU to figure it out with whoever’s already on the field. Still, if not for the tip at the line, Dungey completes a touchdown to Ervin Philips on third. Then, fourth becomes a busted play when Elmore’s man stalls Dungey’s run. It’s a miracle Dungey even gets a pass off at the end, but Philips was within inches of hauling in a crucial first down nonetheless. Again, just a weird drive.

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