Last week, we’d mentioned that the Syracuse Orange’s Ervin Philips was a pretty dangerous third- and fourth-down option last year, converting over 55 percent of attempts on 38 opportunities.
Digging around CFBStats a little this week, I wanted to see if there was any way to get more information on why that was the case.
While I may not have found the “why,” some searching did yield something pretty interesting: Syracuse was the most effective third-and-short passing team in the country, from a yardage standpoint.
A look at the numbers on third-and-three-or-less:
- 269 passing yards (1st in FBS)
- 20-for-25 when passing (80 percent; seventh in FBS)
- 20 completions (fourth in FBS)
- Two passing TDs (17th in FBS)
- 196.78 passer rating (16th in FBS)
- 19 first downs (2nd in FBS)
- Seven gains of 15 yards or more (1st in FBS)
- Three gains of 25 yards or more (3rd in FBS)
So no, not the “best” across the board by any means, and I’m not trying to represent them as such here. Rather, the overall abilities to convert on a high number of those opportunities, while gaining a lot of yards (more than anyone else) in the process is worth applauding. You can also draw an easy line between Philips’s figures and these. As a slot receiver, he spent a lot of time at or near the line of scrimmage, and many of his receptions were of the shorter variety (averaged 9.1 yards per catch last year).
Knowing Dino Babers, he probably had this stat in his head during any third-and-short situation Syracuse faced, and tried to regularly dial up Philips (maybe even with the same play, if certain teams failed to show they could stop it).
But this sort of thing does provide some insight into what the Orange may be doing more of next year. While they were the most effective team passing the ball on third, SU was also among the worst running in those same situations. That’s not surprising given the personnel last year failed to really be suited for moving the pile. However, given the success the passing game had instead, Babers could lean into this passing advantage a bit more.
The Orange ran the ball 24 times on third-and-short, gaining just 68 yards (119th in the country). Syracuse had just two touchdowns in those situations, and only 11 of the runs resulted in first downs (123rd in FBS).
More running backs better suited for this attack (and a defensive tackle-turned-fullback running the ball in Chris Elmore) could create a big shift in these results. That said, who knows who will be getting the bulk of the short-yardage carries -- Markenzy Pierre? Elmore? -- or how the offensive line holds up replacing two starters yet again.
While it’s not the biggest storyline come the fall, this will certainly be one to keep an eye on now.