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Syracuse football: breaking down offensive play-calling versus Pitt

The passing game for Syracuse struggled as Saturday’s game progressed.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

High-scoring expectations turned into reality for both the Syracuse Orange and the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday at Heinz Field. Though the Orange took a 44-37 loss in overtime, the offense did get back to #BRAND by running 80 plays from scrimmage, the fourth-most in a game this season.

First Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 9 run, 16 pass, 1 penalty

Syracuse QB Eric Dungey opened the game going 3-for-3 in the air, including completions of nine and seven yards to Sean Riley, and a 19-yard back-shoulder beauty to Nykeim Johnson. That was the start of a fluid 11-play, 75-yard opening touchdown drive that took 4:06 off the clock. The Orange followed that up with a swift, five-play drive off after a Pitt fumble. Dungey found a hole on the left side and busted the Orange’s longest run from scrimmage to set up Jarveon Howard’s first touchdown of the day.

Syracuse ran an average of five plays-per-drive in the first quarter, ripping off one play every 20.6 game seconds.

Syracuse v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Second Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 9 run, 11 pass, 2 penalty

Syracuse’s offense struggled to gain ground in the second quarter. Dino Babers’ group did not run a play in Pitt territory until there was 3:36 left before halftime. Dungey also had issues in the second, completing four-of-10 passes for 11 yards and throwing an interception into the belly of DT Amir Watts.

For its third drive of the quarter, SU was gifted great field position, setting up in Pitt territory (the first time across the 50-yard line in the second). For the game, the Orange scored 10 points when beginning drives in Panther’s territory.

Syracuse’s offense was off the field for most of the quarter, running five fewer plays in the second, compared to the first. Dungey’s inconsistencies and Pitt’s ability to defend him did not open up scoring opportunities for the Orange.

Third Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 11 run, 9 pass, 2 penalty

Syracuse made three changes to the offense in the third quarter: opening the play-action passing, running the option, and allowing Dungey’s pocket to break down.

Syracuse’s two touchdown drives of the third included two plays of 20-or-more yards. A pair of deep passes to Taj Harris helped set up the first, and a deep pass to Jamal Custis helped set up a 21-yard play by Dungey. It was evident that Syracuse was going to live and die by the “big” plays, as too many mistakes were being committed on both sides of the ball to establish true consistency.

Fourth Quarter/Overtime

Play-call breakdown: 5 run, 8 pass, 0 penalty


Credit to Pitt’s offense for keeping the Orange offense off the field, but even when the Orange did have chances to ice away the game, they didn’t take them.

In the fourth quarter and in overtime, Dungey was 2-for-7 with 51 yards, including a 42-yard completion to Jamal Custis down the right sideline. He also threw the game-ending interception in overtime, a ball intended for a double-covered Johnson in the corner of the end zone.

Syracuse ran just 14 plays in three drives between the fourth and overtime. Understandably so, because 12 of those plays came within five-or-more yards to go for gain or score.


  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 34 called runs vs. 46 called passes. (Last week: 25:41)
  • First half play-calling: 18 called runs vs. 27 called passes (16:19 second half)
  • First downs: 20 total (10 running, 9 passing, 1 penalty; LW: 8:19:0)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 14 total (LW: 8)
  • Second down play selection: 12 runs vs. 13 passes (LW: 9:15)
  • Third down play selection: 4 runs vs. 14 passes (LW: 6:10)
  • Third down conversions: 10-for-18 (5 run, 5 pass; 3-for-15 LW)
  • Fourth down conversions: 0-for-0 (1-for-2 LW)

Follow Corey on Twitter @cdcrisan for updates on SU athletics.