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Syracuse football: breaking down offensive play-calling vs. Clemson

Syracuse’s offense settled for kicks, when they should have had more.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange came out dueling in what was a revenge game for the Clemson Tigers in Memorial Stadium. A 27-23 road loss at the hands of the No. 3 team in the country normally is nothing to hang a head about, but it felt like Syracuse had its second-straight upset over the perennial ACC favorite through three quarters and then some in the bag.

Take a look below as we break down what succeeded, and failed, against Clemson.

First Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 8 called runs, 11 called passes.

The first drive felt like it was going to produce six points, especially after Clemson afforded Syracuse a break by calling a timeout before its first third down call of the game, which failed. Orange quarterback Eric Dungey tossed an incomplete pass that would have forced a three-and-out, but the re-do allowed Syracuse to convert on a jet sweep to Sean Riley.

Syracuse went three-and-out on its other possessions in the first quarter, as it elected to run the ball on two of nine plays outside of the first drive.

Second Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 6 called runs, 12 called passes, one penalty.

The first of four offensive penalties occurred on the first drive of the quarter. Thankfully, Dungey found Taj Harris burning Clemson’s secondary for a 51-yard gain down the left sideline. That was followed by a 17-yard catch-and-run on a screen from Dungey to Moe Neal. Syracuse was set up with first and goal on the two-yard-line, and Dungey found pay-dirt two plays later for Syracuse’s first touchdown.

The Orange’s final drive of the quarter felt like its first drive of the game. A 12-play set resulted in just three points, when it looked like it was destined to produce six all along. The drive stalled once Syracuse got into the red zone. The Orange went three-and-out from there.

Third Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 6 run, 8 pass.

This is where Syracuse started to lose control. The Orange ran just three action plays in Clemson territory, and Dungey tossed his second interception of the season on a route miscommunication with Devin Butler. Syracuse was held scoreless in the third, as punter Sterling Hofrichter was called on to boot it on three of four possessions. The Orange caught a break at the end of the third, as Clemson returner Amari Rodgers muffed a punt that Syracuse recovered on Clemson’s 10-yard line.

Fourth Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 5 run, 10 pass, 3 penalties.

This stings. Three killer penalties that included a blatant ineligible receiver downfield on a would-be successful 4th-and-1 helped bury the Orange and its upset hopes. That play might leave people thinking, ‘What if?’ as the dust settles from this game. Syracuse went three-and-out on the drive after. On the final shot of the game, two more penalties made it very difficult for Syracuse to complete an already near impossible winning drive.


  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 25 called runs vs. 41 called passes (Last week: 42:36)
  • First half play-calling: 14 called runs vs. 23 called passes (11:18 second half)
  • First downs: 27 total (8 running, 19 passing, 0 penalty; LW: 17:9:0)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 8 total (LW: 22)
  • Second down play selection: 9 runs vs. 15 passes (LW: 12:11)
  • Third down play selection: 6 runs vs. 10 passes (LW: 5:8)
  • Third down conversions: 3-for-15 (1 run, 2 pass; 4-for-13 LW)
  • Fourth down conversions: 1-for-2 (1-for-1 LW)

The Orange made an effort to incorporate Taj Harris into the system. Prior to Saturday, Harris recorded three catches for 59 yards and a touchdown through three games. He caught three passes for 66 yards, including a 51-yard bomb down the left sideline, in this one game alone.

Meanwhile, Dungey was sacked just once, but his pass protection definitely began to break down in the second half. The offensive line held its own for a long stretch, but it eventually struggled with Clemson’s elite, NFL-caliber front four.

Not to mention, the fourth quarter was a killer for the Orange o-line. The ineligible man downfield call on left tackle Cody Conway killed a potential game-sealing drive, and the unnecessary-roughness penalty left guard Aaron Roberts committed on Syracuse’s final drive was the final blow to the upset hopes.

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