Since Dino Babers took over as head coach of the Syracuse Orange, there has been a massive change in the offensive strategy. Faulty bubble screens are now a consistent passing game (you’re welcome, John!), and a more tempered offense now runs more plays per game than any other FBS program in the country.
But among the many changes to the SU offense, perhaps none is more impactful and underrated than the approach to fourth down situations.
SB Nation’s Washington State site Coug Center recently published an article evaluating Washington State’s stats on fourth down using #NeverKick %, which answers the question “on what percentage of fourth downs does a team go for it vs kicking a field goal or punting?” This inspired us to take a look at how Syracuse’s #NeverKick % has progressed in the transition from the Scott Shafer to Dino Babers era.
In the final season under former head coach Scott Shafer in 2015, the Orange only went for it 14.42% of the time; a mere 15 conversion attempts on 104 fourth downs. This is a low figure even by college football standards, ranking 100th in the FBS #NeverKick %. Syracuse was efficient when it tried, however, converting on 11 of those 15.
With the arrival of Dino Babers and his high-octane offense, the number of fourth down conversion attempts jumped by close to 50%. In 2016, the Orange tried to convert on fourth 21.60% percent of the time, opting to try on 27 of 125 opportunities. The jolt of the new offense skyrocketed Syracuse up in the rankings, moving up 58 spots to 42nd place in Babers’s first year. Best of all, SU succeeded often, ranking 15th in the nation with a 62.96% fourth down conversion rate.
In 2017, SU didn’t convert quite as much. Syracuse’s 57.89% conversion clip dropped the squad to 43rd in the country. However, this by no means stopped them from trying. After jumping from 100th to 42nd in #NeverKick % in one season under Dino Babers, the second season saw the Orange attempt a fourth down conversion 30.16% of the time, climbing the list to eighth in the country and second in the ACC (only Louisville tried more). SU’s 38 conversion attempts were also the third-most in the nation.
The fourth down strategy the Dino Babers brought with him to SU has proven to be among the most aggressive in the country. But while Syracuse hasn’t succeeded as often as it used to (percentage-wise), that’s the price to be paid. The Orange are still converting more fourth downs on a raw numbers basis, which also provides more opportunities to score points.
Sounds like exactly what Babers said he was going to attempt. We’ll see if the number goes up in year three, especially with Sterling Hofrichter taking over kicking duties from Cole Murphy now (which could lead to a slight dip, initially, in field goal confidence).