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Syracuse football: Breaking down offensive play-calling vs. Wagner

Yes, it was Wagner. But there are some takeaways from the high-scoring afternoon.

NCAA Football: Wagner at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s tough to come to many conclusions from blowout wins over FCS opponents. Still, the Syracuse Orange offense was worth observing for at least a half during Saturday’s 62-10 win over the Wagner Seahawks.

Take a look below as we break down what mostly went right for the Orange and break down some offensive play-calling.

First Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 10 called runs, 12 called passes

Early down success was a theme in the game, but it’s also something Syracuse struggled with last year. So seeing better first down gains this week and against WMU spells good things to me. Devin Butler struggled quite a bit in this quarter, but others rose to the occasion. Taj Harris’s 24-yard TD was some excellent running in traffic. The Orange were also once again the beneficiaries of teams giving them a very short field (as was the case last week).

Second Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 5 called runs, 22 called passes

Would normally worry about the balance here, but after last week’s wide receiver struggles, I like seeing them get some extra work against Wagner. The quick succession of play-calls to start drives 6 and 9 (nice), respectively were both great bits of scripted play-calling and something we’ll likely see more of this year. As Eric Dungey was under center a bit more in this quarter, pressure was coming immediately from inside, disrupting the flow of the offense. Dungey was able to make things happen more often than not since it’s Wagner. That won’t be the case against ACC foes.

Third Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 13 called runs, 6 called passes

Dungey made quick work of the short field twice, and also caught Wagner on a hard count for the fourth time all game — a testament to his abilities and experience under center. Tommy DeVito was in for the final drive of the third, and dealt with immense pressure, bad snaps and some downfield receiver miscommunication. It’s great we’ve gotten to see DeVito but circumstances have also been less than ideal to see what he can actually do as a passer.

Fourth Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 10 called runs, 2 called passes

Loved the reverse run for Nykeim Johnson. We used him a bit like that last year, and the more we can get the ball into his hands the better — he has a ton of speed and is elusive in small spaces (should remind you a bit of Ervin Philips, really). The rest of the quarter was Jarveon Howard just running like a man on fire and trucking through Wagner’s line. His 16-yard gain on the second play of the final dive almost went for a TD. He’s a very impressive back early (yes, even understanding the opponent).


  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 38 called runs vs. 42 called passes (last week: 55:34)
  • First half play-calling: 15 called runs vs. 34 called passes (23: 8 in second half)
  • First downs: 26 total (17 rushing, 9 passing; Last week: 18:6:2)
  • First down play selection: 23 called runs, 16 called passes (Last week: 30:12)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 18 (Last week: 16)
  • Second down play selection: 13 called runs, 15 called passes (Last week: 15:15)
  • Third down play selection: 2 called runs, 11 called passes (Last week: 10:7)
  • Third down conversion: 6-for-13 (2 runs, 4 passes; 7-for-17 last week)
  • Fourth down conversion: 2-for-3 (2-for-3 last week as well)
  • This week, a stunning 60 of Syracuse’s 80 plays (75 percent) took place in Wagner territory. Similar to WMU’s poor strategy on kickoffs last week resulting in 67 percent of Orange plays occurring in Broncos territory, Wagner made the same mistake this week.
  • SU was just 2-of-8 on play action (Dungey was 2-for-6), with eight yards, a touchdown and an interception.
  • The Orange had eight plays go for 15 or more yards — versus 12 last week. Of this week’s big gains, just two went for 25 or more yards (and both of those were still under 30). Another eight plays went for between 10 and 14 yards, however (versus just four last week).
  • Including penalties, 11 plays went for a loss or gained zero yards — versus nine such plays last week.
  • Syracuse was 7-for-7 from the red zone on Saturday, and the touchdown percentage is up so far on the season (10-of-12 red zone scores). That’s a good sign for the time being.
  • SU had two three-and-outs in the game — both in the first half.
NCAA Football: Wagner at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Riley made his presence known in all facets of the game, with a punt block, a really nice late return that would’ve gone to the house if not for being stopped by his own man, and several really nice catches. The tip-drill ball is the one you’ll remember most. But his work after the catch on the first play of Drive 2 was his best work.

You saw a lot more (successful) interior pressure in this game than you did in SU’s game against Western Michigan. This closed up running lanes for Dungey and forced his scrambles outside where faster defenders potentially await. Granted, you don’t really want to see him taking off too much against a team like Wagner. Just worth noting the pressure.

Syracuse didn’t really show many “new” wrinkles on offense this week with FSU up next, aside from the reverses, and Dungey throwing from a direct snap from the center (versus the team’s typical shotgun). Screens looked much improved in this one, as did the whole passing game. For as much as it seemed weird Dino Babers would leave the starters in through half of the third quarter, they did need that work. Hopefully it pays off.