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

A lot went right in this one. Hopefully we can replicate it.

NCAA Football: Connecticut at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange looked impressive for most of Saturday’s 51-21 win over the Connecticut Huskies, especially on the offensive side of the football. SU started hot and ran all over UConn in a game that appeared to expend very little effort in terms of play-calling creativity. That’s not a bad thing when you’re overwhelming a team, as the Orange were this past weekend.

Take a look below as we break down what succeeded (and failed) against UConn in the blowout win.

First Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 11 called runs, 13 called passes

Those first three drives... *Italian chef kiss* Somehow, 13 of the first 20 plays were either first downs or touchdowns. And it could’ve been even better. Jamal Custis dropped a perfect Eric Dungey long ball (second straight week with a big drop for Custis) that would’ve likely been a score. Syracuse starting throwing to the middle of the field too, in conjunction with the wide open screens UConn gave them.

Second Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 7 called runs, 13 called passes

Considering how well SU was running the ball all game, it was strange to see this many passes in the second quarter. And after the unfortunate Jarveon Howard fumble at the goal line, the play-calling did just sort of seem to “mess around” for a bit. Between that turnover (after an impressive run from Howard) and the missed interference call on the pass from Nykeim Johnson throw to Devin Butler, that’s at least 10 points taken off the board in this quarter. Did like how Dungey’s crowd-surfing on Elmore at the goal line now, versus sacrificing his body as much, though.

Third Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 11 called runs, 4 called passes

Elmore just opened up holes at will by this point, and Moe Neal was happy to run through them. And just look at the number of big gains here, with pass plays eventually being set up by the dependence on the strong ground game. Also: I try to avoid complaints about officiating, but these refs were miserable and that was never more obvious than when they reviewed whether Dungey got in on that QB sneak for all of two seconds. He was in, dammit. And that wasn’t unsportsmanlike conduct.

Fourth Quarter

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

Syracuse looked like it was going to stall out around midfield in drive 12, but that Sean Riley grab was stunning to watch as he blew by defenders to rack up yards after the catch en route to a TD. From there, it was Tommy DeVito’s show and most of that work was just handoffs. He also overshot a couple long balls (a theme), though Taj Harris also just missed a touchdown catch by a half-second.


  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 42 called runs vs. 36 called passes (last week: 50:38)
  • First half play-calling: 18 called runs vs. 26 called passes (24:10 in second half)
  • First downs: 26 total (17 rushing, 9 passing; 0 penalty; Last week: 11:10:4)
  • First down play selection: 25 called runs, 17 called passes (Last week: 27:12)
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 22 (Last week: 14)
  • Second down play selection: 12 called runs, 11 called passes (Last week: 12:16)
  • Third down play selection: 5 called runs, 8 called passes (Last week: 10:10)
  • Third down conversion: 4-for-13 (3 runs, 1 pass; 8-for-20 last week)
  • Fourth down conversion: 1-for-1 (0-for-1 last week)
  • This week, 40 of Syracuse’s 78 (51.2 percent) plays took place in UConn territory. Part of that’s just trying to run out clock late, plus the fact that they were picking up yardage so quickly. Last week, the Orange lived in FSU territory, running 73.9 percent of plays there. SU also kept up its lead in terms of national starting field position differential.
  • SU was just 3-for-3 on play-action throws, with 38 yards and a touchdown. The Orange didn’t need t use play-action much because easy screens were open quick, plus they were able to beat them without the fakes.
  • The Orange had 14 plays go for 15 or more yards — versus just six last week. Of this week’s big gains, four went for 25 or more yards. Another seven plays went for between 10 and 14 yards, however (versus 10 last week).
  • Including penalties, 13 plays went for a loss or gained zero yards. That’s been high for the past two weeks, and penalties played an even bigger part against UConn, with the offense picking up seven fouls and wiping out some longer gains in the process.
  • Syracuse was a perfect 7-for-7 from the red zone on Saturday, but three more field goals in there to hurt the touchdown percentage. On the season, the Orange are tied atop the list for both red zone scores (25) and attempts (29). However, TD percentage is still down at 58.62 (89th overall).
  • SU had five three-and-outs in the game, though mostly concentrated in the fourth quarter.
NCAA Football: Connecticut at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The run game was fantastic in this one, averaging 7.4 yards per carry as a team, and surprisingly even more when you take out Dungey’s numbers. We still haven’t necessarily found the “feature back,” but Moe Neal’s closed the gap enough to get more carries and he’s made the most of them between the tackles. This team’s use of Elmore has really evolved well, and it’s paying dividends for the speedy Neal.

Whatever was wrong with Dungey these past few weeks disappeared against UConn. With no shoulder tape, he was a highly accurate 21-of-27 (and could’ve been even better), throwing the ball downfield with ease and using the middle of the field for the first time all season. That’s a key part of his passing game he’s rarely utilized and the Orange could sorely use. So you like seeing passes over the middle like he threw to Riley and Harris.

Anything this team can do to get Nykeim Johnson and Sean Riley the ball in space, they should. It’s unlikely future teams allow as much room to operate as the Huskies did, but those two are absolutely harrowing to defend with some daylight in front of them. Even in small spaces, they thrived similarly, making something out of nothing. Fully expect to see both become bigger parts of this offense as Butler fades a little and Custis comes down from the early-season high somewhat.