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Syracuse football: Breaking down offensive play-calling vs. Western Michigan

Week one featured a whole lot of offensive fireworks for the Orange.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Western Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

As has been the case since 2013, we’re breaking down the Syracuse Orange’s offensive play-calling after each game this season.

The activity’s become more enjoyable since Dino Babers has taken over, of course. Though it also takes significantly more time as well with these marathon games. If you all have any requests as to how to make this both better and take up less time, I’m all ears.

With that said, onto Syracuse’s play-calling versus the Western Michigan Broncos:

First Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 14 called runs, 8 called passes

One of Syracuse’s biggest issues in previous seasons under Babers has been starting slow. Not the case here as SU scores on four straight drives to take a 24-7 advantage. None of those drives lasted longer than two and a half minutes. It was also noticeable early how much better the O-line looked, how in sync Eric Dungey and Jamal Custis were, and how the Orange were deploying Chris Elmore as an edge blocker almost exclusively. Gotta love the strong start on the ground, too.

Second Quarter

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

Dungey’s two drives ended in scores (10 points total), though some other lingering issues arrived: Devin Butler and Sean Riley struggled to hang onto/get to passes thrown their way, and that began here (and continued throughout the game). As a result, the ground game keeps doing most of the heavy lifting — either through Dungey or the hard-running Dontae Strickland, the latter of whom seemed to have more power behind his carries this year. Also, Kyle Kleinberg paid huge dividends as a blocker inside, helping set up gains from Strickland and Moe Neal.

Third Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 12 called runs, 13 called passes

Continuing a trend that starts on Tommy DeVito’s first possession in the second quarter, the offensive line starts getting blown up on the edges, leading to quick pressure. You can see when DeVito’s under center, everything is focused on the passing game (or QB runs). However, play-calling when Dungey’s in seems to use the run to set up the pass, while also mixing in Dungey scrambles. Interesting to see two very different strategies at play. Obviously the one in place when Dungey’s under center was the one working (though DeVito didn’t play that poorly when you look back at the film).

Fourth Quarter

Play-call breakdown: 17 called runs, 1 called pass

As soon as Dungey completes that one-play scamper at the start of the fourth, SU’s offense goes into clock-killing mode for the rest of the game. Because of how quickly WMU was able to score on the Orange defense, that still meant all of the starters were in, though. Neal got just about every carry in those final two drives and performed reasonably well. Normally we’d mix in other ball-carriers or play-calls as close to the goal line as we were both times.


  • Overall play-calling breakdown: 55 called runs vs. 34 called passes
  • First half play-calling: 26 called runs vs. 20 called passes (29: 14 in second half)
  • First downs: 26 total (18 rushing, 6 passing, 2 penalty)
  • First down play selection: 30 called runs, 12 called passes
  • First down plays for five or more yards: 16 (among the biggest reasons for success)
  • Second down play selection: 15 called runs, 15 called passes
  • Third down play selection: 10 called runs, 7 called passes
  • Third down conversion: 7-for-17 (7 runs)
  • Fourth down conversion: 2-for-3
  • This week, 57 of Syracuse’s 89 plays (64 percent) took place in WMU territory. Part of that is due to Tim Lester’s dumb strategy of squib kicks that would hand us the ball near midfield to start drives.
  • SU ran the ball a ton, but didn’t necessarily use play-action much, going 3-for-10, for 73 yards and a touchdown.
  • The Orange had 12 plays go for 15 or more yards, which is pretty good. More impressively, seven of those went for at least 25 yards (topped by Dungey’s 50-yard bomb to Custis). Just four more plays went for between 10 and 14 yards on the night.
  • Including penalties, only nine plays went for a loss or gained zero yards.
  • Syracuse was 5-for-7 in the red zone, but the only two misses were the late fourth quarter drives where we were trying to kill clock (including the one at the very end of the game).
  • SU had two three-and-outs in the game — both in the third quarter while DeVito was still in.
NCAA Football: Syracuse at Western Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Dungey obviously makes this run game go. So while I want to celebrate the fact that Syracuse picked up 334 yards on the ground, I know 200 belonged to the senior QB. Still, The O-line did work early opening up holes. This offense requires a capable run game and this was the closest we’ve come to executing the attack as intended. No matter how we were able to get those rushing yards on Friday, it did help set up the pass. Speaking of...

Custis was the only receiver that really did anything or was put to use — partly owning up to the fact that WMU chose to single-cover him downfield a lot, so Dungey/DeVito didn’t have to move past the first progression. SU’s passing day doesn’t appear super accurate, but there were a ton of drops in there, especially from Butler and Riley. While we’re on them, one noticeable change was the lack of screens overall, which once served as the Orange run game. If we’re subbing that out for an actual ground game that works, it’s probably fine.

It’s noticeable that no matter who’s at QB, Babers calls their number to run. Obviously Dungey calls his own number at times, but there were plenty of designed runs for him. And same goes for DeVito, as it did for Rex Culpepper and Zack Mahoney previously. If the strategy’s used safely and sparingly, this is fine.

Anything else catch your eye? Share your own takeaways below.