The Syracuse Orange football program had a breakout year in 2018. Reaching 10 wins is a big deal around these parts, and the Orange had a lot of key markers for success... as well as some things that could still improve.
With that in mind, I want to look at the three biggest weaknesses from last year, and how they may (or may not) carry over into 2019.
All praise to our offensive daredevil Eric Dungey, but 2018’s offense became a bit one-dimensional in conference play. ‘Cuse finished the year ranking 76th in marginal efficiency (-4.4%), ranking 84th in marginal passing efficiency (-2.4%). “But Syracuse offense scored lots of points,” I hear clacking on keyboards. That’s because the offense relied on a ton of big plays, ranking 33rd in marginal explosiveness (0.12), which worked really well with the second best field position in the country (35 yard line).
A boom-or-bust offense works when you’re running as many plays as Dino does, but that doesn’t mean it’s sustainable or all that great. If we like it or not, that will change this year with Tommy DeVito. The staff will look to DeVito to be a more prototypical Babers QB (i.e. quick reads and or handoffs, with far less improvising). The Orange rushing offense was 65th in S&P+ last year, with similar efficiency and explosiveness ratings. The key was being the 8th best team in the country at avoiding “stuffed” runs (minimal/no gain) and return Moe Neal with Oklahoma transfer Abdul Adams. The pieces are there to improve this aspect of the team, but it rests on DeVito.
Red Zone Offense
No matter how you slice it, the Orange were terrible at maximizing on their opportunities last year. They were 61st in Bill C.’s Finishing Drives stat and more alarmingly, 101st in the country at converting touchdowns inside the ten yard line, doing so only 44.8% of the time. Without Andre Szymt, the Orange would’ve have been a much different team.
This area of the team will improve, mostly because of what I think we saw from Abdul Adams in the Camping World Bowl. While Adams has slimmed down, he’s still a downhill first runner with the ability to hit gaps between the tackles and push forward. The Orange really lacked that last year, as Chris Elmore was much more effective as a lead blocker than handling the ball. While we may never see the tank package again, I think Adams will be a revelation for ‘Cuse in the red zone.
Big Play Concession
The Orange used a lot of big plays, and gave up a lot of big plays. ‘Cuse was 111th and 108th in Bill C’s explosiveness rankings (1.28 IsoPPP & 0.15 Marginal Explosiveness), with third down defense and turnovers bailing out drives. The Orange are returning their best players on the defensive line and secondary, with the only question mark at linebacker. Their scheme encourages opponents to go aggressive and make them pay, so I don’t think this ends completely. I don’t think they’re as bad as 2018.
All in all, looking at 2 of 3 key areas for improvement working out is a huge win for a program coming off a 10 win season. While ‘Cuse may not be elite, there's plenty to show the team could be very good.