When the Syracuse Orange lost to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Saturday, a lot of fingers were pointed at head coach Dino Babers for key missteps taken by the coaching staff in the eyes of the fans. While I think there’s still plenty of division over at least one of the calls, I decided to look at the three biggest moments that coaching decisions swung the game.
In order to add a level of impartiality to the analysis, I enlisted ESPN’s often mocked Win Probability Tracker. While imperfect, it does give a solid context of how most games in a given situation will play out, and so I used it to look at what the Orange’s win probability was calculated at before and after the coaching decisions made by Babers and his staff.
Accepting the Holding Penalty to set up a Wake 3rd and 23
3rd and 13, ball on the Syracuse 34, Syracuse 21 - Wake 10
Win Probability before the Call: Syracuse, 71.3%
Win Probability after the Call: Syracuse, 73.2%
I’m on the record saying that I think Dino made the right call: The Orange defense is good enough to prevent anyone from gaining 23 yards in a single play. However, the call to only rush 3 when Hartman was clearly rattled and the Wake offense had just taken a false start is baffling, especially when Stefon Tompson is the only player guarding the middle of the field at the sticks. Asking a linebacker to cover that key area of the field feels like a failure in play calling, even if the the call to accept the penalty did increase the Orange’s chances to win. The completion would lower Syracuse’s win percentage to 62.8%, one of the single biggest swings in the entire game.
Attempting Field Goal on 4th and 2 on the Wake
4th and 2, Wake 27, Syracuse 27 - Wake 26
Win Probability before the decision: 61.5%
Win Probability after the decision: 53.3%
In one of the most conservative calls of the entire season, Dino wanted to take the points at home, and make Wake score a touchdown to beat his Orange. The missed FG aside, after just gaining 10 yards on a third and two rush with Cooper Lutz, with the ball so deep in Wake territory and 7 minutes left on the clock, a failed 2 point conversion would have about the same results as a missed OR a made field goal: Wake would get the ball back in similar field position, having plenty of clock to get two possessions if their defense could stop the Orange. Meanwhile, a successful two point conversion burns more clock, and sets the Orange up to make the game a two score gap with a touchdown and successful PAT.
Delay of Game Penalty on 2 Point Conversion
2 point conversion attempt on Wake 2, Syracuse 33 - Wake 34
Win Probability before the penalty: N/A
Win Probability after the penalty: N/A
Almost comically, there’s a glitch in ESPN’s win probability model, where because of the penalty on the two point conversion, it lumps all of Tucker’s TD, the penalty, the converted PAT, and the kickoff into one play that swung Wake’s win percentage from 95.1 to 51.2%. So even with the PAT to tie the game, ESPN’s model still showed team’s in Wake’s position win that game slightly more than they lose, which brings us to the failed two point conversion: If the conversion is successful, Syracuse wins the game. If the conversion is unsuccessful, Syracuse does exactly what it did, and loses. The fact that we didn’t get to see that decision play out because players weren’t getting on the field fast enough lies on the coaching staff. Not necessarily Dino as I don’t think it’s his job to push the package on the field, but as the head coach, he’s got to take the heat for all coaching mishaps in a game.