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What Expected Points Added tells us the Syracuse football offense needs to improve

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We know the offense wasn’t ideal...

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Pitt at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Look: you don’t need reminding of the Syracuse Orange’s offensive woes the last two seasons. The team has brought in a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in an attempt to fix the issues, but what does the Orange offense need to fix?

In a single word: efficiency. It’s the name of the game in football these days, and if we look to the NFL, we see that there’s a direct correlation between success and passing efficiency. So how do we measure efficiency in a way that helps us analyze the Orange? EPA.

What is EPA?

What is EPA? It’s essentially asking the question “did this play help a team score points.” If you’re a poker player, you’re familiar with the concept of expected value to measure if a decision will net you a positive return over the long haul. At it’s core, EPA is trying to do the same thing for the much less straightforward action that takes place during a football play. A more efficient offense is going to do things that correlate to scoring more often, and the core role of offense is to score points.

Why is it useful?

You can get very granular with specific implementations of EPA, but for this post, I’m sticking to the fundamental question how consistently a team made plays that led to points. At the end of the day, you can’t win a football game 0-0, and we know Dino Babers would prefer to win games with at least 50 points on the board. Bill C’s SP+ uses offensive and defensive efficiency in his rankings, but those numbers are mixed with a lot of other maths and meant to be predictive. EPA is literally taking what happened, and assigning a contextual numerical value to that play that makes sense for the play individually, the game as a whole, and the season as a whole. It’s the easiest way to evaluate if what a team did helped them win the game consistently, and to what degree.

Syracuse’s biggest offensive issue revealed with using EPA

To summarize the above tweet: The Cleveland Browns and Syracuse Orange both had elite rushing attacks this year. The issue for both was that the passing game was below average, so the offense as a whole was below average. The Orange were 10th in rushing EPA this season, averaging 0.189 positive EPA per rushing play. However, they were 118th in passing EPA at negative 0.157 per passing play, and just .04 EPA on the season, which was 86th in FBS.

What makes things worse for the Orange is that football is now a passing league, and passing plays are more likely to yield points; the 10th highest passing EPA mark was held by SMU, who had 0.233 EPA per pass, 0.044 points more per pass than Syracuse had per rush. If you don’t like numbers, Alabama and Georgia were 3rd and 4th respectively in passing EPA, while just 75th and 73rd in rushing EPA.

It’s tough to find historical EPA, but it validates Dino’s adamance that the Orange offense needs to become what he build at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green, as opposed to some version of the San Fransisco 49ers helmed by his greatest success, Jimmy Garoppolo.

This isn’t a new problem for Dino at Syracuse

The 2018 team was special, but at the end of the day, the team still lost on the road to Pittsburgh and Clemson, albeit in close fashion. The biggest reason the Orange lost those games? They were inefficient in the red zone, and the offense and defense were based entirely around splash plays, as opposed to the far more consistent attacks boasted by the two teams that did make the ACC Title game that season.

We’ve seen these same themes continue to plague the Orange in less successful years, and without the big play ability of an Eric Dungey to get balls down the field with any kind of accuracy, the offense has completely stalled. This is why the additions of Robert Anea and Jason Beck become so crucial; Syracuse has a systemic issue with building and scheming an offense that is consistently good, not occasionally great.

What is the solution?

If I knew the answer, I would be working in college football coaching, not writing for Nunes dude. What I can say is that looking at teams that have made improvements with mobile QBs, a big part is scheming plays that make running the ball third and fourth options. A QB scramble is a still a running play, and inherently holding back an offenses true potential. But like we’ve seen in both the NFL and top-25 college football, a QB who can hit throws with consistency and evade pressure with their legs creates an unwinnable situation for defenses. (Just ask Buffalo and Kansas City) When a team becomes predictable or big play reliant, defenses are able to make the stops necessary to get off the field consistently. We’ll see if Anae and Beck have any ways implementing changes to help the Orange immediately.