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Syracuse football: Improving the red zone offense

As the calendar turns to October it’s an area the Orange can improve upon

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Louisville at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange red zone offense has been an issue for Dino Babers’ tenure. Even when the offense was operating at it’s best, it often came to a halt inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

First let’s look at the good news: The Orange have scored on all 16 red zone opportunities. We don’t want to downplay this fact because getting points in these situations is critical. The bad news is that seven of those scores are field goals.

Compare this to the Clemson Tigers who are 24-24 in the red zone, but with 18 touchdowns and only 6 field goals. You can see that leaving four points on the field can be the difference between winning and losing. For a program desperate to capitalize on the opportunity in front of them it’s a critical phase of the game.

Before we get into opportunities for improvement, here are the yearly touchdown percentages for the Syracuse offense in red zone opportunities

Red Zone Touchdown %

Year Red Zone Touchdown Percentage
Year Red Zone Touchdown Percentage
2017 48.94%
2018 60%
2019 52.17%
2020 42.86%
2021 58.82%

What can the Orange do to be more successful? Here are three possibilities:

Create confusion

If we go back to the opener, Syracuse used motion pre-snap and then sent Sean Tucker out on a pass route to free Oronde Gadsden II for an easy catch from Garrett Shrader. Even though the defense is compressed around the goal line this crossing action from receivers forces quick reaction from the opposing secondary. If they aren’t on the same page, the Orange can find open receivers in the end zone.

Run from the Spread

Without Chris Elmore, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Syracuse to go to a heavy package near the goal line. If you want to give Sean Tucker a bit more space to maneuver, then Syracuse should consider going four-wide and pull defenders away from the middle of the field. You could even run some option plays out of this formation and get Shrader or Tucker out on the edge.

Box Out Routes

Syracuse spent a lot of time in pre-season camp working on these situations and they often featured bigger wide receivers. Without Isaiah Jones, the Orange could turn to players like CJ Hayes or Steven Mahar Jr. to pair with Gadsden and Damien Alford down near the goal line. Instead of low-percentage fade routes, you could borrow from Jim Boeheim’s playbook and have these big guys run into the end zone and use their size to post up their defender and present targets for Shrader to hit.

As the Orange move into the toughest stretch of their season the ability for the offense to leave red zone trips with touchdowns and not field goals will likely increase in importance. It’s nice to have a reliable kicker like Andre Szmyt but trying to win games on field goals is a challenge we’d like to leave in the past.