Syracuse’s head coach Dino Babers runs exactly the sort of offensive system you would expect from a former Briles assistant. Footballstudyhall’s adjusted pace statistic has them ranked as the sixth quickest offense in the country. Quarterback Eric Dungley is a legitimate dual threat on pace to throw for nearly 4,000 yards. Receiver Amba Etto-Tawo has 1,000 yards through the air on the year already. For a team in its first year in a new system, Syracuse is taking to Babers offense fantastically, and might grow into a serious problem in a couple of years.
The Orange will line up largely in either 10, 11 or empty personnel and operate largely (though not exclusively) from the shotgun. The wide receivers will align with massively wide splits and the offensive line will be almost shoulder to shoulder. In theory this creates a lot of space out wide as well as a need for a lot of defenders to remain in a compact space to defend the run.
The issue here is that Syracuse is not that good at running the ball. At all. Bad enough that their success rate is the worst in the country. As it stands now, around two thirds of Syracuse’s runs fail to gain enough yardage to reliably keep the chains moving (success rate). There is some explosiveness, both running backs have runs of 49 yards and Dungey has a 31 yarder of his own, but it is far too rarely seen. As it stands, around a fifth of Syracuse carries get stopped before gaining an inch, good for 88th in the nation. Syracuse still tries to run the ball quite a bit, having gone to the ground game 331 times this year, but struggles with the offensive line as well as very small backs have combined to hinder efficiency. Only Dungey is listed above 200 pounds (207) and backup Moe Neal is listed under 170.
The Orange brought back every skill player of note, but only returned two offensive linemen and it shows.
Whether running inside zone, counter or power there just doesn’t seem to be a way for this offensive line to move good fronts off the ball. Nor does it do a fantastic job of blocking at the second level on combo blocks. Though 21 sacks is a little high, given how often Syracuse throws the ball it’s not an absurd number. Some of that is helped by how many passes are tied to the run game. Inside zone runs are usually tagged with either a stick route to the innermost slot receiver or a bubble screen out wide. Syracuse will typically use the bubble screen if Dungey is running zone read.
Sometimes the backside receiver will be an option on a hitch route, as on this power run.
While the Syracuse run game itself is nothing to write home about the Orange have been able to shred teams on the passing aspect of run pass options. In many ways the RPO has replaced their quick game. Other than the run pass option the Orange like to push the ball downfield. The majority of their drop back passing game consists of four verts, switch routes, comebacks and the occasional crossing route over the middle of the field.
This simplicity, as well as fantastic WR depth, help Syracuse push the ball up field effectively.
Particularly when combined with frequent play action and the threat of Dungey scrambling for a first down.
If a defensive lineman jumps off sides Dungey will automatically snap the ball and live out every time he’s dreamed about saying screw it I’m going deep. Against Notre Dame three off sides in a half led to three 20-plus yard gains and a touchdown.
If Syracuse is going to move the ball against Clemson it will do so through the air. Discipline will be key against this team, the run aspect of RPO’s has not been dangerous, but it has gotten other teams defenders out of position for dangerous passes. A corner or safety gambling too early could easily lead to a slot receiver coming open 20 yards downfield. Babers is as aggressive a coach as they come, and will go for it on fourth from anywhere. He has a good scheme and the talent to run the passing aspects of it very well. Ultimately however I think the lack of running game and at times shaky pass protection will force Syracuse into a lot of three and outs and keep them from keeping this game too close.
Clemson 45-Syracuse 21