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Clemson vs. Syracuse: Offensive Scouting Report

Welcome to the land of the Dino-saurs

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Dino Babers runs a variant of the offense Art Briles and co. made famous at Baylor earlier in the decade. However he has not been nearly as married to the power running aspects of that scheme, only once coaching a team that topped five YPC (2013, EIU). What Babers has done instead is lean into the scheme’s air raid influence and take it to the furthest logical extent. Briles and others used their famously wide WR splits to set up the inside run, then throw deep or horizontal screens once defenders cheat up against the pass. Babers, on the other hand, has been using the short pass as the basis of his offense. Both coaches, for example, are famous for using tempo. Briles often used it to run inside zone or power before defensive fronts could get set. Babers often uses it to throw to receivers before the defensive backs get situated. Same concept, different focus. Babers extreme spacing does limit how many concepts he can run, but also makes it significantly more difficult for defenses to disguise coverages. This enables Syracuse to make a living off of throwing slant, curl and pivot routes.

Once teams begin to sit underneath Syracuse is more than happy to let fly with four vertical concepts. This offense requires them to throw it deep to keep the quick passing game viable, and they do, with gusto.

Babers play calls with naked aggression and little regard for conventional wisdom. They go for it on fourth down. Typically the Orange base out of empty or 10 personnel, and Cuse’s running backs are good enough receivers to stay on the field for either situation. Even when Syracuse’s receivers are in the backfield the offense features a heavy dose of flare and wheel routes.

The Orange like to run 11, empty with a tight end, 20 and 12 personnel as well. The Syracuse offense’s heart and soul is JR QB Tony Dungey, who leads the team in rushing yardage, total carries and rushing touchdowns while throwing the ball 281 times for an additional nine touchdowns. Some of this is by necessity, Syracuse’s offensive line is and has been bad. There’s not much else to say when the coach is praising running backs for “turning two yard runs into three yard runs”. Syracuse’s running game often feels like a team doing it out of obligation. The Orange run inside zone, outside zone, power, counter and draw with a healthy mix of run and run pass options. Their most dangerous running plays, due to the sheer amount of times they have to pass the ball, are draws and Dungey scrambling.

With that said in order to open up the rest of the offense the Orange need to at least make a pretense of running Dontae Strickland up the middle. This has been met with mixed success, when he has the blocking he’s dangerous.

These runs up the middle open up RPO’s such as this inside zone + hitch combination.

When Syracuse is in 20 personnel they like to run inside zone with a post route attached. Strickland does not usually have the blocking to set these plays up consistently. Strickland has, however, been pretty effective in short yardage situations to keep the chains moving. Syracuse will often go under center in those scenarios and run a good bit of power, QB sneak and speed option. When the Orange are in the shotgun they tend to call RPO’s on third down and in theory let the defense pick how they get beat. Here, for example, teams can either play the inside zone handoff, the QB keeper, or the throw to the tight end in the flats. The tight end in the flats often winds up wide open, which is fortunate, because you can see how poorly the handoff may have wound up.

I would expect Clemson to do what they did last year and spend quite a bit of time with three down linemen. Last year the Tigers proved they were able to consistently get pressure with three down linemen and I see little reason to think that changed this year. The Orange have already given up fifteen sacks this year and Dungey has ran his way out of several others.

By dropping eight men into coverage Venables was able to frustrate the short passing game the Orange base their offense around.

Syracuse is also starting a freshman center, and he and the rest of the line have struggled in blitz/stunt pickup. Dungey may be facing pressure on the majority of his throws.

Alternately Syracuse is left with the prospect of trying to run the ball into a line will easily feature multiple first round draft picks. The Orange will attempt to use a lot of draws and screens to counteract Clemson’s defensive aggression, and they’re good at both, but it likely won’t be enough. The tempo Babers loves is much less dangerous against a thinner Clemson defense if it results in rapid three, four, five play drives and a punt. The advantage Clemson has in the trenches should enable Venables to flood the field with speedy defensive backs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dorian O’Daniel spending time at inside linebacker in an attempt to get as speed as possible on the field. Syracuse is well coached and afraid of nothing, this is a Friday night away game and it could easily get weird. I don’t think Clemson is going to cover the three touchdown plus spread, but I do expect the Tigers to win comfortably.

Clemson 31 - Syracuse 17