Before Syracuse’s football season fades completely away to be remembered only under the gauzy film of memory as a 7-6 team that won a bowl game, perhaps we should look at a couple things that bode well for the future.
As the season wound down, the Syracuse offense picked up its play. There are many obvious reasons for this improvement that most teams go through over the course of the season – gains in experience for both players and coaches, familiarity with teammates and the offensive schemes and playbooks, and so on. In particular, some things shown by the offense in the Boston College game where SU clinched bowl eligibility and their bowl victory over Minnesota suggest future gains starting next season.
First, in the season finale against BC, the Orange rolled up 480 yards, 30 first downs, and 34 points and that last figure should have been even greater. Syracuse had a dozen drives in the game, one of which was ended when they gained possession with 40 seconds left in the second quarter and opted to go to halftime.
Of their other 11 possessions, the Orange scored on six and had two other threats end in zero points. The second and third possessions of the game ended on a missed 30-yard field goal by Ryan Norton and a failed attempt on fourth-and-goal from the Eagles’ two, the latter decision likely driven in part by the previous miss. In short, SU was very close to scoring on eight of 11 drives in the game.
The recurring theme of these drives that resulted in points, or at least the threat of points? Limited negative plays.
The Orange gave up two sacks to Boston College, one on the drive that ended in a missed field goal, the other on the last play of the first half.
The Orange committed two penalties on one drive that ended with a field goal. The first came directly after a BC offsides call to even the ledger and the second was a holding call on the last set of downs that essentially sentenced the Orange to settle for a field goal try.
On Syracuse’s other five scoring drives, the offense had two negative plays from scrimmage – a run for a loss of one yard and a run for a loss of four.
On SU’s six scoring drives, they ran 64 offensive plays. They committed two penalties and had two plays lose yards. That is it. Four negative plays (one was a pre-snap penalty) out of 64 snaps.
It was not the most flashy offense, but you cannot debate that it was successful.
In the Texas Bowl matchup with Minnesota, SU had ten possessions. All but one saw the Orange move the sticks at least once. Eight of those drives ended inside the Minnesota 40 and, just as in the game against Boston College, the Orange again turned the ball over on downs once (on a fake field goal) and missed another field goal try. At this point punters will have been keeping a key eye on the latest betting odds at bookmakers.co.uk.
And again, when the Orange simply cleaned up their play, the offense was successful. Syracuse committed five offensive flags in the game and the only one that came on a scoring drive was a false start on the play before Terrel Hunt’s game-winning sprint to the end zone. That flag and a one-yard loss on a run play were the only negative plays on SU’s three scoring drives, which totaled 29 plays, in the Texas Bowl.
There is one element that is blatantly missing from this offense. Big plays. Here’s a list of them from the last two games:
Against BC and Minnesota, SU had nine scoring drives and they had three plays of more than 25 yards in those possessions. Every scoring drive, save for the one set up at the Gophers’ 14 by Estime’s monster punt return, needed a minimum of eight offensive plays and three of them required 14, 14, and 15 offensive plays.
Four big plays over two games does not cut it and the Orange need to generate more drive- and game-altering plays to continue to improve their offensive output.
That said, there is one good thing to note about those big plays. The three players who made them are all young and earned opportunities late in the season, pointing toward a bigger impact next season, possibly as the sizzle to the steak that is the consistent SU offense that grinds up yards. They all line up outside and suggest that some of those screens and short passes will soon turn into missed tackles and orange helmets streaking down the field next year, especially as Hunt continues the upward arc he showed late in the season.
There’s a lot to like about the SU offense and it should only get better.Jim Stechschulte (Follow on Twitter @dsafetyguy)