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Three Key Improvements for SU in 2021

Folks, one month is all that separates us from Syracuse Football and the 2021 campaign! Soon you won’t have to hype up the Orange and defend Dino Babers in small talk college football conversation on the golf course. All the offseason banter becomes meaningless when the Orange take the field in Athens, Ohio against the Bobcats on September 4th

Hate to bring up last season, but it was downright terrible. Let’s not forget. SU finished 1-10, its worst record since 2005. Syracuse struggled in several key statistical categories, and well struggle is really just one word that sums it up so we’ll leave it at that.  

But things seem to be back to normal this year and hopefully the typical winter, spring, and summer sessions have the ‘Cuse ready to complete fall camp and gear up for a big season. To get the much needed results in the win-loss column, here are three areas where SU needs to improve in 2021.  

All stats courtesy of

Third Down Conversions 

Syracuse’s best player is arguably one of its specialists every season. Last year Nolan Cooney had a breakout season which is good and all if you love the kicking aspect of football. If you’re more of an offense guy then it’s not such a good thing. 

SU finished dead second-to-last amongst power five teams in third down conversions and the only team trailing was Kansas (that should tell you everything you need to know). Syracuse moved the chains on just 26.14% of its opportunities which marked 123rd out of 127 eligible teams last year. Is that bad? 

What should help nurture this statistic this season is the deep running back room, a healthy front five, and potentially a mobile quarterback in Garrett Shrader. The best way to rack up a higher percentage is to make third down conversions manageable ie. within 4-6 yards of the sticks. How does an offense stay on schedule? Don’t take sacks or have negative plays. 

Back in 2019, the Orange converted at a 38.62% clip which finished 75th in the country. That’s still not in the top half of the country, but it could get the job done. 

Red Zone Scoring Percentage

This is downright embarrassing. The amount of times Syracuse has been given great starting field position via a turnover just to have it wasted when the Orange can’t punch the ball in for a score or settle for a meaningless field goal… it’s maddening.

Last season ‘Cuse’s red zone scoring percentage was just 66.67%. That means whenever the Orange advanced inside the opponents twenty-yard line, they cashed in twice in every three tries. This number should be up around 90-100%. A below average kicker can make a chipshot 30-yard field goal if a drive stalls in the red zone. 

The 66.67% conversion rate ranked 121st out of 127 eligible teams and tied with Georgia Tech for worst in the ACC. The biggest gripe SU fans should have about this is the amount of times Syracuse fails to score TOUCHDOWNS  in the red zone. Szmyt’s chip shots are great for the Lou Groza Award, but not for winning football games and making a bowl game. 

Opponent Third Downs Per Game 

There were so many options for this third spot (which really isn’t a good thing). We’re going back to the third down conversions for this one though but flipping to the other side of the ball. As bad as the offense was at advancing over the line to gain, the defense was terrible at getting opposing offense’s off the field.

Syracuse finished 121st out of 127 teams and 63rd amongst the 65 power five teams allowing 7.5 third down conversions per game. As good as Tony White’s 3-3-5 was at forcing turnovers and creating pressure, it wasn’t sustainable in the payoff situations. Time after time after time, running back after running back after running back found a gaping hole and moved the chains. 

If SU wants to win some games, pull some upsets, or even just be more competitive, it has to get teams off the field on third down. Furthermore, the more you can get stops, the more time you’ll have the rest and make adjustments on the sideline. This figure and really many of these numbers could be skewed because the SU offense was a three-and-out machine in 2020. 

Honorable Mentions: 

  • Penalty Yards per Game (105th out of 127 teams, 67.3 yards)
  • Yards per Play (124th out of 127 teams, 4.2 yards) 
  • Average Time of Possession (127th out of 127 teams, 24:17)  

When a team finishes as one of the worst power five teams, if not college football teams in the nation they probably won’t represent well on paper either. There are a lot of things to improve on this year but hey on the bright side, the only way is up, right? 

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