After a tidy Week 1 win, Syracuse football spiraled back down to earth with a frustrating 17-7 loss to Rutgers yesterday. There’s a lot more to this game than meets the eye, so let’s dive into some of the key numbers for both teams in the contest.
Including this weekend’s Rutgers game, Syracuse has now drawn more penalties than its opponent in a game 20 times in a 25-game span since the beginning of 2019. To make things worse, Syracuse has drawn fewer penalties than its opponent only three times over that same period – ‘Cuse drew an equal number against Duke in 2019 and Boston College in 2020.
Syracuse got flagged eight times against Rutgers on Saturday, the 13th time SU has drawn eight or more in a game since the start of 2019. If you found yourself complaining that penalties this dumb don’t seem to happen to any other team, there’s some truth to that. Yellow flags have become a consistent drag on Dino Babers’ teams over the past two seasons and change.
Syracuse’s showing on offense Saturday was pretty toothless, but not entirely surprising for anyone used to watching SU the past two seasons. The 258 total yards Syracuse gained was the eighth time since offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s hiring that SU failed to gain 300 or more yards on offense. Unsurprisingly, the Orange are now 0-8 when failing to hit that mark.
For those curious, ‘Cuse gained 357 and 385 yards in 2020’s lone win over Georgia Tech and against Ohio a week ago, respectively. It took a 15-penalty, five turnover performance from the Yellow Jackets a year ago and a 181-yard outburst from Sean Tucker last week for SU to claw out wins. Since Gilbert was hired, the team is averaging 273.9 yards of offense per game and has gone 2-11.
Here’s a number that gets into something pretty off the wall. 9.47 is a number produced by Jon Bois’ Surrender Index to rate one of Syracuse’s punts against Rutgers. The index is a tool designed by Bois, an SB Nation content creator, to assess the “cowardliness” of a team’s decision to punt. You can read more about this metric here or watch Bois’ video on it here.
To save some time, it’s established that a punt rated at 2.5 using this metric is considered average and sensible. As the number increases, it’s supposed to show that a punt was more inadvisable, conservative, or averse to game sense. Babers’ decision to punt on 4th and 10 from the Rutgers 41-yard line with 7:16 left in the game and Syracuse down 17-7 rated as a 9.47 on the scale, certainly enough to validate it as a frustrating decision.
When Tommy DeVito threw incomplete on 3rd and 10 immediately preceding the punt, ESPN’s win probability for Rutgers jumped from 93.8% to 95.2%. Rutgers’ ensuing first down after the punt made it jump to 97.4%, and the game was all but over. In a four-play swing, Rutgers increased its chances to win by 3.6%. Both analytics and humans hated this punt, and it was a fitting bookend to one of the more frustrating afternoons of Syracuse football in recent memory.