Football

Syracuse continues to transition to fast-paced offense in spring practice

Ziniu Chen | Staff Photographer

Terrel Hunt and the Syracuse offense has undergone a chance of pace throughout last season, and in spring practice.Offensive coordinator George McDonald has implemented this change, and believes it perfectly fits SU's personnel.

When Syracuse’s offense slowed down in practice one day, quarterbacks coach Tim Lester quickly grew antsy.

“I swear to you, it was the longest 20 minutes of my life,” Lester said. “It felt like we were going at a snail’s pace.”

That drive — an effort to help the defense prepare for a different look — has been the exception for Syracuse’s offense this spring, not the norm. Offensive coordinator George McDonald has talked at length about playing “full-bore fast,” a shift in mentality that started early last season and continued throughout the year.

Now McDonald is working to ensure SU’s offense reaches an even faster pace. Syracuse averaged 73.7 plays a game last year — fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference. This year he hopes that number jumps to 84, and also said he’d love to get a play off every 18 seconds. He wants balance, simplicity and speed, with quarterback Terrel Hunt as the anchor.

“I love it,” Hunt said. “I just listen to what (McDonald) says. He tells us to go fast, we go fast.”

McDonald said the goal is to have his players do everything faster and think less in the process. Though the offense became simpler last year, McDonald said it was still too complex.

This year, he wants Hunt and Co. to just go.

“The best way to do that is to continue to cut, cut, cut, cut,” McDonald said, “until you really get the nuts and bolts where they can go out and execute with their eyes closed and be really efficient.”

The switch first came last season in the second half against Northwestern on Sept. 7. Syracuse had only scored 24 points in six quarters on the season and trailed the Wildcats 34-7 at the break.

Lester said the offense was sputtering, and the execution simply wasn’t high enough. They had practiced the fast-paced offense in great detail at camp during the spring.

“We figured OK, let’s spread ’em out,” Lester said. “Let’s crank this thing up and see what happens.

“At that point we kind of found who we were and found our identity. We’ve just continued to try and build on it ever since.”

Since then, Syracuse has spent even more time mastering its newly adopted approach.

The offense has become something of McDonald’s brainchild. He assigned members of his coaching staff to study various teams’ offenses in an effort to shape an offensive dynamo.

Then he concocted what he felt was the perfect fit, plucking pieces and melding them into a new scheme.

Lester looked at Texas A&M, Missouri, UCLA, Ohio State and the Philadelphia Eagles, among others.

McDonald found that Texas Tech ran the most plays in the country at 87 per game. In Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett’s last season at Syracuse in 2012, the offense ran close to 80 plays a game.

In spring practice, as soon as one play’s over, a manager signals to start the next one. Normally they’d have to wait for an official, but this spring it’s one play after the next and the offense is often moving faster than it would be legally allowed to in a game.

One key component is cutting corners and getting more people involved. The offense fits Hunt perfectly, Lester said, because it caters to his athleticism and ability to improvise.

“Most of my communication is short,” Hunt said. “I just have to go to the line and tell them what to do. The receivers are getting it from the sideline, so we’re all ready.”

Lester and Hunt have grown accustomed to the fast-paced offense, but Lester realizes it would appear ridiculously swift to a bystander watching for the first time.

Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer said the transition to a more zippy offense has been relatively seamless. His players grew accustomed to the change last season, and now they’re working to iron out the kinks.

“It’s been smooth. It’s been real smooth,” Shafer said. “We went up-tempo a little bit those last couple games especially, and I think the kids were eager to get back into that, as were the coaches.”

With McDonald’s goal at 84, he’s hoping to dwarf Syracuse’s mark from a year ago. That 10-play increase would result from converting on third down and playing more efficient, mistake-free football, he said.

The change in pace is a strategy, but execution remains the key.

Said McDonald: “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how fast you play if you’re not scoring points.”

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