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Tipping Points: West Virginia

This essay is Part 1 of a series of about 12 detailing the plight of Syracuse Football 2005. The structure of the essays is derived from the looking glass erected by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. For more information about Gladwell's book and the data used for the following examination, check out this previous essay.

Final Score: 7-15
Box Score

Tipping Points: West Virginia
CategorySyracuseWest Virginia

Following Syracuse’s tilt with West Virginia, a lot was made of the number of turnovers the Syracuse defense forced the Mountaineers to commit. While the disparity was fairly substantial on a per drive basis (0.118 to 0.294), the simple fact that the Orange won the turnover battle yet lost the game is not the most important storyline emerging from the contest.

One of the key statistical categories that demands recognition is yards per pass attempt (differential). When a team has a yards per pass attempt (differential) in its favor by at least 2.0 to 2.5, a team is all but assured victory. Unfortunately for the Orange, Syracuse was out muscled by the Mountaineers in this statistical category by a 3.443 clip. The inability of Syracuse to stretch the field via the pass ultimately rendered all the turnovers the defense caused useless.

While West Virginia was careless with the football, it was not suicidal since the Mountaineers was able to eat up larger chunks of the field through the air, thus making Syracuse drive the ball further when the Orange actually possessed the football. Concededly, West Virginia’s advantage in yards per pass attempt (differential) did not totally neutralize the turnovers they were committing, but it did create a situation where Syracuse was always running uphill, even when it was in a position to even the playing field.

To further elaborate on the “running uphill” comment, the inability to pass the football affected all aspects of the Syracuse offense and, residually, the Orange defense. When a team cannot rush the football (which Syracuse couldn’t, evidenced by a 0.69 yards per rushing attempt average), it is often put in a position where it needs to throw the ball to extend drives and convert long third downs. When a team can’t throw the ball effectively, these aspects of efficiency can’t be accomplished.

Additionally, when a team can’t throw the ball, a defense is put in the precarious position of defending short fields and having to score on its own. Consequently, the defense becomes more fatigued having to stay on the field longer because the offense cannot stay on the field lengthening drives. This all, unfortunately, will lead to a sorry result.

Another statistic that sticks out like a sore thumb from this game was the difference in total offensive benefit. Syracuse’s offense only generated a hair above a half a point through 60 minutes of football; West Virginia, on the other hand, managed to generate 8.25 points on offense. If Syracuse’s offense had been, at the very minimum, average, it is very likely that the Orange could have overcome the West Virginia attack. By only allowing the opponent to create fewer than ten points on offense, the defense did all that it could to keep Syracuse in the game. Perry Patterson and his cronies did everything in their power to neutralize that effort.

Finally, the great indicator of Syracuse’s sorry offensive performance was the combination of yards per drive and third down efficiency. In the former category, Syracuse was out gained per drive by almost 14 yards (6.059 to 19.941). In the latter, 0.00% to 7.14%. While the performance of neither squad was earth-shaking, to have Syracuse at such a disadvantage is fairly shocking. Brendan Carney can only eat up the disparity so much, after that the offense must move the football in order to give the defense some green behind them.

The formula here was simple:
• Syracuse couldn’t extend drives;
• Neither could West Virginia, but the Mountaineers were significantly better than Syracuse at doing it;
• With more opportunities to extend drives and score inuring to the Mountaineers, Syracuse’s defense would have less room for error while the Orange offense would have more ground to cover to score; thus
• Syracuse was in a position where they need the miraculous to happen (“pick six,” “Hail Mary,” etc.) in order to level the playing field.

And, of course, none of this came to be.

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