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Syracuse is defined by its special teams, not its offense

Leverage, hidden yards, and starting ahead.

North Carolina v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Syracuse averages nearly 43 points per game, but you’d never know it looking at the advanced statistics, so I got to wondering about the disconnect there. This offense checks most of the boxes you’d look for: 5.9 yards per play, with an average of well over 200 yards rushing and passing per game.

None of those numbers are adjusted for schedule strength, mind you, which is partly the tell: Syracuse has played exactly one team in the S&P+ top-70, and while it managed a heroic effort in that one game (against Clemson), it lost.

Basically, when you strip everything away and look at the underlying performance, neither Syracuse’s offense, nor the team’s results in general, are especially impressive. But. But!

Syracuse has the best special teams unit in the country, and that matters a lot—I don’t think I need to explain to y’all how much good kicking, in all facets, can make a considerable difference. You’ve seen, you’ve heard, you know.

Syracuse’s offense starts, on average, at its own 37. That’s tops in the country. Syracuse’s opponents are averaging a drive start at their own 26. That ranks 11th. The Orange routinely win the ol’ “hidden yardage” war, and they are proof of its significant value.

You do not have to be great offensively to finish drives when you are immediately granted a couple of first downs. The farther down the field you start, the fewer plays you theoretically need to score, and thus the odds of tripping over your own dick decrease.

The inverse is true on the defensive side. When your opponent has to go 75 yards every time, more often than not it’s going to take a lot of plays to score, which increases the odds of them screwing something up along the way, and you get to smile as they shovel themselves into their own punt-laden grave. Let them die on that tepid mound, because any efficient approach to football begins with the acknowledgment that your opponent is probably a wimp.

Field position is a weapon, and no one is leveraging that better than Syracuse, which has turned the ball over nine times but forced 17 takeaways. When you make the other team work from behind in terms of field position, that’s its own pressure. Bend, don’t break, and just wait around until they vomit something up.