Syracuse’s 3rd-down offense makes strides in win

first_imgWINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Throughout AJ Long’s up-and-down performance as a first-time starter, Tim Lester said moving the chains on third down was his most consistent improvement from a week prior.Head coach Scott Shafer has pinpointed a 45 percent third-down conversion rate as SU’s goal. In the first half on Saturday, his offense blew away its actual percentage through six games, 33.4, as well as Shafer’s target figure, nailing six of its nine first-half attempts on third down.After a conservative second half, the Orange’s (3-4, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) final tally on third-down conversions was 9-of-19 — 47.4 percent — in its 30-7 defeat of Wake Forest (2-5, 0-3). It allowed Syracuse’s offense to rack up 370 total yards and although the red-zone attack reached the end zone just once, the Orange tacked on enough points to sweep the Demon Deacons away without much resistance.“We kept converting on third down and that’s hard to do as a quarterback,” Lester said. “… We’re getting better on third down and just got to keep working on the red zone.”During one stretch in the first half, SU earned a new set of downs on six out of seven third downs, with Long accounting for all but one with his feet or arm.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textLong was especially impressive handling a pair of third-and-11s on SU’s second drive. He connected with fellow freshman Steve Ishmael on the right to convert the first and scrambled left to find his cousin Jarrod West three plays later for the second. In the third quarter, Long and Ishmael linked up for a 33-yard gain on third-and-14.But the trick was not making those long-distance situations a habit.“We didn’t get in too many third-and-longs,” left tackle Sean Hickey said. “That’s the key. If you get in third-and-long, it’s kind of over. Whenever you’re in third-and-medium, third-and-short, you make it manageable and it gets a lot easier.”On the Orange’s only offensive touchdown drive, SU only moved the chains on four third downs before Long punched the ball in from 4 yards out.Lester had a hard time picking out another area of improvement he saw in Long aside from third-down execution.But considering SU converted 6-of-10 against Florida State on Oct. 11, that’s no knock on his true freshman quarterback. “Last week we were really good on third down,” Lester said shortly after Saturday’s game. “I don’t know what we were today, but I’m willing to bet it was pretty good.” Comments Published on October 19, 2014 at 11:56 pm Contact Phil: [email protected] | @PhilDAbb Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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