The most exciting play for Syracuse in their 31-15 loss to Notre Dame was a Riley Dixon 42-yard run off of a fake punt. At the time, the play put Syracuse, down by 18, in position to cut into the lead in the middle of the third quarter. While the Orange did not end up scoring on the possession, it was a great play call based on how the Irish were defending Syracuse punts all game.
Syracuse lines up in their spread punt protection formation. It looks the same as it has all game. As they had shown previously, the Irish do not look to block the punt but rather to set up a return. The two Irish players on the outside of the line rush up the field. The two on the inside (circled in the picture below) go towards the outside. The key, however, are the two Notre Dame players who are lined up as linebackers. They both immediately sprint back, the one on the right side of the picture turning his back to the football.
Dixon catches the ball and the three Syracuse linemen in front of him do their part. The two on the outside push the Irish rushers to the outside, opening up the middle. The Syracuse gunners all springtto the outside, bringing their opposing counterparts with them. Sam Rodgers heads up field with his eye on the Irish defender with his eyes in the backfield (circled below).
Dixon takes off straight ahead with a huge lane to run through because of the way Notre Dame defended and the design by the Syracuse special teams coaches. The Irish player circled on the right in the picture below, originally lined up in the linebacker spot, now has his back turned and does not see Riley start to run. The player to his left, spots Dixon and starts to turn towards him but Rodgers is in perfect position to block him.
Rodgers has his man occupied as Dixon now crosses the line of scrimmage with plenty of room ahead to gain the first down. The outside blockers on punt protection have engaged the Irish edge rushers. If you look at the outside in the picture below, all of the Syracuse gunners are blocking their man, allowing Dixon time to run through the hole. Fantastic execution and taking advantage of most of the Irish special teamers not keeping an eye on the ball after it is snapped.
With Dixon picking up the first down, he still has a lot of green in front of him. The Irish punt return blockers down field have no recognized the fake. As the spring up field, Dixon diverts his run towards the outside where two Syracuse gunners have strong blocks set up to give him room (circled in the picture below).
After Dixon got to the outside, he sprinted up the sideline and ended the play with a 42-yard gain. It was a big highlight for the Orange. It was great coaching to take advantage of Notre Dame’s lack of focus. It was even better design to provide a huge running lane that was executed to perfection.