Charting A.J. Long

A.J. Long knew he would see the field on Saturday against No. 1 Florida State, but he ended up seeing many more pass attempts than most expected. The true freshman more than held his own in the process, and breaks down all you need to know about his throws, decision-making and more inside.

A.J. Long was as good or better than advertised in his first game action .

It’s true by the numbers, with a final tally of 167 yards on 16 of 27 passing, with a pair of scores and interceptions in the process.

It’s true based on the good ole’ eye test, as Syracuse fans exited the loss to No. 1 Florida State with a certain sense of hope for the future.

It’s true on the staff considering both before and after the game, Scott Shafer and the coaching staff expressed confidence in Long.

48 hours later, it remains true. However, took an even closer look at the true freshman to attempt to identify part of the game plan with Long and to examine what went right and wrong within the numbers. So we charted all of the called passing plays he was in the game for.

Note: The "progression" tab on the following chart is subjective, based here on John Garcia Jr.'s observations.

Play Quarter Down & Distance Drop Progression Target Result
1 1 2nd & 7 3 3 N/A Run-0 yards
2 1 3rd & 7 3 2 Gulley Complete-8 yards
3 2 3rd & 4 3 4 Ishmael Complete-36 yards
4 2 2nd & goal 1 2 Parris Incomplete-Out of Bounds
5 2 3rd & goal 3 1 Parris Incomplete-Drop
6 2 1st & 10 3 2 Flemming Incomplete-Overthrown
7 2 3rd & 6 1 1 N/A Run-7 yards
8 2 2nd & 8 1 1 Morris Incomplete-Drop
9 2 3rd & 8 3 4 Flemming Complete-6 yards (thrown on run)
10 2 2nd & 4 3 1 Gulley Incomplete-Behind Receiver
11 2 3rd & 4 3 2 Gulley Incomplete-Ball Tipped
12 3 2nd & 11 3 2 West Complete-4 yards
13 3 3rd & 6 3 2 Lewis Incomplete-Out of Bounds
14 3 1st & 10 1 1 Philips Complete-9 yards
15 3 3rd & 5 3 3 Ishmael Complete-22 yards (TD)
16 3 2nd & 10 1 1 Gulley Complete-5 yards
17 3 3rd & 5 3 2 Gulley Complete-0 yards
18 3 1st & 10 3 4 Ameen-Moore INT-Trying to Throw Away
19 4 3rd & 5 3 1 Gulley Complete-7 yards
20 4 1st & 10 3 1 Avant Complete-6 yards
21 4 2nd & 4 3 1 Gulley Complete-2 yard loss
22 4 3rd & 6 3 2 Flemming Complete-17 yards
23 4 2nd & 1 3 3 Ishmael Complete-35 yards (TD)
24 4 1st & 10 1 1 Avant Complete-7 yards
25 4 1st & 10 3 1 Gulley Complete-5 yards
26 4 2nd & 5 3 2 Parris Incomplete-Drop
27 4 3rd & 5 3 2 Gulley Complete-5 yards
28 4 1st & 10 3 3 West Incomplete-PBU
29 4 2nd & 10 3 3 West INT-Hit as he Threw

More than a list of numbers, our chart tells a deeper story. First, Long took what was there. Plenty of one-read, bubble screen or swing pass plays were called, but Long didn’t force the issue when more traditional route combinations were asked of him either. Just four of his 27 attempts connected for double-digit yardage. There was no favoring of a particular target, despite a pair of TD tosses to fellow frosh Steve Ishmael, as 10 total players were targeted during his limited playing time. He didn’t press.

Long was patient, as he traveled to the third progression or later about one third (eight of 27) of the time, and this is where most of the big plays for both teams occurred. Sure, both picks were on deeper progressions, but consider the fact that Long was hit on the final blunder and there was a clear -- and correct – attempt to throw the ball away on the prior interception. He didn't have enough on the ball, and it falls on him alone. But after the initial mistake, Long didn’t look to throw while on the run to the left for the remainder of the contest. He showed he can learn from mistakes, even mid-game. But the big positives lay in the deeper progression plays as well, including both scoring throws to Ishmael. Part of it is a tip of the cap to the offensive line for allowing Long the time to get to read No. 3 (on both passes) and the rest goes to Long for timing, velocity and most importantly ball location. The first touchdown showed how he can adjust his trajectory depending on the defensive back’s leverage, as it was inside, where he dropped it in. On the second, it was about execution. Sure, Ishmael may have made a play and had SU near the goal line even if the pass was off-target, but a pin-point shot enabled him to continue his momentum into the end zone.

While Long has plenty to do with the success and flashes he provided, the coaching staff adjusted the game plan as well. It was clear that getting the ball out on early downs was imperative, and it worked. Long faced just two third-down scenarios where the distance was further than six yards, and he converted a staggering seven of 12 plays on football’s “money down,” including one via a run that wasn’t the play design. He adapted, he executed and the combination of Tim Lester and George McDonald made it happen.

On the flip-side, despite all of the positive nature of the effort, there is still a lot to be said about how the Orange’s new passer will pan out. First, there is now game tape of him in action, something FSU couldn’t have prepared with considering Long’s first play in the game was his first play in college. Secondly, that same Seminole staff didn’t exactly look to dial up pressure as much as it normally does, almost daring Long to stay in the pocket and make shorter throws with the road team fielding a big lead.

Long will need to find consistency with the effort and continue to show the ability to adjust to whatever is thrown at him schematically, which he didn’t see a lot of on Saturday. With Austin Wilson banged up and Mitch Kimble a clear No. 3 on the depth chart most of last week, it’s seemingly Long’s show at Wake Forest on Saturday. With added flashes comes added expectations, not to mention a fellow 2-4 team just as desperate as SU to get to the halfway point of bowl eligibility.

So before anyone deems Long the next Donovan McNabb, let’s see how the teenager performs on the road, in a somewhat hostile environment, against a team that is creating a plan to stop him as we speak. Not a bad way to start, though.

CuseNation publisher Mike McAllister contributed to this feature.

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