In Syracuse football's loss to South Florida on Saturday, two fourth down plays were critical momentum swings that had significant impacts on the outcome. The first was a fourth and three that Syracuse failed to convert up 10 in the second quarter. The second was a fourth and one for USF at their own 48.
At the time, the score was 28-20 Bulls, and the Orange had just scored a field goal. Another stop by the Syracuse defense would have turned momentum on their side. Instead, Marlon Mack raced 52-yards for a touchdown that put South Florida up by two scores. The Bulls never looked back.
Let's take a closer look at the critical play.
Take a look at how both teams line up. USF has six offensive linemen with receivers split to the outside on the short side of the field. Quarterback Quinton Flowers is in the shot gun with Mack to his right. The key players to watch for Syracuse are linebacker Parris Bennett and safety Daivon Ellison. Both are circled above.
As South Florida goes through their zone-read action, the offensive line pushes the Syracuse defensive line to the right to free up the wide side of the field. Bennett and Ellison, both anticipating an inside run in a short yardage situation, both take their first steps straight towards the line of scrimmage. This will prove problematic as the play develops.
Look at Bennett here. As Mack takes the handoff and immediately darts to the outside, Bennett has already gone too far inside. His angle to Mack is hindered by the Orange defensive end (who is, yes, being held). This slows Bennett down and causes him to take an improper angle to stop Mack. Ellison also is too far inside, as he needed to immediately take an outside angle. By starting out inside, even for a few steps, it causes Mack to get the proper angle in order to avoid Ellison completely. Daivon is unable to recover due to the speed of Mack.
Here you see Ellison altering his angle after he realizes he was sucked too far inside. Unfortunately for him, it is too late. Bennett (circled) is also too far inside because of Mack's speed and the lack of defenders on that side of the field. South Florida's formation did a nice job spreading the Orange out, so that if players get sucked inside as Bennett and Ellison did, there is nothing but open field for their speedy back.
With the first down in hand, now it is about speed as Mack is simply too fast for either Bennett or Ellison to recover.