Chestnut Hill, Mass. — When Dino Babers was examining potential head coaching destinations at the end of 2015, a freshman quarterback for Syracuse football caught his eye.
Eric Dungey, then a string-bean, would scratch and claw and fight for every yard he could gain — even if it meant hurdling a 6-foot-2, NFL-bound safety, for instance. And that was one of the factors that led Babers to ultimately accept a contract offer from former SU athletic director Mark Coyle that December.
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Babers, speaking after the Oranges 42-21 win at Boston College on Saturday, shared that nugget, not for the first time this season, but perhaps the most thoroughly.
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“Im looking at him and I go, Raw. Not refined. But a lot of courage,” Babers said. “That move of faith, some of that was based on Eric Dungey.
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“I think Eric Dungey needed us and I think that Syracuse needed Eric Dungey. Its like a marriage. Together were making this thing work.”
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That winter, Dungey too was facing a pivotal moment in his career. After being forced onto the field when starting quarterback Terrel Hunt tore his Achilles tendon in Syracuses season-opener, Dungey watched as the coaching staff that recruited him was fired before his first campaign ended.
Gone was Tim Lesters multiple scheme centered around downhill running and West Coast passing concepts, as was the uber-personable quarterbacks specialist himself, who sold Dungey on traversing the country to play college ball.
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Dungey needed direction, and he got that in Babers and his hurry-up spread offense. He got that in former offensive coordinator Sean Lewis and quality control coach Matt Johnson.
What he didnt get until this fall was the winning that he so passionately coveted. But the experience and growth Dungey picked up in 2016 and 2017 could be just as beneficial as the exposure in 2018 when it comes time to sell himself at the professional level.
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“I think hes got a lot more to become because I just dont think his stuff is ending here,” Babers said. “Theres not a lot of guys like him, there really isnt.”
Babers has witnessed Dungeys development from that thin scrambler to a linebacker-sized, dual-threat weapon who lowers his shoulder and knocks strong safeties out of games. Dungey is perhaps the largest single contributor, aside from Babers, in the Orange rising into the top 20 and making bowl eligibility — which hadnt been achieved since 2015 — seem like the meager benchmark hes always referred to it as.
While Dungey recovered from back spasms in time to turn in a six-touchdown performance, flexing his muscle as he went, Babers said its conversations on the sideline that hell remember from Dungeys final regular-season game.
Dungey, who said in the offseason that he was hoping to gain more control at the line of scrimmage, continually made good decisions in the zone-read game against the Eagles and appeared to check into a tight formation on one red-zone trip before dropping a picture-perfect fade to freshman wideout Taj Harris.
Until that future, whatever it may be, Im enjoying the fact that our team did what they couldnt and with a bowl game left, are eyeing what they cant do (win 10 games in modern college football). Most fans in the country wont care. We dont have to care about that, either. WE (Syracuses players, coaches, fans, administration) did something great in 2018. Thats all that matters, for this moment anyway.
“The conversations that I had with him today were not like I was having conversations with a senior,” Babers said. “It was like I was having conversations with a graduate assistant. It was like I was having conversations with a young position coach who has an exciting future in front of him, but hes not long in the tooth, he doesnt have a lot of experience.”
After losing its last five games last year, including a 42-14 defeat by BC in the finale, Syracuse was picked to land at the bottom in the Atlantic Division in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason poll. Instead, the Orange (9-3, 6-2) finished second to second-ranked Clemson, and will head to their first bowl game since 2013.
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The debate of Dungeys professional potential is an interesting one thats been occurring behind the scenes. Before being challenged by Tommy DeVito after the North Carolina game, the seniors accuracy and ball security were in legitimate question. The four-plus games hes played in since then have been markedly better.
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Hes completed 62.3 percent of his passes since that week, accounting for 14 touchdowns to three turnovers, and the bolstered precision has led teams to stop backing the box, in turn opening up the running game.
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This version of Dungey is a product of Dungey starting under Babers for three years completed with a renewed emphasis on fundamentals. And it might be sharp enough to overcome the injury history and lack of elite measurables for Dungey to become the first Orange quarterback drafted since Ryan Nassib in 2013.
Stephen Bailey covers Syracuse football for The Post-Standard/Syracuse.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He can also be reached anytime via email.
Weve checked in on the record book from time to time in 2018, and now with the 2018 regular season over, we can look once more and see what fell already, and might be within reach when the Orange play in whatever bowl they end up being sent to (Camping World or Pinstripe).
The best-case scenario for Syracuse appears to be a trip to the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, which has its pick of ACC bowl-eligible programs that are not selected by New Years Six competitions. The Orange is in line to be the highest-ranked among those schools.
Dungey finished off this season with 2,565 passing yards — his second-highest total at Syracuse (he had more in 2016) thus far. If he has a huge effort against whoever we face in the postseason, Dungey would be the second Orange player to ever hit the 3,000-yard mark in one season. On his career, he has 9,037 yards through the air, which puts him just 153 shy of Ryan Nassibs record of 9,190.
Dungeys 1,249 career attempts sit second all-time to Nassibs 1,312m and its probably for the best he doesnt pass that mark in the bowl game. His completions record is a little more attainable, though, as Dungey is just 26 short at 765.
At 1,971 career rushing yards, Dungey is 29 yards away from becoming the second quarterback in Syracuse history to rush for 2,000 or more (joining Bill Hurley). He already has the most rushing touchdowns ever by any Orange QB at 35, and that also ties him with Floyd Little for second-most in school history. Hes not catching Walter Reyes in first with 45.
The seniors 11,008 total yards are already the most of any player in school history, and hell add to that total in December. With six touchdowns against Boston College, he set the single-season record already with 32, and will likely put that one further out of reach for whoever challenges it next. On his career, he has 92 total scores, which is just four behind Donovan McNabbs record.
Longshot here given the shared backfield and Dungeys contributions on the ground, but Neal has 827 yards on the season — 173 away from a 1,000-yard campaign. Seems unlikely hed eclipse the mark, but could be close with a big 13th game.
The junior wideout didnt put up HUGE numbers this year compared to some previous receivers under Dino Babers. Still, 63 catches puts him in the top-10 for single-season totals, with a chance to get into the top five.
SUs stellar former walk-on has slowed down in recent weeks with just one made field goal on three attempts. Hes still 28-of-32 on the year, and owns ACC and Syracuse single-season records for scoring and field goals made. Hes three short of tying the NCAA mark for successful field goals in a season.
Alton Robinson tallied another sack on Saturday, getting his season total to 10 — now one of the top-10 totals in school history. Hes three sacks away from the top-five. Kendall Coleman didnt play against Boston College, but could conceivably get to 10 with a big game against our bowl opponent (he has seven right now).
Andre Cisco added another interception in this one and almost had another. His season total of seven is now tied for the best mark in college football, and is one shy of the single-season mark for Syracuse, too (eight by Tommy Myers in 1971).
Syracuse surpassed the school record for total points already — 468 in 1998 — and now has 489 on the year. That average is just 40.75 per game, however, which is still below the 1998 season average of 42.5 per. If the Orange want to beat that record, theyd need to score over 50 points.
Last year was the new record for total offensive yards at 5,476… until this year, when they hit 5,615 thanks to a very strong effort against Boston College (559). The bowl game will push that record even further upward with a real shot at 6,000. SU was already on the short list of teams with 5,000 total yards this year heading into week 13.