For Syracuse football, growth comes with pains of mistakes

Dungey is still learning Syracuse's offensive system
Dungey is still learning Syracuse’s offensive system

Have a little patience.

It is painfully apparent it’s going to take time before the Syracuse Orange comes close to hitting on all cylinders this season.

For the first 15 minutes, the signature fast-paced, risk-taking offense from Coach Dino Babers was on display in front of the sparse Dome crowd. Eric Dungey, the gritty Orange soph QB, led the offense to the game’s first 17 points. Everything was clicking. For starters, Dontae Strickland unleashed a ground game not seen in the first two games. Dungey, who took his share of hits last week against Louisville, converted SU’s first fourth down conversion on the game’s first drive on a fourth-and-one on the Orange’s 45 yard line.

Erv Phillips and Brisly Estime were key contributors in the first quarter, as well. Phillips snared a 24-yard TD grab on his team’s first possession then Estime raced 47 yards for a score after South Florida went three-and-out of its first drive.
After Cole Murphy tacked on a 40-yard FG to make the score 17-0 in favor of the home team, everything was rolling SU’s way.

Then in a flash, or more like a missed fourth down conversion, the game’s momentum clearly shifted to the Bulls, who outscored the Orange 45-3 en route to the 45-20 victory.

While Orange Nation may want immediate results from the spirited Babers, who piloted Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green for two seasons each before this season, it may take another game or two to see consistency for four quarters.

“We were really doing the things that we wanted to do. We started well,” Babers told the pool of reporters after the game. “I have a lot of disappointment on my face because I really thought we could have won this game.”

» Related: Before Syracuse, Babers’ teams at Eastern Illinois, Bowling Green were routed, too

While Dungey may be no Robert Griffin III, the Heisman-winning quarterback Babers mentored as an assistant at Baylor, the soph signal-caller from Lake Oswego, OR, certainly has his coach’s confidence in running the Orange attack.

“I think Eric is progressing nicely, but he’s not totally there yet,” Babers said, noting this is only Dungey’s third game in the system. “He’s growing.”

Then he added, “I can’t wait until he gets two more games to see him get better.”

Zaire Franklin, the junior linebacker who is the leader on the defense, admitted his unit also must play in unison and that didn’t happen against South Florida. Time and time again the South Florida attack, guided by fleet-footed quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back Marion Mack, had its way against the Orange.

“We had a few defensive breakdowns that changed the momentum in the game,” Franklin said. “When you’re playing dynamic players, they are going to make you pay.”

The game’s stat sheet is a bit deceiving. SU outgained the visitors, 549-454. Dungey completed 32-of-48 for 350 yards. Dontae Strickland gained 127 yards on the ground.

It is all part of the learning curve in the foundation that the new Orange coach is building.

“We have to find a way to win,” Babers said. “No excuses.”

There may be a day soon when the offense takes advantage of its opportunities and the defense rises to thwart the opponent’s assault.

“We are not there today, but we will get there someday,” the coach reasoned.

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About John Zych 28 Articles
John is an active freelance writer, photographer and editor. His credits include being an official photographer at the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central New York Ms. Orange Fan Luncheon and regularly contributing to SU and Eagle Newspapers. Prior to that, he was the managing Editor and journalist for several community newspaper groups from 1985-1997 including the Oneida Dispatch, Eagle Newspapers and Taconic Media (Millbrook, NY).