Friday night’s home opener against Central Connecticut State was just about everything Syracuse could hope for. Quarterback Eric Dungey was razor sharp, having a hand in five touchdowns as the Orange (1-0) waltzed to a 50-7 win over the Blue Devils (0-1).
Dungey’s strong play in the first three quarters gave Dino Babers and his staff the opportunity to go deep into their bench and get a look at lots of players on both sides of the ball, including several true freshmen. Eleven different players caught a pass, including a half dozen players snaring at least three receptions, and two dozen different players were credited with a tackle in the contest.
While the offense carried the night with lots of gaudy numbers (586 yards and 34 first downs), the defense looked solid against their overmatched FCS opponent. The Blue Devils were permitted only eight first downs and 167 yards of total offense. Syracuse was often rude to their guests, allowing them to convert only one of their 15 third down opportunities. Austin Valdez was credited with a forced fumble and Kenneth Ruff a fumble recovery while Kingsley Jonathan notched a sack in his first game with the Orange.
Unfortunately, one of the sour notes on the night involved the defense as Antwan Cordy, who missed almost all of last season due to injury, was banged up with what appeared to be an ankle injury early in the game. Cordy watched the second half from the sideline in street clothes and a walking boot.
SU needed barely 12 minutes to get the game in complete control, scoring touchdowns on each of their first three possessions. After receiving the opening kickoff, Dungey directed the Syracuse offense to a score in under three minutes. The junior quarterback hit Steve Ishmael for a 34-yard gain on the second play of the game to get into CCSU territory, then capped the drive by reaching the end zone on an 11-yard keeper, cutting just inside the pylon for the score. Cole Murphy’s extra point made the Orange lead 7-0.
The SU defense forced a three-and-out and a short punt gave the offense the ball at midfield. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Dungey put a pass on the money to Jamal Custis, who pulled in a one-handed 29-yard reception to get to the Blue Devils’ six-yard-line. Dontae Strickland got a handoff on the next play and his sharp cutback to the right resulted in an easy touchdown. Murphy’s extra point made it 14-0 for the Orange just over five minutes into the game.
Steve Ishmael was a force on the third SU possession, catching four passes from Dungey with three of them gaining first down yardage. After Ishmael did so much heavy lifting, his fellow senior wide receiver, Erv Philips, finished the drive by catching a quick swing pass from Dungey and darting into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown. Once more, Murphy booted the extra point and Syracuse owned a 21-0 lead.
At this point, Dungey had connected on all 12 of his passes for 159 yards. He would complete on his first 13 of the game and end up with 28 completions on 36 attempts for 328 yards with three touchdown passes to go with nine rushes for 51 yards and two scores on the ground to lead the SU rushing attack. Ishmael, who had six grabs for 89 yards by this point, would set a pair of personal records with a dozen receptions for 134 yards.
The Syracuse offense would not score again until the midpoint of the second quarter when a drive of nearly five minutes sputtered out at the CCSU 10. Cole Murphy connected on a 29-yard field goal from inside the left hash mark to nudge the Orange lead to 24-0.
Moe Neal made the biggest play of the night on the next SU drive. Dungey floated a swing pass to the sophomore running back in the left flat and Neal used a sharp cutback to avoid two tacklers, then picked up a pair of downfield blocks before diving through another tackler and into the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown reception, the longest play of his brief career. Murphy tacked on the conversion for a 31-0 lead that would carry to halftime.
Central Connecticut posted their best drive of the game coming out of the locker room, marching for a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter. The Orange responded in kind with a scoring drive of their own, going 65 yards in ten plays for a touchdown. Dungey capped the drive with his third scoring pass, flipping a five-yard toss to tight end Ravian Pierce in the end zone. Muprhy pushed the extra point to the right, leaving the score at 37-7 in favor of SU.
Dungey would get one more drive before calling it a night and ended it in style, using a slick ball fake, then waltzing into the end zone from two yards out for his second rushing score of the game. Sterling Hofrichter was given the extra point honors and he cashed it in for a 44-7 lead with under four minutes left in the third quarter.
Redshirt freshman Rex Culpepper took over at quarterback and led the team into field goal position on the next drive, but Hofrichter could not connect on a 51-yard kick, missing to the left. Culpepper got SU into much easier field goal range on the following drive by hooking up with Devin C. Butler for a 42-yard reception. Hofrichter capped this trip with a field goal of 27 yards with just under ten minutes remaining for a 47-7 lead.
Culpepper directed one more scoring drive, getting a lot of help from freshman running back Markenzy Pierre. In his first game in Orange, Pierre carried the ball eight times on the possession, gaining 39 of the 58 yards on the drive. Murphy was given the 39-yard field goal try and his kick was good, giving SU their final points of the night with under a minute on the clock.
Syracuse will face a step up in competition next Saturday night when Middle Tennessee State comes to the Carrier Dome. The Blue Raiders, who are coming off an 8-5 season in Conference USA, will open their season tonight when they host Vanderbilt. Most of note to Orange fans is that former SU head coach Scott Shafer is in his first season as defensive coordinator for MTSU.
Kickoff for next Saturday’s game is set for 3:30pm and the game will be available online through the ACC Network on ESPN3.com.