Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey posed a simple question upon greeting the media after Syracuse’s 27-24 upset over No. 2-ranked Clemson: “Who thought we were gonna win today?”
After a couple of hands were raised, Dungey responded with “nobody believes in us except for us.” And if we’re being honest here, no one would deny him the opportunity to relish his I Told You So moment. The defending national champion Clemson Tigers, in a prime-time Friday night spot on the 4-letter network, played Goliath to Syracuse’s David. The Tigers had pretty much buzz-sawed their first six opponents of the season. I mean, it’s understandable if most of the prognosticators envisioned a long night instore for Syracuse. Some dope went so far as to think Clemson would double up the Orange.
Shades of last year’s 54-0 annihilation at Clemson, a game in which Dungey was knocked out, had to be driving Syracuse’s desire for payback. If the Orange had any chance to pull off the upset, the junior signal caller’s finger prints would certainly be all over the results. And as he has done so many times since taking the QB reigns from an injured Terrel Hunt in his first game as a true freshman, Dungey stood tall in the face of pressure, both figuratively and literally, completing 20-of-32 passes for 278 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also carried the ball 21 times for 61 yards including a 45-yard scamper. But Dungey wasn’t simply a one-man gang. He had a lot of help from his friends.
Steve Ishmael and Erv Philips, the Batman and Robin of Syracuse’s receiving corps, hauled in a combined ten catches for 167 yards with one TD apiece. Philips raced to the endzone on a 66-yard pitch-and-catch while Ishmael, the ACC’s leading receiver, grabbed a 30-yard score. He had another TD called back after the tickiest of tackiest offensive pass interference calls. As they’ve done all year, Ishmael continues to toy with opposing defensive backs while Philips uses blazing speed to win foot race after foot race.
Dontae Strickland, Dungey’s backfield buddy, and the offensive line deserve their share of credit too. Strickland carried the ball 19 times for 78 yards. He also got SU on the board early with a 23-yard TD reception. But make no mistake, after struggling for much of the season before the OL started to gel, Strickland made his presence known by gashing the vaunted Clemson defense, especially in the fourth quarter. He carried the ball five times for 19 yards on the decisive drive that resulted in Cole Murphy’s game-winning field goal. And he recovered what would’ve been a disastrous turnover at the Syracuse 44-yard line after Dungey fumbled. Strickland also carried another five times for 18 yards when Syracuse killed the clock to ice the game. Make no mistake, Strickland played Big Boy Football when his team needed it most.
We’d be remiss without mentioning the Herculean effort put forth by a Syracuse defense that allowed only 17 points to the Clemson offense. Chris Slayton, Alton Robinson, Zaire Franklin, and Parris Bennett each had a sack. The defense allowed only 317 yards on offense, held Clemson to 2-of-11 on third down, and foiled both fourth down attempts by the Tigers. After surrendering Madden-esque numbers to almost every opponent last season, this year’s defense is rounding into a unit that it isn’t one to be trifled with. They don’t force a lot of turnovers or get a lot of sacks but they are hell on third down. The Syracuse defense is currently third in the nation in fewest third down conversions allowed at 23.9 percent trailing only Michigan and Georgia Tech.
Syracuse now sits two wins away from bowl eligibility. The most likely candidates being its two remaining home contests against Wake Forest and Boston College. But if the Orange pulled a road upset at Miami, at a wounded Florida State, or at Louisville, given that they just gave up 45 points to BC in a home loss, would anyone be surprised?
Eric Dungey and his teammates have earned their gloating privileges after knocking Clemson from the ranks of the unbeaten. And they answered an important question in the process. Something that Virginia Tech learned last year and Clemson learned this year.