Joe Morris, Syracuse’s all-time leading rusher, whose jersey number 47 was retired on Saturday, played his last NFL season with the Cleveland Browns in 1991.
BIG EAST Football kicked off its inaugural season in 1991.
And, former SU head coach Paul Pasqualoni was beginning his first year at the helm in 1991. His Orangemen (that’s what they were called back in the day) reeled off four straight victories, including an upset of No. 5 Florida at the Carrier Dome, to begin the season with a 4-0 record. It was only the fourth time in Syracuse football history that a team began the season with a 4-0 record since the program’s only National Championship in 1959.
Fast-forward 27 years. And we mean fast. In the blink of an eye, Syracuse scored 21 points in the first 5:19 of the game, racking up a combined 184 yards and never looked back, as they coasted to a 51-21 victory against the University of Connecticut Huskies in front of an announced crowd of 36,662 at the Carrier Dome. The Orange is 4-0 for the first time…you guessed it, since 1991.
“We are excited for that,” third-year head coach Dino Babers said about the 4-0 start. “It helps us with the goals that we’re trying to achieve this season. But just like I told the football team, we’re going to take that 4-0 check, and we’re not going to cash it. We’re going to put it in the bank, and we’ve got to start again. If we keep having that attitude, when it’s all said and done, maybe we’ll have enough saved up in the piggy bank to buy something at the end of the season that we’d like.”
Babers liked what he saw in senior quarterback Eric Dungey. Dungey was on the money, completing 21-of-27 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed 16 times for 77 yards and reached pay dirt three times. Dungey scored the Orange’s first two TD’s of the game on runs of two and nine yards, respectively. He then connected with true freshman and Baldwinsville product Gabe Horan on a seven yard score.
“I thought Eric’s leadership was at the forefront today,” Babers shared. “If you really look at the way he handled the first quarter drives, and the things we did the first two or three times we had the football, I think that’s a lot of Eric’s personality being breathed into the rest of the offense.”
SU accumulated 636 yards of total offense on Saturday, their highest output since gaining 621 total yards against Wake Forest last season. Dungey was responsible for 363 yards of that offense, while junior wide receiver and punt returner Sean Riley tacked on 290 all-purpose yards, which now ranks fourth-most in school history.
The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Riley, the smallest player on offense, fielded a punt and scampered 69 yards for a TD at the 10:35 mark of the third quarter, upping the Orange lead to 38-14. It was his first punt return for a touchdown in his career. With 11:21 remaining in the game, Riley was on the receiving end of a 49-yard TD strike from Dungey, to give SU a 48-21 advantage.
Riley matched his career highs of six receptions and one touchdown catch. He set a new career high of 120 receiving yards in the process. Riley finished the day with 11 yards on the ground, 120 in the air, 159 in return yardage-49 kickoff returns and 110 in punt returns.
“Coach prepared us all week for this,” Riley said. “He told us where there would be open spaces, and we just executed.”
“He’s (Riley) a really exciting player,” Babers remarked. “One of the smallest players on the field on the offensive side, and if you think about Antwan Cordy on the defensive side, and you watch the way those guys play, they got a lot of heart. I’m excited for him. I’m not sure everybody has enough faith in that young man and the things he does on the football field with a bunch of giants all around him. I’m really excited, and now I need to challenge him to see if we can bring that same amount of explosiveness into some ACC games.”
ACC play continues this Saturday as the Orange face the undefeated Clemson Tigers, also 4-0 at Death Valley. The Orange shocked the world last year with a 27-24 victory over the defending National Champion Tigers at the Carrier Dome.
“It’s going to be a heck of a game,” Babers said. “You’re playing a fantastic team at their place and all the advantages go to them. We’re going to go, and we’re going to show up. We’re going to have to see. We didn’t do too well the last time we went down there, so we’re going to have to see how much we’ve grown up.”
Said junior defensive end Kendall Coleman, who registered two tackles for a loss of 13 yards and a sack: “I think a win against Clemson means just as much as a win against UConn, Wagner, Florida State and Western Michigan. They’re a great team, and it’s obviously going to be a great challenge, but at the end of the day, it all counts the same if it’s in the win column.”
And for Babers and the Orange, hopefully another deposit in the piggy bank.