The Orange opened their season away from the Carrier Dome last week for the first time in five years. Senior quarterback Eric Dungey had 384 all-purpose yards and 3 total touchdowns, propelling his team to a 55-42 win against Western Michigan.
Saturday, Syracuse will host the Wagner Seahawks in their home opener. It’s the first of a three game “dome stand” that will include a visit from Florida State next week and UConn the following week. Right now, however, the Orange are focused on taking care of business against Wagner. Here’s what to watch for when things get underway tomorrow at 3:30 in the Carrier Dome.
The Eric Dungey Show
His dominant performance in Kalamazoo evinced Heisman chatter as well as ACC quarterback of the week honors. Dungey is as dynamic as they come at the position and the heart and soul of the Orange’s offensive attack, but if you asked him, you might get a different answer.
“Its reps, I take all the blame,” said quarterback Eric Dungey. “I’ve gotta put balls in better spots, that’s my fault, people are gonna blame Devin, but that’s on me.”
Dungey was unhappy he couldn’t connect on three different deep balls with Devin Butler, who wound up with no catches on the day. Butler, a junior from Maryland, had the most receiving yards out of any returning wideout entering the 2018 season. While Dungey was unimpressed with his effort, his coach on the other hand, had nothing but high praise.
“He was a warrior, you guys saw that,” said Head Coach Dino Babers. “He’s so big, he’s stiff arming people, I mean… he’s unbelievable.”
Should this one be a blowout, as many are projecting it will be—Tommy DeVito should get another opportunity. The redshirt freshman was 4 for 9 in the air, racking up just 42 yards against Western Michigan. While he struggled in the season opener, some mistakes he made can be fixed or weren’t necessarily his fault. There were receiver drops and his offensive line let him down as he was sacked twice. DeVito didn’t have the perfect conditions that he seems to need. However, he’ll need to start making decisions quicker and getting better reads on the defense. Wagner’s defense is a bit slower, so he should have an opportunity to go through his reads and have more success than he did against Western Michigan.
The Running Game
Coach Babers has implored more of a power and downhill look to their game this season so far. The Orange are lining up in a “Power I” formation with one receiver, two tight ends and two running backs to make it obvious that they’re running the football—challenging defenses to stop them. Using Moe Neal and Dontae Strickland with power formations was beneficial against Western Michigan because of their undersized front 7, as all of them were 6’3” 240 pounds or less.
An emphasis on the Power I formation has lead to more success on first and second down, with 17 of the 26 first downs the Orange had last week coming on the ground. Last year, Neal and Strickland were averaging less than 3 yards a carry, setting up the offense for failure when they’d get in second and long situations. In 2017, the two combined for just 5 total rushing touchdowns and last week alone, they collected 4.
Is Jamal Custis the real deal?
The redshirt senior was Dungey’s number 1 target last week, hauling in 6 passes for 168 yards and 2 scores. His 168 yard day was 48 yards more than all of the receiving yards Custis had in 2017. Custis made the Pro Football Focus ACC Team of the Week on offense, earning a 86.7 grade.
In last year’s campaign he had drops and injuries, so Devin Butler took over in his place. While its yet to be seen if Custis can perform on a consistent basis and remain the number 1 guy, he’ll have another chance for a big day against Wagner’s lackluster defense.
The Defense has room to improve
It’s no secret that the Syracuse defense is this team’s achilles heel. Giving up 42 points to Western Michigan, they let John Wassink throw for 382 yards and 3 touchdowns. The secondary was focused on playing tighter coverage at the line of scrimmage, something Syracuse IMG Sports Network color analyst Julian Whigman says resulted in blown coverages.
“Guys in the ACC will be even quicker, and they’ll have to be able to build confidence and choke some receivers and play blanket coverage,” Whigham said. “There was a corner route, a seam route and a stop route and all of them were open. It was the worst route that the Western Michigan offense could have hit and they still scored.”
Stopping NEC Player of the Week Ryan Fulse
Wagner running back Ryan Fulse ran for 280 yards and 3 TDs last week and is their best player on the offensive side of the ball. Seeing as Western Michigan's D’Wayne Eskridge ran for 240 yards against the same front 7, the Orange could have their hands full again as they see another talented back. While Fulse isn’t running a 4.33 dash like Eskridge is, he does have more of a power running back build at 5’11” 195 pounds.
The defensive line looked great in the first half last Friday, giving up just 7 points in the first half. Perhaps they ran out of gas, as they surrendered 35 points in the second half of action. Tomorrow, the front 7 will be up against an offense with less tools around their star player than the week prior, so they should have an opportunity to make adjustments and have more success.
X Factors for the Orange
Chris Fredrick, a corner who is very underrated on this defense and locked guys up last week. He had six targets come his way and Western Michigan quarterback John Wassink was unable to get a single completion when he threw at him. Nykeim Johnson is a sophomore wide receiver who is recovering from a hamstring injury, but could be good to go tomorrow. Johnson is one of the fastest guys on the team and can come in to play the slot, adding a weapon over the middle for Eric Dungey. Jarveon Howard is a true freshman and the 3rd string running back on the roster behind Neal and Strickland. He was a top 30 back in the 2018 recruiting class and is physically ready, so if it's a blowout, Howard could see some time. Juan Wallace is a true freshman linebacker who has been getting special teams action. At 6’2” 215 pounds, he already has the physical attributes to potentially see a few snaps on defense. Wallace is a graduate of IMG Academy in Florida.
For full game coverage, tune into 88.3 FM tomorrow at 3PM for Countdown to Kickoff to bring you right up to the 3:30 kick.