Through five games played in 2015, Eric Dungey has been -- statistically speaking -- one of the best quarterbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He leads it in passer rating and yards per attempt. He's also thrown nine touchdowns to just one interception.
Dungey has succeeded by using a combination of his arm and legs, a rare quarterback who's efficient in both areas. But he's about to face his biggest test yet this season on Saturday. That's when Syracuse will welcome Pittsburgh to the Carrier Dome at noon.
Pittsburgh’s defense, and specifically it pass defense, is one of its biggest strengths. The Panthers rank 12th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards allowed per game. Much of that success stems from their effective pass rush; the team ranks third in the country in sacks per game.
But Pittsburgh isn’t taking Dungey lightly, and Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi had high praise for the quarterback on his weekly teleconference Tuesday.
“The guy has some moxie at quarterback and he’s a football player. He does some great things.”
So far this season, Dungey has completed 63 percent of his passes. He’s also run the ball 59 times for 222 yards and three touchdowns, making him a dual-threat quarterback. Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer felt Dungey was much better running with the football against Virginia last week than he typically has been this season. His performance against the Cavaliers was highlighted by a 26-yard touchdown run in which he hurdled over a defender before bouncing off another into the end zone.
“His decision-making in the run game was much improved after seeing his grade.”
Shafer said Dungey improved his decision making with his passes, too. In total, he went 16-of-22 for 150 yards and two touchdown passes while running the ball 18 times for 85 yards and a score.
But whether he can do those things as successfully against a defense like Pittsburgh’s remains to be seen. The Panthers like to bring pressure, and if there’s one area Dungey has struggled in this season, it’s been against the blitz. Against South Florida earlier this month, he threw his only interception of the season thus far and posted his lowest passer rating for a single game. The Bulls rank 24th in the country in sacks.
On Tuesday, Syracuse offensive coordinator Tim Lester said Dungey has struggled mostly when the team has used five-man protections. In those protection schemes, Syracuse doesn’t keep a running back or tight end to block. If the defense chooses to bring six blitzers, one of those pass rushers will go unblocked and the quarterback will need to make a quick decision with the ball.
Lester said that against Virginia last week, Dungey went 3-for-7 in those situations. On one play, Lester said Dungey held the ball for too long and threw it deep, which Lester called “crazy,” even though it resulted in a pass interference penalty.
“He could’ve just thrown the hitch instead, and it wouldn’t have hurt us.”
When Syracuse uses those five-man protections against Pittsburgh, the Panthers will likely be bringing blitzes much of the time. Whether Dungey can pick those up and make quick, correct decisions could be a major key to SU pulling off an upset over the No. 25 team in the country.
As always, you can listen to live game action on 88.3 WAER FM.