Eric Dungey Readies for First Collegiate Start Against Wake Forest Saturday

Sep 11, 2015

Credit Michael Burke/WAER Sports

Syracuse will play its Atlantic Coast Conference opener Saturday against Wake Forest at the Carrier Dome. Tune into WAER 88.3 FM for Countdown to Kickoff at 12 Noon and live game action at 12:30 p.m.

When Eric Dungey entered the huddle for the first time in Syracuse's season-opening win over Rhode Island, he immediately took command and began yelling to his teammates.

"I was just trying to be heard," he said after the game.

It wasn't an action typical of a true freshman, as Dungey later said, but he also said he felt confident and prepared. And though Dungey made his share of mistakes, he played as if he were confident and prepared, finishing the game 10-of-17 for 114 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

But that was against Rhode Island, an FCS team that went 1-11 in 2014. It's going to get tougher for Dungey starting Saturday, when the Orange (1-0) hosts Wake Forest (1-0) at the Carrier Dome in both team's Atlantic Coast Conference opener. The true freshman will be tasked with figuring out a strong Wake Forest defense in his first collegiate start in place of Terrel Hunt.

As he admitted himself after the Rhode Island game, this isn't a position Dungey expected to find himself in. Not this soon, at least. 

Dungey was supposed to sit out the entirety of the 2015 season and serve as the back up to redshirt senior Terrel Hunt. But with Hunt being out for the season with a torn Achilles, Dungey has been thrust into the starting role. 

And despite the four-year gap in experience between Dungey and Hunt, SU offensive coordinator Tim Lester said he won't have to change much in his playbook. 

"As far as the schemes and how we attack them, he has the tools to do all the things we want to do... It's really just asking him, 'What are you comfortable with?' You never want to put a young guy out there and give him things that he's not comfortable with."

To find out exactly which plays Dungey is comfortable with, Lester said he gave Dungey a playbook and asked the quarterback to return it with those plays highlighted. When Dungey gave it back, Lester said most of the plays were highlighted.

"I was surprised ... that he felt comfortable with that much."

Perhaps an indication of that comfort, Dungey did "a nice job" in practice this week, Orange head coach Scott Shafer said at his weekly press conference Thursday, adding that Dungey's teammates have rallied around their quarterback.

For most of those players, it's not the first time they've had to get behind a true freshman quarterback sliding into an unexpected starting role. Just last season, Syracuse lost Terrel Hunt when he fractured his fibula against Louisville in the team's fifth game. The Orange inserted AJ Long and lost six of the seven games he started.

But that was then, and this is now. Last season when Hunt went down, Syracuse was already depleted injury-wise in a number of areas. Now, SU is more equipped to deal with losing its starting quarterback, since the team is mostly healthy.

"Knock on wood that we stay that way," Shafer said. "Because that's the key. You win with players. Coaches are overrated. Schemes are overrated. Players are underrated, and guys that can make plays win games."

On Saturday, Wake Forest's defense will feature a number of players who can make plays. In 2014, the Demon Deacons finished 38th in total defense despite winning only three games. This season, most of the starters from last year's team are back -- save for defensive end Zachary Allen and cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel. 

"They're going to be disciplined, they're going to be sound and we're going to have to earn every yard we get," Lester said.

Getting those yards will be largely dependent on the play of Eric Dungey. And for now, there's an aura of optimism as SU turns the chapter from Hunt to the freshman.

Said Shafer: "We're excited to see him play in his second game."