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Eric Dungey’s absence proves his importance to Syracuse’s offense

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Folks were quick to attribute his numbers to Dino Babers’s system. Not so fast...

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Dungey’s absence hurts the Syracuse Orange. You know that. You knew it last year too, when he missed the final three games after suffering a concussion.

This season, he’s been on a record pace. Most of his numbers are already among the top 10 or so figures ever put up by a Syracuse quarterback (in a single season, and even some career). Even if he fails to finish the year after another injury, it’s indisputable that 2016 was a highly successful campaign for the sophomore QB.

Before the year, we knew he’d put up big numbers. The “system” Dino Babers brought with him seemed to come with impressive statistics, no matter who was under center. That’s the thinking around the Baylor-inspired spread offense. As Sports Illustrated/Campus Rush’s Pete Thamel wrote last month: the system is the star.

But is that the case with Syracuse and Eric Dungey? Or really, Babers’s own riff on the Baylor offense as a whole? In five full seasons as a head coach, Babers has had a future NFL starter (Jimmy Garoppolo), one of college football’s most productive passers (Matt Johnson) and Dungey under center. Dungey’s injury really gave way to the first true test for the system. Is it the star? Or just a vehicle for stars?

Since Dungey was taken off the field against Clemson last week, Syracuse quarterbacks are 31-for-55 for 314 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Part of that you may be able to explain away due to how good the Tigers’ defense is (though not good enough to stop Pitt from putting up 43 against them yesterday...). And there’s also the refrain that Zack Mahoney is not all that adept of a passer. Still, look at the start difference in numbers SU’s offense puts up with and without Dungey. On the current roster, he’s the motor that runs the whole thing.

After the loss to NC State yesterday, Sean mentioned on Twitter that Syracuse fans finally understood how valuable Dungey was to the program. Combined with perceptions about Babers’s system as kingmaker, Mahoney’s heroics vs. Clemson and LSU in 2015 had tricked some of the Orange faithful into thinking Syracuse truly had options at quarterback. That no matter who was under center, this rocket ship of an offense was taking off at full speed. And that Mahoney, despite being a runner first, would be able to captain a high-flying passing attack.

Those expectations never should’ve been assigned to Mahoney, or Austin Wilson, who threw the majority of the passes against Clemson this year too. The system is capable and effective, sure. But it does need a very good-to-great quarterback at the helm. Mahoney and Wilson, through no fault of their own, are not the players to guide this offense to its full potential.

There are additional caveats to add too, of course. As a Power Five program, Syracuse should possess more depth than they actually do, and you see that issue on display week after week. Whether at quarterback, defensive end, cornerback or elsewhere, the previous staff did not necessarily know how to build quality depth. As a result, the current staff walks a tightrope when it comes to injuries and the major impact of them. You saw it on display last week when Clemson’s backup quarterbacks had no issues carving up our defense while we couldn’t put a point on the board.

That said, the previous staff did also recruit Dungey...

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It shouldn’t take injuries to point out just how good Dungey is. The factors around the program and the offensive scheme have dictated it to this point, but that likely stops going forward. Babers’s scheme has been successful. But it’s also been shepherded by quarterbacks who were already successful or had the ability to be successful. Garoppolo, Johnson and now Dungey have proven that. Mahoney and Wilson show the opposite side of the coin, that the scheme also needs the right QB to work.

With some luck, perhaps Dungey comes back before the season ends and helps Syracuse get to an APR-assisted bowl game at 5-7. But if not, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that SU was 4-4 with him at the helm this year and already showed us the promise of Babers’s tenure in just eight games. This program has a real opportunity to rise under Babers. It’ll need a real quarterback do it, though. For now, anyway, Dungey’s the roster’s only option there.