While the Syracuse Orange went 4-8 for the second consecutive year, it was far from the same 4-8 the team saw in its final season under Scott Shafer. In Dino Babers’s first campaign, SU’s offense looked far more capable and the team looked more competitive overall. They also dealt with a boatload of injuries and a difficult schedule — both of which scuttled chances to improve in the win column this year.
Still, after what was an admittedly fun season, it’s worth looking back to see which units did well and which failed to, and how that impacted the Orange’s success or lack thereof.
We start with...
In 2015, Syracuse’s quarterbacks put up bad numbers, coupled with bad production. There was the promise of Eric Dungey, sure. And the big game heroics of Zack Mahoney, too. But the team’s passing offense was 117th in the nation, and the Orange were one of a handful of FBS squads to throw for less than 2,000 yards on the year.
Fast forward one year, and quite a lot has changed.
In eight games and a quarter before getting injured (again), Dungey had 2,679 passing yards, 293 rushing yards and 21 total touchdowns. He was completing nearly 65 percent of his passes and breaking/getting close to most of the school single-game records while seemingly improving by the week. The offense was improving with him as well, gradually picking up the pace, and even pulling off a major upset of Virginia Tech.
Still, he hadn’t really mastered protecting himself from big hits over trying for the big play. Those continuous body blows eventually led to him missing the final third of the season once again.
In relief, Mahoney struggled for two games vs. NC State and Florida State, then flourished versus Pitt, taking down school records even Dungey hadn’t yet touched. Against the Panthers, he was 43-of-61 for 440 yards and five touchdowns, along with another 49 yards and two scores on the ground. The seven TDs surpassed a record held by Jim Brown. Most of the other numbers planted him first or second in the single-game record book.
Just 12 months after logging one of the country’s worst passing seasons, Syracuse had one of its best. The team had 3,855 passing yards in 2016, which ranks them 10th overall. Readjusting for sacks, ESPN’s David Hale makes an even stronger point in favor of the offensive switch toward a pass-focused attack:
Friday Cuse Stat: Dungey & Mahoney combined for 3,962 yds, 31 TD, 15 TO & 63.7% comps. Only 4 FBS QBs matched those totals this season.— David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) December 2, 2016
Considering the lack of personnel change, it’s incredible progress in one year under Babers.
The quarterback position wasn’t without some flaws too, however. Along with the number of hits taken by the team’s QBs (not all on them), accuracy would ebb and flow pretty wildly. Turnovers were also an issue, and at times, quarterback play seemed to deter the team’s pace — and especially its production in the red zone.
At the same time, far too much of the offense’s success relied upon quarterback play, with very little support elsewhere. The wide receivers (we’ll get to them next week) showed up admirably all year, but they can only create so much for themselves. A struggling run game and offensive line in front of it made for many long afternoons for both of SU’s primary passers.
The name of the game this year was progress, though. And both Dungey and Mahoney delivered it in ample supply. Especially looking at this group from where they came from in 2015, you have to like what you saw this fall. You can also get excited these players (and others) return once again for 2017, now with a full year of Babers’s system under their belts.