Everyone loves rooting for the underdog. The little guy. The longshot.
It’s simply human nature. Why do you think most college football fans hold some disdain towards Alabama and Nick Saban? It’s not fun when the same team wins the National Championship four out of the last seven years.
They’re the “bad guys.”
So when lovable and boisterous third-string quarterback Cardale Jones helped lead Ohio State to an upset win over No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl en route to a National Championship two seasons ago – admit it, you were happy.
It’s that same logic which has led to so many Syracuse fans taking a liking to backup quarterback Zack Mahoney. The junior’s short collegiate career is that of a Rudy-like fairy tale.
After transferring from the College of DuPage, a junior college in Illinois, as a preferred walk-on, Mahoney opened last preseason as Syracuse’s sixth-string quarterback, behind Terrel Hunt, Austin Wilson, AJ Long, Eric Dungey and Kenterius Womack. However, as we all know, injuries took their toll and Mahoney actually ended up starting four games for the Orange, including two against top-10 opponents: No. 8 LSU and No. 1 Clemson.
Despite completing no more than 48 percent of his passes in any of his four stats, Mahoney’s gutsy performance and ability to keep Syracuse within striking distance of both LSU and Clemson earned him praise and appreciation from Orange fans.
The #MahoneyMania reached new heights earlier this season when some fans clamored for the junior quarterback to overtake Dungey in the starting lineup after consecutive blowout losses to Louisville and USF (and if you dare wander into the UConn gamethread).
Well, be careful what you wish for.
Dungey was reportedly unavailable for player interviews on Tuesday because he was receiving treatment for an undisclosed injury. The news of this didn’t seem to faze some fans who believe Mahoney will do “just fine” in Dungey’s potential absence.
There’s some cognitive dissonance here.
Zack Mahoney is a very serviceable backup, but is there a compelling case for him as a Power Five conference starting QB? And for our purposes, can we agree he’s definitely not a better fit for Syracuse’s current scheme than Dungey?
Syracuse coach Dino Babers’ offense is an uptempo spread “veer and shoot” system. It requires a quarterback who can be accurate both in-and-out of the pocket and be able to fire the ball downfield.
Despite the occasional head-scratching throw, Dungey has shown he is the much more accurate quarterback of the two – on short, medium and deep passes.
Here is a look at both passer’s respective stats during their time as Syracuse’s starting quarterback.
Zack Mahoney: 45 of 105 passes for 472 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Averaged 4.5 yards-per-attempt and completed 43 percent of his passes.
Eric Dungey: 201 of 319 passes for 2,237 yards, 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Averaged 7.0 yards-per-attempt and completed 63 percent of his passes.
As it is clear above, Dungey is the more efficient passer in terms of every major statistical category. The two most important takeaways being the large disparity in yards-per-attempt and completion percentage.
Mahoney, while improved this season, is still an inaccurate passer who has difficulty throwing deep – evident by the low 4.5 yards-per-attempt. Dungey, however, has failed to complete at least 50 percent of his passes in just two of his nine starts, and is also the better deep ball passer of the two. The sophomore quarterback has already connected on several long passes this season, including at least one 40-plus yard completion in every game this season.
The key attribute Mahoney may best Dungey in is his ability to run the ball – he ran it seven times for 40 yards against LSU and 10 times for 76 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson. He’s also shown a better ability to avoid hits than Dungey.
However, that fails to matter much as Babers’s offense not only doesn’t require a dual-threat or a run-first option quarterback, it seemingly discourages against it (see: Dungey’s decreased number of designed runs this season).
Although Babers witnessed success firsthand with the speedy Robert Griffin III while working with the offense during his time at Baylor, the majority of quarterbacks he has worked with ran the ball a limited amount – and to very little success.
At Eastern Illinois, Jimmy Garoppolo actually finished his college career with negative rushing yards. Playing under Babers at Bowling Green, Matt Johnson finished his career with a whopping 1.6 average while running the football.
Dungey may have hit a rough patch as of late – he looked frazzled at times against Louisville and was wildly inaccurate during the second quarter against UConn – but he has still produced impressive numbers and completed at least 65 percent of his passes in three of four games.
While Mahoney may be the underdog quarterback we have all grown to love, it is clear he is best suited as Syracuse’s backup, with Dungey remaining as the starter.
Now if Dungey’s a questionable start, by all means, Mahoney’s your guy. But we need to agree that the comparisons between the two as “equals” when both are healthy simply misses the point.