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Syracuse football: The quarterback, coach, game plan and the questions

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At times it looks like the Syracuse offense, with head man Dino Babers directing the show, can score on just about any team in the country at any given time. Then again, occasionally, it looks as though the only one who could make the engine fire is quarterback Eric Dungey.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t any play more “Eric Dungey” than when Eric Dungey kneed a Miami Hurricane square in the facemask. IN THE FACE…MASK! It made everyone, be it in-person at Hard Rock Stadium or in your living room, shout “Ohhhhhhhh!” Followed with a Mortal Kombat “Finish Him!”

It was as amazing as it was dangerous; this quarterback attempting to jump another grown man standing straight up. And not just any QB, but one who has had his season cut short due to injuries in each of his first two seasons with the Syracuse Orange.

Dungey plays the position for Syracuse like a streaky guard who takes and makes way-too-far-away threes. “No, no, no… yes!” Fan’s throats are clogged with their hearts anytime No. 2 takes off from the pocket. Really, the last thing Eric Dungey should be doing is running full-head-of-steam at a defender, much less attempting to hurdle him as if the dude coming at him with bad intentions was just a mud puddle in the middle of a driveway.

Which all leads to wondering if there is blame to go around for the quarterback’s seemingly “eff off” attitude toward possibly painful realities?

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Before looking at that, though, there is another series of plays from an entirely different game that also sticks in my mind when Dungey’s… style… of play comes up. Last month, at home against Clemson, in a total street fight with the defending champs, Dungey came up lame near the goal line during the course of the game. After one failed attempt to get into the endzone, Dungey got up slowly, punched his leg several times, and limped back to the huddle.

Next play: Dungey attempts to get the ball over the line by himself but just misses pay-dirt and gets up slowly, again. This time, though, he’s forced to the sidelines and has to sit out as Syracuse settled for a field goal instead of what at one point looked like a sure seven points.

What struck me weren’t the missed touchdown opportunities, or Dungey’s obvious grit. It was how, suffering some kind of real pain, he thought the best course of medical treatment was to take swings at his own leg like as if it owed him money. It was someone punching the dashboard of a car in hopes it will suddenly wake up a dead battery. In the biggest game of the year, Dungey wanted no part of being relegated to the sidelines, and he was physically fighting his body to stay out there. An all-too-common theme these last few seasons, yes?





NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

What a fine line there, right? Without Dungey’s willingness to take big-balls gambles, Syracuse isn’t sniffing six wins. It likely wouldn’t have had a chance against Clemson, much less have won that matchup. But each time he attempts to leap into action all Superman-y, the dice might just turn up snake eyes for the Orange.

Is the player or the guy in charge of the player at fault for this every-weekend predicament?

Well, asked about how Dungey’s play, head coach Dino Babers called his quarterback’s approach to quarterback “reckless” with the way he “gives up his body.” That was a press conference quote captured by’s Chris Carlson, who followed that up by tweeting to me that Babers’s sentiment was “a mix of admiration and terror, as opposed to sheer terror.”

Certainly understandable, because coaches are tied to their starting quarterback as if it were a marriage, taking them in victory and in defeat. So if fans have to witness Dungey’s scrambles through the slits of the fingers in their hands, just imagine having your job status almost literally be on the line for those plays? I’m sure Babers would like Dungey to slide rather than jump, run out of bounds instead of attempting to run over defenders.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

But Babers’s wanting Dungey to possibly tone it down or maybe even be less “reckless” is a little bit like publicly questioning the way hot dogs are made, while ordering another round of Dome Dogs. The head man probably shouldn’t say too much openly about Dungey’s being carefree, because he is the same guy who knew the QB was going to attempt to run for a fourth-and-goal right before halftime at Florida State last Saturday. A play called after Dungey missed significant time in the first quarter due to what at the time looked like a serious leg injury. There was another third-and-long designed quarterback draw in that game. And several other option plays where Dungey, even if he pitched it, was still very much putting himself in harm’s way.

Looking at Saturday’s game, Dungey missed three series against the Seminoles. He also reportedly left Doak Campbell Stadium in some kind of walking boot. He was likely “banged up” before setting foot in Florida, and was even more “banged up” flying back to New York. Is that a result of playing too much by the seat of his pants or the sum of too many “Dungey, do something!” calls?

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s improvisation against script; staying on script against going rogue. Yet, if the medical staff says the player is healthy enough to play, then he should be able enough to do what is asked. Although, what exactly is asked of Dungey?

It’s maddening, all of it.

And we’re still nowhere near settling this, nowhere near making the battle of wanting to him to (pardon me for this) be an absolute magician verses wanting him to just give up on a play to stay safe any easier for anyone.

There is only one obvious observation of this season so far: the quarterback is going to have to occasionally put a knee to the face of the competition, whether it’s called in the huddle or not, for the Orange to have a chance at something bigger. For the rest of us? We’ll all have to just have to watch and grimace, which very well might go double for his coach.