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Officials also have to help Eric Dungey play safer football for Syracuse

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Without fueling conspiracy theories, there’s definitely a problem.

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

Following a game in which he led the Syracuse Orange in rushing last week, we said fans would need to “take whichever Eric Dungey you get,” assuming that the junior quarterback couldn’t reduce his risk and be the same effective runner.

Ends up we were wrong there, to an extent. Dungey still led the team in rushing again, but against Middle Tennessee, you saw a player decidedly focused on keeping himself out of harm’s way with the ball in his hands. Some of the called runs ultimately got him hit (as is the nature of the game). But for once, Dungey was sliding and getting out of bounds wherever possible.

The problem is that Dungey doing his part matters very little if officials won’t protect him.

Middle Tennessee v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

During last night’s arduous re-watch, I counted 13 hits on the Orange passer either well after he released the football or after he was already down. He slid, and it didn’t matter because two or three Middle Tennessee players were bearing down on him with helmets down. Dealing with a furious blitz, he was getting the ball out quickly to avoid taking unnecessary contact. But he was repeatedly knocked on his ass anyway, a good two or three seconds following release.

Of course, the hit that stands out the most was Walter Brady’s ugly target near Dungey’s head that ultimately led to Brady’s ejection. If you remember the footage after, Brady seemed pretty smitten with himself...

Middle Tennessee v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

This isn’t to fuel conspiracy theories about what Scott Shafer told his guys. We know Shafer’s defense is aggressive and gets after the quarterback, and against a poor offensive line it was easy to follow that gameplan.

Rather, it’s to point out that if officials keep allowing these hits — abnormal for any quarterback other than Dungey -- keep coming unchecked, teams are going to be out to knock him out of games.

Of the 13 hits on Saturday, just one (Brady’s) was penalized. On its own, that drive featured four hits on Dungey that were excessive and past the whistle/release of the ball. MTSU tried it on the first two plays and got away with it. So they came harder with each successive down. That’s how Brady got Dungey on the back-end of a high-low tackle and was almost surprised that he was penalized at all. The officials have proven time and time again that they’re not going to stop Dungey from getting hit.

Even when Dungey was sliding — and he was vs. the Blue Raiders -- he was getting nailed right in front of refs. And there wasn’t a single call to be had.

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

These refs aren’t even the first to seemingly turn a blind eye to the punishment exacted upon Dungey. Perhaps it’s just anecdotal evidence, but when you watch other quarterbacks, they’re not hit the way he is. There’s less violence, less speed, less injury risk. While watching better defenses during Saturday’s college football action, I just noticed that no one -- mobile QB or not — is getting pummeled to the same extent. And no defenses appear to get away with teeing off on a quarterback like Syracuse’s do each week.

Perhaps it’s his pre-established play style. And if he’s going to careen into tacklers in the open field, then this is all a consequence of that. But if he’s taking the steps to keep himself safe (and surprisingly, he was vs. MTSU), then it’s on the refs to keep him from being needlessly harmed. Just like any other quarterback.