The Syracuse Orange won four of the first six games of 2018, and now stare out at a manageable closing schedule that could very well lead to the program’s first bowl trip since 2013.
However, because of the nature of when SU’s two losses happened — the last two weeks — there are some doubts starting to creep up about whether this squad can avoid the letdowns of previous seasons and get to the six-win plateau.
This article is meant to tell you why the concerns are valid, and perhaps all of these bowl fantasies were a bit premature. For a look at the primary reasons why we’re all getting concerned for nothing, you can check out the companion piece: Three reasons to be optimistic about the rest of this Syracuse football season.
Eric Dungey’s health
Now, if the senior quarterback is fully healthy (or something close), you can move him directly into the preceding article on why we should be optimistic. But for several games this year, the Orange star has looked off in his throwing motion and arm strength, affecting accuracy quite a bit. That was no more apparent than the majority of the last three quarters (and overtime) versus Pitt, when he followed up a strong early first quarter with a litany of underthrows and a final 18-of-38 line.
He hasn’t been wearing the tape on his shoulder, but the last two weeks have looked less-than-inspiring in terms of Dungey’s well-being. While he’s gotten hit less this season than previous ones (and he should be commended for that), the nicks he has picked up seem to have made an impact. The bye was perfectly timed for this entire team, but especially him. If the accuracy returns, he’s back to being a very capable thrower in all parts of the field. Dungey’s ability to throw downfield, particularly, is essential to really spreading opposing defenses out.
The run game’s been much improved this season, however it still runs in large part on the legs of Dungey (his 435 yards and seven scores are already well on pace to break his own single-season highs).
Outside of Dungey, Jarveon Howard is the only regular rusher averaging more than five yards per carry (6.61 on 31 runs). And the fact of the matter is that SU’s run game was incredibly capable prior to the Clemson game. SU had at least 215 yards on the ground over the first four weeks. In the two since? A total of 238. Dungey accounts for a large portion of that total against Pitt, and SU has also spent much more time handing off to all three running backs, leading to less consistency for all of them.
SU is still running the ball well on the year, but with production trending down, it’s something to watch for as the season wears on.
This one should be screaming at every Orange fan, based on the last two weeks alone. With the SU front four blitzing more frequently, it’s left some holes in the line for opposing runners. Typically, those would be filled by the linebackers, but Syracuse’s inexperienced group there has struggled to make those stops against better backs. A quick look at any of the game film versus Clemson or Pitt shows players caught flat-footed repeatedly. And with Dino Babers and Brian Ward not necessarily rotating in too many players in a given position group, it’s easy to see how SU is gassed by the end of games.
They’ve allowed at least 240 yards in three of six games so far, and not coincidentally, those were against the three best offensive lines they’ve taken on (WMU, Clemson, Pitt). There are several quality O-lines left on the schedule, with varying levels of rushing success — BC being the peak, obviously. You don’t want Syracuse to stop blitzing to the extent they have to cause turnovers and disrupting the passing game. But without rotating in linebackers or an improvement from the linebackers on the field in terms of run stopping, this problem could get significantly worse as the season continues.
What else has you concerned? Share your own reasons for worry (or needs for improvement) below.