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Syracuse football 2018 report card: Quarterbacks

Before looking forward (to spring ball), we look back on 2018 one more time.

NCAA Football: Camping World Bowl-West Virginia vs Syracuse Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange football program finished 10-3 in 2018 — the first time SU’s done as much since 2001. So while these postseason reviews typically end up skewing toward what went wrong, hopefully this is the first of many seasons in a row where we get to happily recap what went very right.

Despite winning 10 games, though, it’s not as if things were perfect. These “report cards” serve as an assessment of both good and bad. Looking back at the past season, we’re going position by position, to see what worked, what didn’t and how that impacted the Orange’s success (or in rare cases, lack thereof). Hopefully you enjoy. And why wouldn’t you? We have a top-25 team to root for again.

We start with...


Going into 2018, we felt like the best way to utilize Eric Dungey was to run less, to reduce the amount of hits the senior quarterback would take over the course of a (hopefully full) season. Ends up we were wrong in some regard there — Dungey just needed to run a bit smarter to keep himself on the field. And he did, in many ways, though he also took a few of the risks you’d expect by this point. Some of those wound up being essential to Syracuse winning games. Others, not so much.

Still, the position was the “straw that stirs the drink” to nod to Dino Babers’s one-time characterization of Dungey, even if the team’s passing yards actually dipped on a per-game basis for the third straight season. Accuracy jumped up slightly from last year (though still down big from 2016), and passing touchdowns were up too (to 22, from 20 last year). Yards per attempt, however, were the highest they’ve been under Dino: at 7.5. That’s partially attributable to Ervin Philips’s departure and the team’s lesser reliance on screen passes.

Most passing totals for Dungey were his highest at Syracuse, which was mostly attributable to him actually playing in all 13 games. On the strength of this year’s 2,868 yards, he broke SU’s career passing mark (despite basically losing a season to injury over the course of his four years). His accuracy jumped back up over 60 percent after a dip last year, and his yards per attempt were the highest he’s achieved (7.7), as were his 18 touchdowns.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Notre Dame Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Dungey also wasn’t the only quarterback to receive considerable time under center, though this time it was partly by the team’s choice. Tommy DeVito never started, but did finish three different games — Florida State, North Carolina, Notre Dame — which resulted in a 2-1 record for the Orange. He was not always the most accurate passer while looking downfield for deep throws, but that will come with time. He wound up with 525 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions while hitting on 44 of 87 attempts.

Relegating the conversation around Syracuse’s quarterbacks to the passing numbers alone, however, discredits the impact of Dungey’s running ability. Again, he ran smarter this year, yet still put up his best season on the ground: 754 yards and a stunning 15 scores. Dungey was our only rushing option inside the five for numerous stretches, which both speaks to his importance to the team and the Orange’s struggles in short yardage at times. Still, Dungey accounted for 33 of the team’s 60 offensive scores. Adding DeVito’s five total TDs, that makes for 38 of 60 coming from the QB spot. Not too bad...

What made all of this work was having two capable QBs with two workable skillsets within this offense. Though it also relied on the coaching staff’s trust in letting them each do their thing, and the offensive line’s improved abilities compared to when Babers first arrived. Make no mistake that Dungey did create some sacks for himself (via holding on to the ball too long), though he also avoided plenty by making quick decisions to take off with it.

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

To this point, Babers had spent time trying to get Dungey to change his game somewhat, and you saw that most clearly when he got the early hook in the Western Michigan contest before being forced back into action. But once Babers and the coaching staff accepted that what made Dungey tough to watch at times also made him the quarterback most likely to lead SU to a win, it allowed the QB to press a lot less (for the most part).

We’ve already recapped what Dungey’s meant to this program, and how fitting it was that his last game involved putting the team on his back en route to a Camping World Bowl win. It also might be the last year for awhile that such an effort is required, too. DeVito’s a very good quarterback, and may even be a great one for Syracuse. But as Dungey’s won games and bought everyone in the program some time, the other offensive positions have been upgraded too. That could mean a better quarterback needs to do less to win, which could certainly be perceived as a good thing.

Grade: A-