True freshman quarterback JaCobian Morgan looked relatively impressive in his first real series for the Syracuse Orange football team last weekend, going 7-for-7 for 57 yards and a touchdown late in the loss to Wake Forest.
Now, of course there are caveats around the score, time remaining and the fact that the Deacons were playing their second team. But still, given what we’ve seen from Rex Culpepper in recent weeks, it would really behoove Dino Babers to make a move before it’s too late.
Dino hasn’t indicated that Morgan will start at QB on Saturday vs. Boston College. And really, if I had to guess, he won’t. But it seems likely to happen at some point this fall, so I wanted to have the information around: How have recent Syracuse QBs fared in their first career starts?
Before we dive in, we won’t go further back than the Doug Marrone era, just to stop things from getting too unwieldy (plus I’m writing this late, and don’t want to deprive myself of any more sleep than I already have this week).
Clayton Welch: 2019 vs. Wake Forest (win)
You’d be forgiven for forgetting this one — I nearly did — but Welch started the final game of 2019 in relief of an injured Tommy DeVito. He was 21-of-36 for 234 yards (two TDs, two INTs) in the contest, while also adding 19 yards rushing. Syracuse got the win due to Trill Williams’s overtime heroics. But Welch’s efforts shouldn’t be dismissed either.
Tommy DeVito: 2019 at Liberty (win)
We’d seen a lot of DeVito by this point already, but his first actual start was last year’s opener. Unfortunately, it wasn’t his best effort — 17-of-35, 176 yards, 2 INTs — and was a harbinger of things to come regarding pressure and decision-making. He did improve, though. This was one of his worst games as a starter, despite getting the W.
Rex Culpepper: 2017 at Louisville (loss)
SU visited Louisville in the rain back in 2017 without Eric Dungey, and... things went poorly, as you may remember (or actively tried to forget). Rex was 8-of-19 for 89 yards and two picks in a miserable 56-10 loss for ‘Cuse. Though interestingly, he also picked up 47 yards on the ground while running Dungey’s plays.
Zack Mahoney: 2015 vs. LSU (loss)
The legend of “The Officer” began against LSU. The option QB was 16-of-38 for 154 yards and three scores (one INT) vs. a sleepwalking Tigers team, as the Orange put up a better fight than most expected. He also had another 40 on the ground in the 10-point loss. I’ve discussed why he had one of the strangest careers of any SU football player this century.
Eric Dungey: 2015 vs. Wake Forest (win)
This one’s etched in most Syracuse fan’s brains. Dungey looked pretty good in relief of Terrel Hunt in the opener, but was thrown to the fire quickly in a conference game against Wake in week two. Locked in a tight one, he was pinned back toward SU’s own end zone, but delivered an astounding pass to Brisly Estime who turned it into an 89-yard touchdown. Dungey was just 8-of-13 for 221 passing yards and two touchdowns, plus another 36 on the ground in this one. But the second half of this game was a sign of the entertaining career to come.
AJ Long: 2014 at Wake Forest (win)
It’s pretty wild to think that Long only played a single season for SU, starting five games and only winning this one (which I happened to attend down in Winston-Salem). In a defensive slugfest, he was 22-for-32 for 171 yards, and tacked on a rushing TD as well. Somehow that was enough to earn him ACC Rookie of the Week honors that week. He was also the first true frosh QB to win his first start at Syracuse — a feat since equaled by Dungey.
Austin Wilson: 2014 vs. Florida State (loss)
The 2014 season was a rough one for Syracuse QBs, and Wilson was one of six players to attempt a pass for SU that year. His first action was in the Villanova game, but his first start wouldn’t arrive until a loss to FSU. He was just 5-for-9 for 89 yards and an interception in that game before ceding his spot to AJ Long.
Terrel Hunt: 2013 vs. Tulane (win)
It took just three games for Scott Shafer to make his first QB change as Syracuse head coach, yanking Drew Allen (more on him below) for Hunt in a win over Wagner. Hunt got the start the following week, and seemingly set the field ablaze. He was 16-of-21 for 175 yards and four scores, while adding 39 rushing yards and another score for good measure in the blowout win. We told ourselves this meant a lot for the future. Unfortunately, it did not.
Drew Allen: 2013 vs. Penn State (loss)
The Oklahoma QB transfer was actually a solid move for the first-time head coach. Unfortunately, though, he didn’t have much of an offense to run and there was a reason why he wasn’t the starter with the Sooners. Allen was 16-of-37 for 189 yards and two interceptions vs. Penn State, in a game that really any amount of Orange offensive ability could’ve made for an Orange win. SU lost this one to PSU, 23-17, and Allen was unseated by halftime of game three, as covered above.
Ryan Nassib: 2010 at Akron (win)
Nassib got his feet wet as a redshirt freshman here and there, so when he was thrust into the starting role in 2010, he knew what he was getting into. First up was the sort of thing that would come to be a “vintage” Nassib effort — 17-of-29, 229 yards, two TDs, one pick (he also had 58 rushing yards) — in a 29-3 victory. He’d start every game for the next three seasons.
Greg Paulus: 2009 vs. Minnesota (loss)
In year one of Doug Marrone, everyone was pretty excited to see a change, but also questioned bringing in a Duke point guard to play QB. In game one, Paulus actually looked the part, completing 19-of-31 passes for 167 yards, one TD and one INT. Unfortunately, that one interception was a crucial one — a pick in overtime with SU knocking on the door of the end zone and a potential big win over the Golden Gophers. He mostly learned from it, though.
What have we learned here? Not much, beyond the fact that long-term QB options remain few and far between for the Orange. Still, some interesting efforts above. And if Morgan starts this weekend and wins, he would be just the third true freshman passer in ‘Cuse history to win his first start. Hopefully he’s given that chance.