Three weeks ago Syracuse was unbeaten after three games and atop the Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
A different month and it’s a different team. Syracuse (3-2) is still 1-0 in the division – behind upcoming foes No. 11 Florida State (3-0) and No. 5 Clemson (2-0) – but consecutive nonconference losses to No. 6 LSU and South Florida have put a damper on that promising start with the meat of the ACC schedule looming.
After four straight home games to begin the season, the Orange will travel for the second straight week when they visit Virginia (1-4, 0-1 ACC) at Scott Stadium on Saturday.
”Obviously, the ACC is bigger than South Florida in their minds, but we have to keep on preaching to them that you have to show up to play whether you’re playing South Florida or Virginia,” Syracuse defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said. ”If you don’t show up to play or play your best, they’re going to get you.”
The youthful Orange – 14 of the team’s two-deep roster have three or four years of remaining eligibility – fell flat a week ago, losing 45-24 at South Florida. What has to be of concern is the recent play of the defense, which has eight new starters. Allowing a 200-yard game to LSU star tailback Leonard Fournette is one thing; giving up 536 yards – 259 passing and 277 on the ground – to a South Florida team that had lost three straight is another.
Syracuse became the first ACC team to lose to USF since Clemson in the 2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl and has allowed 75 points in its two losses.
So much for that top-20 defense.
”We just have to get back to who we are,” Orange middle linebacker Zaire Franklin said. ”You never let one game dictate who you are.”
Offensively, Syracuse freshman quarterback Eric Dungey still leads the ACC in pass efficiency with a 169.3 rating, and he rebounded well after missing the LSU game with a head injury suffered.
Although he struggled in the first half against South Florida, encouragement from his offensive line provided a nice spark, and Dungey finished 21 of 34 for 232 yards and two TDs.
The 6-foot-3, 202 pound Dungey also had 17 carries for 31 yards and one score and ranks second on the team with 41 carries. That’s just one carry behind tailback Jordan Fredericks, somewhat of a concern to the coaching staff.
”A lot of his runs are runs where they were outside of the option game,” coach Scott Shafer said. ”One of the toughest things to do is learn to throw the ball away. He needs to learn to throw the ball away.”
And that means curbing that enthusiasm a little bit. If Dungey needs an example, he only has to look at a former rival for the quarterback position at Syracuse. The university announced Tuesday that sophomore quarterback AJ Long no longer will be allowed to play football or any other contact sport because he has suffered multiple concussions, the last coming during practice a week ago.
Long, who was recovering from a broken bone in his right (throwing) hand suffered during the summer, did not play in any games this season. As a freshman, he made six appearances (five starts), passing for 935 yards and four touchdowns, but at 6-foot and 177 pounds paid a price for that success.
Long’s second start came against Clemson, which finished 2014 as the top defensive team in the nation. Long was sacked four times. In a home loss to North Carolina State the next week, he was sacked eight times. At season’s end, he was recovering from nerve problems in his right shoulder.
Dungey took over as the starter when senior Terrel Hunt was lost for the year with an Achilles injury suffered in the season opener against Rhode Island. Dungey knows a change in mindset is imperative.
”They want me to not take any unnecessary hits, throw the ball away more, and being smarter with my body in my decision making,” Dungey said. ”I’ve always tried to get every yard I can, but I’ve got to change that because these guys are a lot bigger than high school.”
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in South Carolina and freelance writer Mark Frank contributed.