Key to Syracuse vs. Virginia Tech: Eric Dungey’s Legs

Last time an ACC juggernaut visited the Carrier Dome, it didn’t end well for Syracuse. This week, when No. 17 Virginia Tech travels to Central New York, Orange fans might want to shield their eyes. The Hokies are favored by three touchdowns, and that might not even do justice to the gap between the two teams.

VT hasn’t missed a beat in the program’s first season without head coach Frank Beamer pacing the sidelines in 30 years. The transition to Justin Fuente has been seamless, and a huge reason why is the presence of defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who followed Beamer to the program in 1987 and took over the defense two decades ago. Foster’s defense against Dino Babers’ offense should be the most interesting matchup in Saturday’s tilt — when Syracuse has the ball, each team’s strongest unit will be on the field.

It’s nearly impossible to move the rock against Virginia Tech. The Hokies rank top-three in both yards allowed per play and per game, and have allowed more than 17 points just one time this season (more on that later). VT has finished seventh or better in total defense eight times since 1999, and the unit is is well on its way to another impressive finish on the national leaderboard.

Virginia Tech’s only loss of the season came back in Week 2: Tennessee, currently ranked No. 9, stomped the Hokies, 45-24, in front of more than 156,000 fans at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Volunteers exploded in the second quarter, putting up 24 points and running away with the contest — literally.

Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs didn’t even crack 100 yards through the air, but the senior catalyzed his team’s offense with 14 carries for 106 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Dobbs is one of the most lethal dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, and VT hasn’t really ceded big chunks of yardage to other signal-callers on the ground — but Dobbs’ rushing performance has been, quite literally, the only thing that has penetrated Virginia Tech’s defense this season.

SU signal-caller Eric Dungey isn’t exactly Michael Vick in his prime, but he does have five rushing touchdowns this season (no other Syracuse player has more than one). His ugly average of 1.6 yards per carry is mostly the product of taking too many sacks, which are counted as rushing attempts in official NCAA statistics. The sophomore is dangerous when he tucks the ball and runs, and, despite what head coach Dino Babers has said about wanting Dungey to remain in the pocket more this year, the SU offense relies on him to pick up yards on the ground.
The Orange’s chances of moving the ball effectively against the Hokies are slim, but if Dungey can gash VT with designed runs and scrambles, Syracuse might be able to find offensive success. Key word: might.