Going into Saturday afternoon, many thought Syracuse’s game against Middle Tennessee State would come down to how SU’s fragile secondary would hold up without starting safety Antwan Cordy. Hardly anyone was worried about the Orange offense, which had scored a whopping 111 points in its previous two games. However, the Syracuse defense stepped up on Saturday and the SU offense struggled to move the ball all game long. Quarterback Eric Dungey only accounted for 180 yards through the air and both Syracuse tailbacks rushed for less than 25 yards apiece. Now, it’s easy to look at those benign numbers and assume this loss falls on Dungey’s shoulders. But, don’t let that fool you, the Orange offensive line was actually the main reason Syracuse lost Saturday.
The Blue Raiders pass-rush got past SU’s line for six sacks on the day and frankly that number could have been higher if it wasn’t for Dungey’s scrambling ability. MTSU bullied Syracuse’s young guards and tackles from the opening whistle. And the scariest part about that? Scott Shafer’s defense is not even known for having a dangerous pass-rush. Actually, far from it. Middle Tennessee State ranked 88th out of 128 total FBS schools last year with an average of 1.77 sacks per game and only managed one sack against Vanderbilt in week one. Yet they came out in week two and pushed SU around in the trenches, which subsequently took Dino Babers entire offense out of rhythm.
With no time to pass, Dungey and SU were forced to settle for short passes all night long and failed to develop any long, momentum-changing plays they sorely needed. The Orange’s pass-reliant offense already struggles to run the ball. So when Syracuse can’t throw deep it’s basically left with one option on the offensive side of the ball: short passes to the outside. And then Orange goes from the new fast to the extremely predictable.
This lackluster offensive performance just proves how detrimental poor offensive line play can be. Take the Indianapolis Colts for example. They are an NFL team with a poor offensive line and a lot of parallels to SU. The Colts have a good, injury-prone quarterback in Andrew Luck with quick feet just like the Orange has Eric Dungey. Indianapolis also has plenty of weapons on the outside in wide receivers T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, while SU has two strong pass-catchers themselves in Erv Phillips and Steve Ishmael. However, despite all those positives, Indy has underperformed because they consistently have a weak offensive line. Now, by no means am I comparing Dungey to Luck or SU’s weapons to NFL wide-outs. But when you lack good protection it’s tough to run the football and often minimizes the talent of the rest of an offense at any level.
Scott Shafer knows that and he likely had that in mind when he implored his game plan on Saturday. He called tons of blitzes and knew he could create a domino effect if he exposed Syracuse’s weakest unit. And that is exactly what happened.
Obviously, Eric Dungey made plenty of mistakes Saturday night that would’ve happened regardless. He didn’t play as good as he usually does and same goes for the Syracuse running backs. By no means is this a perfect team with a bad offensive line. Syracuse has more than just one problem. But with a daunting schedule looming, many were worried about the secondary. However, after Saturday’s shocking loss SU’s biggest concern is now its offensive line.