It was a tale of two halves for the Orange on Saturday, as a clean first half paved the way for a shaky second frame that saw Syracuse give away a game it should have won in upset fashion.
In the first half, Eric Dungey was able to pick apart the Pittsburgh defense with short crossing routes and deep balls. Dungey and sophomore Steve Ishmael formed an important duo in the first half, as the taller receiver was able to work over Pitt’s very small corners down the sidelines. Furthermore, throughout the first half, Dungey made good decisions with the football and certainly did not try and force anything against a decent defensive unit.
The most prevalent change in Tim Lester’s offense was the lack of the option. After taking criticism for two weeks now about Dungey taking too many shots, Lester pulled back on the option calls and instead let Dungey turn into a pocket passer. Perhaps the most impressive part of Dungey’s game was his passing efficiency. He completed 21-of-30 passes for 210 yards, and unlike previous weeks, Ishmael was favored over Brisly Estime. Ishmael led the team in catches coming into the game with 18, and he nearly halved that with seven more yesterday. Erv Phillips’ return to the offense has been seamless, as he caught his fourth touchdown of the year in just four games. Dungey would only carry the ball six times for 41 yards, including a 26-yard scamper on one of the few options that Lester called.
Coming out of the locker room, the Orange was set to replicate an impressive first half that saw SU up 17-13. However, on the first drive of the half, Dungey took another hard hit to his upper body and went to the locker room. Even though he was able to return just a few minutes later, it was clear that his confidence was shaken. He tossed two costly interceptions on back-to-back drives that totally shifted the momentum of the game. Before the hit, Dungey was 15-of-20 with two touchdowns and no picks. After the hit? 6-of-10 with two picks. Syracuse would only manage three points in the second half.
It’s clear that Dungey is the motor that makes this offense run, and Lester is starting to adjust his offense to protect its most prized weapon. With 1,020 passing yards on the season, the freshman already ranks fourth all-time in program history for freshmen with plenty of games left. If Lester continues to call quick throws for Dungey, the offense will continue to look more and more impressive despite being a longshot at a bowl game.