Even the most pessimistic Syracuse football fans can’t help but be excited about new head coach Dino Babers and the offense he’s expected to implement. The 54-year-old spent four seasons learning the Air Raid at Baylor, and immediately found success with his own version of the system as head coach of Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green.
Babers has never overseen a losing campaign, and his Falcons went 10-3 on their way to the Mid-Atlantic Conference championship last year. BGSU rolled to that title by lighting up the scoreboard — the team averaged 42.2 points per game, sixth-most in the country, and led the nation with 32 40-yard plays.
The driving force behind that offensive success was quarterback Matt Johnson. The senior broke MAC records by tossing for 4,946 yards and 46 touchdowns (both of which placed him second on the national leaderboard) on his way to being named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. Now, Orange fans are dreaming about Syracuse sophomore Eric Dungey replicating those gaudy numbers in 2016.
Bowling Green’s not-so-secret weapon was the deep ball; when Babers dialed up a bomb, Johnson was lethal. According to Pro Football Focus, he racked up 1,698 yards and 20 touchdowns on throws that traveled at least 20 yards in the air — both of those marks led the nation. Along with deep vertical throws, Johnson feasted in the short passing game. More than 68 percent of his attempts traveled less than 10 yards, per NFL.com, which means his job was fairly simple — either chuck it or dump it. Babers and company didn’t ask Johnson to drop the pigskin into tight windows at the intermediate level or progress past his first or second read very often.
That’s terrific news for Dungey, who frequently tucked it and ran when his primary option was covered as a freshman. It doesn’t mean the Air Raid is easy to operate, though, as the quick-hitting scheme requires the signal caller to think one step ahead of the defense and run plays without a huddle.
The Orange ran a lot of option last season, which left Dungey vulnerable to multiple bone-crunching hits. SU policy disqualifies athletes from competition after three concussions, so if Dungey gets lit up one more time, his Syracuse career could be over. Luckily for him, Babers doesn’t feature the option — but if he asks his new QB to hang in the pocket while his receivers go long, Dungey could take a beating.