Dino Babers, in his third season as the head coach at Syracuse, hasn’t yet been able to turn around the program, let alone lead it back to anything resembling its glory days.
Babers’ first two teams each went 4-8, although there have been glimpses of potential, such as last season’s stirring 27-24 home victory over No. 2 Clemson, and a two-touchdown win over No. 17 Virginia Tech in 2016.
The problem, at least in part, has been injuries to quarterback Eric Dungey, who hasn’t been able to finish either season. The Orange lost four in a row to end 2016 and dropped five straight games at the end of 2017.
Babers said there is only so much he can do to protect his quarterback.
“You can’t be afraid to play this game. You have to go out and play,” Babers said Monday.
“We don’t have to run the option and run him 55 times in a game, but we’re going to call our game. We’re going to play to win and hopefully things will work out. … He’s taught to protect himself. Now he needs to go out and play and good things need to happen.”
Dungey, a senior, is the ACC active leader in quarterback rushing yards (1,239) and quarterback rushing touchdowns (20), as well as touchdown passes (40) and total offense (7,711).
If he can stay healthy, he could at least lead Syracuse to a bowl game in 2018. He’s 6-foot-4, 226 pounds, and can draw the interest of NFL scouts if he can be a start-to-finish quarterback this season.
The season starts Friday at Western Michigan.
The Broncos went 6-6 last season but finished 25th nationally in scoring at 33.9 points per game. Like Syracuse, they looked better when their quarterback, Jon Wassink, was healthy. He was leading the MAC in complete percentage (64.2 percent) before missing the final four games with a broken collarbone. WMU was 1-3 in those games.
Not only will this be a tricky road game for Syracuse, but an emotional one, too. Western Michigan head coach Tim Lester is a former Orange assistant who served as offensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015, pre-Babers. A couple of his assistants also were at Syracuse under head coach Scott Shafer, so they have relationships with many Orange upperclassmen.
“It’s a business trip,” Babers said. “We need to go there and have that type of mindset. (Western Michigan) is a very good football team.”
–RB Dontae Strickland is No. 1 on the depth chart for the opener at Western Michigan. The senior ran 128 times last season for 482 yards and four touchdowns. It’s likely he’ll again basically split carries with junior Moe Neal (488 yards last season).
–RG Koda Martin, a graduate transfer from Texas A&M (and the son-in-law of Syracuse coach Dino Babers) is listed as the starting right guard for the opener.
–WR Nykeim Johnson is “banged up,” according to coach Dino Babers and was not listed on the initial depth chart. He has been expected to be a key part of the rotation.