SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Five straight losses to end his second season at Syracuse wasn’t what coach Dino Babers envisioned. He remains resolute in his optimism going forward.
“I don’t feel like this is the end of what we’re going to do,” Babers said Saturday after the Orange had lost their final game of the season, 42-14 to Boston College . “I feel like this is the beginning. I really believe that the 2018 season is going to be something we’ll talk about here for a long time.”
Syracuse, which finished 4-8 for the third straight year and hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2013, won only two of eight games in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A season that started with so much optimism quickly began to turn sour when Syracuse was upset at home in early September by Middle Tennessee State, with former Orange head coach Scott Shafer calling the defensive shots for the visitors.
There has been one constant for a team that seems to be stuck in neutral - in all three of his seasons at the helm, dual-threat quarterback Eric Dungey has missed too many games. Overall, he’s missed 10, including the final three of each year, and the Orange have lost all but one of those games.
Dungey’s first two seasons were marred by several hits to the head that resulted in at least one concussion. This year, he finally began to heed the advice of his coaches and started avoiding many of the big hits directed his way, and while he was in there averaged 343.3 yards offensively per game, fifth in the nation. But he suffered an injury to his right leg on a running play in a loss at Florida State and watched his teammates get clobbered by a combined 162-67 in lopsided losses to Wake Forest , Louisville and BC to close the season.
“There’s only so much you can do when he’s not on the field. There’s just a different energy about our team,” said redshirt freshman quarterback Rex Culpepper, who looked sharp against BC in his first college start. “Although our record doesn’t show it, we’re leaps and bounds ahead of where we were last year.”
With plenty of time to heal, if he can remain healthy Dungey should be a force to be reckoned with as a senior, and highly touted QB Tommy DeVito will be a redshirt freshman ready to make his Orange debut.
But there are huge holes to fill offensively with the graduation of two of the most prolific wide receivers in school history. Steve Ishmael had 105 catches for 1,347 yards, both school records, and Erv Philips caught 89 passes for 904 yards, many on critical third downs.
Defensively, the Orange lose standout linebackers Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett, who combined for 200 tackles and 31 sacks this fall. The lack of depth on that side of the ball proved telling in the long run.
When Syracuse upset defending national champion Clemson in mid-October, the Orange were without four players - including standout safety Antwan Cordy - who started on defense in the season opener. Cordy, who was awarded a medical redshirt for 2016 after missing 10 games due to a forearm injury, suffered a leg injury in the opener and again was lost for the season.
“Injuries are part of the game, and everyone has them,” Babers said. “We have to continue to work on the people who aren’t in the game because some day they will be. You have to continue to coach that underbelly.”
Despite Dungey’s significant contributions, Syracuse had another glaring hole in its resume - the Orange were 0-5 on the road. That the first four setbacks - to LSU , North Carolina State , Miami and Florida State - were by single digits lends a note of optimism going forward.
Although the shocking victory over Clemson seems so long ago because of the losing streak, Babers can use it as a recruiting tool to demonstrate what is possible with his system. The Orange also upset Virginia Tech at home last season when the Hokies were ranked No. 17.
“I just feel like we’ve come a long way just as a program and as a family,” Philips said. “I think we did some great things this year and hopefully it carries on to next year and we’ll be able to finish some things.”
More AP college football at http://collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Kekis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Greek1947
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.