Syracuse QB Eric Dungey presents major challenge for Pitt
Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey used to spend his summers jumping off a 75-foot high ledge into the Willamette River in his hometown of Lake Oswego, Ore. And that was after using a rope to climb a tree and swing onto the ledge.
You think Pitt’s defense poses a bigger challenge?
“There’s been close calls,” Dungey told Syracuse.com this summer before the start of his senior season. “But that’s what makes it even more fun. I never got hurt doing anything like that. We were pretty smart about it. Smart and stupid at the same time.”
Said his mom, Cindy: “These are the things that made me old before my time.”
Playing football can’t be any more difficult, right?
Actually, Dungey makes the game look easy. In four years as Syracuse’s starting quarterback, he’s approaching 10,000 total yards passing and running (9,089), and he even has caught three passes, made four tackles, forced a fumble, punted twice and played Florida State on a broken foot.
The latter achievement occurred last season in a 27-24 loss, when he suffered the injury early, missed a few series but returned to finish the game and account for 387 total yards.
He has attracted the attention of the Pitt defense in three of the past four seasons -- he missed Pitt’s 76-61 victory in 2016 with a head injury -- and he’s sure to force a few defenders to grasp nothing but air Saturday when the Orange (4-1, 1-1 ACC) visit Heinz Field.
It will be the second consecutive week Pitt (2-3, 1-1) must find a way to slow down a quarterback who can throw and run with equal skill in a speed-based offense. Central Florida’s McKenzie Milton totaled 379 yards last week in a 45-14 victory, and he’s 5 inches shorter and 47 pounds lighter than Dungey.
“He can run through arm tackles,” Pitt assistant head coach/defensive line Charlie Partridge said of Dungey, who stands 6-4, 232.
That’s a warning for Pitt, which has allowed five teams to total 2,153 yards this season. The answer, if there is one?
“Do everything you can to get his legs wrapped up and rally to the ball,” Partridge said. “It’s going to take gang-tackling. It’s going to take a tremendous effort to bring him down.
“We know he’s going to break a tackle at some point during the game, and we have to have multiple guys there at the point of attack.”
Senior defensive end Dewayne Hendrix said defending Syracuse’s run/pass option is a challenge.
“It’s kind of hard,” he said. “You don’t want to run upfield when it’s a run, and when it’s a pass you don’t want to stay on the line of scrimmage.”
In any case, Pitt will need to improve its pass rush, which has managed only four sacks in the past four games.
“How many did we miss?” Hendrix said. “It’s all about finishing.”
Dealing with Dungey, who’s almost like a tight end at quarterback, is difficult enough, but Partridge said he expects Syracuse to move even faster than Central Florida.
“Sometimes, they get the ball (snapped) in seven or eight seconds,” he said. “That’s about as fast as you can possibly go. They average 2-3 seconds faster per play (than UCF).”
Pitt found a way to counteract Syracuse’s offense two years ago at Heinz Field, but they did it by scoring 11 touchdowns, and needed most of them. Pitt won in the highest-scoring FBS game of all-time, but it was as much of a struggle as a 15-point victory can be. The game featured 1,312 yards of running and throwing and 20 touchdowns, 10 by Pitt’s offense that scored once every six snaps.
“I’ve never been in a game like that,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “I don’t ever want to be in a game like that again.”
Syracuse coach Dino Babers expects to oblige. He said his defense has improved and was largely responsible for the near-upset of No. 4 Clemson that turned into a 27-23 loss Saturday.
“I just think that there’s a lot more trust, a lot more faith that the guy next to you is going to get his job done,” Babers said. “I just feel like we have a lot more confidence. We know exactly what we want to do.”
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