Syracuse puts loss to Notre Dame behind
Syracuse coach Dino Babers offered little on quarterback Eric Dungey and a lot on the Orange’s third loss of what has been a breakthrough season.
Dungey was injured in the first quarter Saturday in a 36-3 setback to No. 3 Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium and never returned to the sideline. Dungey, third in total offense in the Atlantic Coast Conference (2,901 yards), finished just 1-of-4 passing for 10 yards with one interception and rushed twice for another eight.
Babers said Monday he was hopeful Dungey would be available for the 19th-ranked Orange’s season finale at Boston College on Saturday. He had no update on Dungey’s status — it was announced as an upper-body injury — but added the senior was able to get into a hot tub on his own Sunday.
The lopsided loss to the Irish sent the Orange plummeting seven spots in the AP Top 25 and short-circuited their late-season surge to land a prized spot in the postseason. Still, since an overtime loss at Pittsburgh in early October, Syracuse (8-3, 5-2 ACC) had won four straight conference games to move into second place in the Atlantic Division behind powerhouse Clemson (11-0, 8-0), ranked second nationally.
“The thing I look at most in the second half of our season is we’ve got one loss,” Babers said. “We have an opportunity to go 5-1 on the back half. I think the biggest thing is seeing if we can make that happen.”
The injury to Dungey exposed a weakness against a step up in competition. Backup Tommy DeVito, a redshirt freshman who’s had plenty of reps in both spring ball and preseason camp and success in two games this season, didn’t fare so well against the Irish. A New Jersey native, DeVito was 14-of-31 passing for 105 yards with two interceptions and was sacked six times.
“It was a big blow because we didn’t play well,” Babers said. “Notre Dame was really, really good and they played really, really well. It’s one thing to lose when you play well. It’s another thing to lose when you don’t play well. That’s a fantastic football team. I’m not sure if we could beat them if we played well.
“We had an opportunity, but we didn’t match the opportunity of playing well on that stage.”
Babers noted the difference in performance between his seasoned older players and newcomers with raw talent who faltered. Wideout Taj Harris led the Orange with five catches for 78 yards and now has 33 receptions, tied with Shelby Hill (1990) for the most in program history by a freshman. But Harris also bobbled a pass from DeVito on a crossing route late in the first half and the ball caromed to Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman, who returned it 54 yards to set up a touchdown.
The Irish had been held to a pair of field goals on consecutive drives and the Orange were driving when the turnover occurred.
“It seemed like a lot of the younger players didn’t play as well as the older players,” Babers said. “That’s disappointing for the seniors because it was such an opportunity for them, and that opportunity will never come again.
“This was our first really big game on a national stage outside of our venue. Didn’t play well,” Babers added. “Next time we’ll have that experience in our back pocket. We’re moving through stages here, and we’re moving a little bit quicker than what we anticipated, and that’s OK.”
Syracuse is ranked for the first time since 2001 and had not been ranked this high since it rose to No. 11 in October 1998 in Donovan McNabb’s final season.
After three straight 4-8 finishes, this season has been a significant turnaround.
“I think that we’re ahead of schedule, and I think it’s really cool,” said Babers, in his third season. “There’s a light on the program. People are looking, people are watching. I think we’re at an exciting point if we continue to get better. We can’t stay the same, and we’re getting to the point where we’re being more consistent, which is good.
“That gets me giddy. We’re getting closer to what I envision this thing being, and the young men are working very hard to get there.”