Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 19, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 32 of 55 NOV. 19, 2018 33 BY COREY BODDEN F ollowing 4-8 seasons in 2016 and 2017, Syracuse has hit its stride in 2018 under third-year head coach Dino Babers. Hired following a two-year stint at Bowling Green during which he posted an 18-9 record, Babers was tasked with overhauling a reeling Syracuse offense that had finished 113th or worse in total yards per game the previous two years and av- eraged only 22.2 points per game. Babers had orchestrated the na- tion's No. 4 total offense (546.8 yards per game) and No. 6 scoring offense (42.2 points per game) during his last season with the Falcons. After two years of implementing his attack with the Orange, Babers' offense has crept closer and closer each season to the coach's numbers from Bowling Green. In 2016, Syracuse ranked 42nd in total offense (440.8 yards per game), but averaged just 25.7 points per con- test. The following season brought an increase with the unit moving up to 23rd in total offense (456.3) while averaging 27.4 points per game. Getting yards through the air was Babers' forte in both seasons, averag- ing 308.1 passing and just 138.1 on the ground. However, Babers has wanted to be more balanced offensively, which is what has happened so far in 2018. During its 7-2 start, Syracuse ranked eighth in scoring (43.3), 15th in total offense (478.2) and 36th in rushing offense (203.9). The Orange began the year 4-0 and almost upset No. 2 Clemson for a sec- ond straight season, which preceded an overtime loss on the road to Pitts- burgh. Babers and company bounced back in late October by picking up three straight wins, including a 51-41 home victory over North Carolina State. Offensively, it starts with senior quarterback Eric Dungey, who has averaged 3,000 yards of total offense and 22 touchdowns the past two sea- sons. Through Nov. 3, his 295.4 ca- reer yards of total offense per game ranked fourth among active Football Bowl Subdivision players who have appeared in at least 15 games. In his first nine games this season, Dungey threw for 2,001 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions while leading the team in rushing with 628 yards and 10 scores. It hasn't all been pretty, though, for him in 2018. "This season Eric Dungey has been great and just okay," CuseCon- publisher Ryan Mur- ray stated. "Overall he has played well, but the Pittsburgh game was his worst at Syracuse and he was pulled in the North Carolina game. "He has responded in a big way though since his benching. Dungey has a blend of size and speed that makes him tough to defend. His pass- ing abilities are not great, but his threat as a runner helps with his passing." Dungey isn't the only one making plays in the run game. Junior run- ning back Moe Neal (553 yards and three touchdowns) and senior run- ning back Dontae Strickland (354 and six) have combined for 907 yards and nine touchdowns. "Neal is the speed and home-run threat," Murray stated. "Strickland is the better blocker of the two. "Add in [freshman] Jarveon How- ard and you have a solid group of backs to support Dungey." Upperclassmen Jamal Custis and Sean Riley are Dungey's top two op- tions out wide in the passing game. The fifth-year senior Custis leads the Orange in yards (734) and touch- downs (five) on just 40 catches (18.4 yards per reception). Riley, a junior, is first in receptions with 51 and has compiled 552 receiving yards with two touchdowns. Sophomore Nykeim Johnson isn't far behind, hauling in 32 passes for 462 yards and three scores. "Jamal Custis and [freshman] Taj Harris bring solid hands, height and speed," Murray noted. "In the slot, Syracuse has big-play threats in Sean Riley and Nykeim Johnson. "The tight end spot does not get used much, though [senior] Ravian Pierce can make plays in the passing game when his number is called." Syracuse returned three offensive linemen who started in 2017 with senior left tackle Cody Conway, red- shirt sophomore center Airon Ser- vais and redshirt junior right guard Evan Adams, but the experience up front doesn't stop there. Fifth-year senior left guard Aaron Roberts was a starter in 2016 before missing all of 2017 with an injury, and Babers was able to land a graduate transfer at right tackle in Koda Martin, who started 16 games at Texas A&M. Overall, the group started 81 games combined entering the season. "The Syracuse offensive line is the deepest they have had in years," Mur- ray said. "The group has all had a lot The Big Orange Syracuse and Notre Dame meet in New York for a top-25 showdown Senior quarterback Eric Dungey brings a dual- threat ability to the Orange offense, rushing for a team-high 628 yards and 10 touchdowns while throwing for 2,001 yards and 13 scores through nine games. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN Facts & Figures NOTRE DAME VS. SYRACUSE Game Info Date: Nov. 17, 2018. Site: Yankee Stadium (54,251). Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. ET. Television: NBC. Radio: This broadcast can be heard live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio (channel 129) and on Notre Dame's IMG affiliates. Series Facts: The Irish lead the all-time series 5-3, including winning the last two in 2014 (31-15) and 2016 (50-33) since joining the ACC. Head Coaches: Syracuse — Dino Babers (16-18, 3rd season); Notre Dame — Brian Kelly (79-34, ninth season). Noting Syracuse: The Orange will try to make it two straight seasons with a win over a top-five opponent in the state of New York after defeating then-No. 2 Clemson at home on Oct. 13, 2017 … Syracuse led the ACC and ranked fifth nationally in turnover margin (plus-12) after 10 weeks … With their seventh win of the season Nov. 3 (Wake Forest), Syra- cuse is bowl eligible and has secured its first winning season since 2013 (7-6) … On Oct. 28, the Orange cracked the national polls for the first time in 17 years — the second longest Power Five Associated Press poll drought be- hind only Indiana (1994) — and checked in at No. 13 the following week for its highest rating since moving to No. 11 on Sept. 28, 1998. GAME PREVIEW: SYRACUSE

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