Ask anyone who the greatest quarterback in Syracuse University football history is, and chances are the first name that pops up will be Donovan McNabb. After that, the discussion turns to Don McPherson and Marvin Graves, and recently, Ryan Nassib has been added to that upper echelon of top signal callers in Orange history. In the next few years, Eric Dungey has a chance to equal them all.
Now, before we really get into it, there’s the obvious caveat: the most important element in Dungey’s progression as a quarterback is whether or not he can stay healthy. Last season he had his bell rung more than anyone would like, and that’s part of what happens when you’ve got an athletic quarterback whose greatest asset is his ability to scramble, improvise, and make plays with his feet. And considering putting his body at risk runs in the family, it’s hard to imagine that risk going away entirely in the future.
That said, the new offense being installed by Dino Babers should take an awful lot of that danger out of the equation, relying on quicker passes and decisions, and a more uptempo offense that will allow Dungey to get the ball out of his hands far faster. Now, if you look at the stats, you’ll note that Bowling Green quarterbacks were sacked more times (36) than Syracuse quarterbacks last year (21). But that’s obviously misleading.
The most important number for the sake of comparison here is the sheer number of pass attempts by each team. Last season, Bowling Green attempted 594 passes, compared to just 306 for the Orange. So in 630 passing situations, opposing defenses only got to the quarterback every 17.5 attempts. Syracuse quarterbacks, on the other hand, were sacked every 15.6 drop backs, and that’s not counting the number of times Dungey and Zack Mahoney made plays with their feet to get out of the grasp of defenders getting into the backfield.
And that was the most sacks surrendered in four years for Dino Babers as a head coach. In 2014, his first season at Bowling Green, his quarterbacks were sacked just 28 times with 547 pass attempts. The numbers are even better when you include Eastern Illinois, where they threw the ball even more than at Bowling Green. In 2013, EIU quarterbacks threw 608 passes – and were sacked just 20 times all season. In four years under Babers, his offenses have thrown 2,303 passes with 113 sacks taken, which translates to a sack roughly every 21 drop backs. That’s a terrific sack percentage of just 4.6% in four seasons (compare that to a 15.7% sack percentage for Syracuse quarterbacks last season), which bodes tremendously well for Dungey’s future.
In other words, the system should do Dungey some serious favors in protecting him from taking too many hits, especially once he starts to realize he doesn’t need to use his feet to make plays nearly as often.
Last season, Dungey played in eight games, throwing for 1,298 yards at a clip of 59.7% with 11 touchdowns against five interceptions. Those numbers stack up very well against the rarified air of Syracuse’s top four all-time passers.
McNabb had by far the best freshman season, and he and Graves were the only two of the big four to start all four seasons, though McPherson and Nassib both saw the field as freshmen. McNabb played in 11 games, throwing for 1,991 yards with a percentage of 61.8% and 16 touchdowns against six picks. Graves, meanwhile, completed 57.5% of his passes for 1,711 yards with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 10 games.
McPherson’s freshman season he only attempted 29 passes, but his sophomore season – the first year he started under center – is extremely similar to Dungey’s production last year. As a sophomore, McPherson completed 53.5% of his passes for 1,469 yards with 12 touchdowns against five interceptions. Nassib, meanwhile, saw more action as a freshman than did McPherson, but we’ll stick with his first year as a starter, which was his sophomore campaign. That year, in a more QB friendly offense and era than McPherson, McNabb, or Graves played in, he completed 56.4% of his passes for 2,334 yards with 19 touchdowns against eight picks.
This is really a long way to say that if he’s able to stay healthy, and given the nature of this Dino Babers offense, Dungey has a chance to completely rewrite the Syracuse passing record books. Based on his first season numbers, he’s already showing he compares very favorably to the greatest to ever throw passes for the Orange.