Syracuse hosts FCS foe Wagner, looking to get to 2-0
By JOHN KEKIS
Syracuse looks to get to 2-0 for the first time under third-year coach Dino Babers.
The Orange will attempt to prove the Carrier Dome really is "our house," starting with a three-game home stand.
"We're looking forward to getting back in front of the student body, the community," Babers said. "I think it's time to get back to Syracuse football."
The Orange host Championship Subdivision foe Wagner (1-0) on Saturday, a team they defeated 54-0 in their only previous meeting five years ago.
Last October, quarterback Eric Dungey guided Syracuse to a stunning upset of No. 2 Clemson in the Carrier Dome. But he sat out the final three games of the season with a foot injury and the Orange lost their final two home games to finish 4-3 at home.
Healthy again, Dungey led the Orange to a 55-42 victory in their season-opener on the road last Friday night at Western Michigan . The win snapped the five-game losing streak that ended last season, but there were moments that likely put Babers on edge.
Syracuse jumped to a 34-7 halftime lead , then allowed three straight touchdowns to open the third quarter. But the Orange held off the Broncos while Dungey rushed for 200 yards, a school record for a quarterback.
"It was nice to see that test, to see them be in control, then to let it get a little bit out of control, and for them to regroup and refocus, put out the fire, so to speak," said Babers, who has yet to start a season at Syracuse with two straight wins and has only three road victories. "It was encouraging to see that."
The team will try to focus on Wagner and not think about their next game against Florida State.
"Wagner is a good football team," Babers said. "You saw what happened to us when we lost our concentration with Western Michigan. We've got to go out and play this game and have the right mindset."
Other things to know when Wagner visits Syracuse on Saturday:
During preseason camp Babers gave highly regarded backup quarterback Tommy DeVito plenty of reps with the first team, as he did in spring ball when Dungey was recuperating from the foot injury. Babers, who was coy when asked about his plans for the redshirt freshman, inserted DeVito late in the second quarter against Western Michigan with the Orange comfortably ahead.
DeVito also played most of the third quarter, and the Orange offense faltered with a turnover and two three-and-outs before Dungey came back in to lead the team to the victory.
Still, there were signs of promise - a 48-yard completion to Jamal Custis (it was nullified by a holding penalty), nice touch on a shovel pass to tight end Ravian Pierce (it resulted in a lost fumble), and runs of 11 and 13 yards. DeVito finished with seven carries for 12 yards and was 4-for-9 passing for 42 yards.
"Tommy messed up on a bunch of stuff. There was other stuff that he did really good," Babers said. "He was just like all the other freshmen that played."
Although he missed nine entire games and parts of others with injuries in his first three seasons, the 6-foot-3, 226-pound Dungey still carries that proverbial chip on his shoulder, especially when he runs. His 200 yards against WMU came on just 15 carries and included another for the highlight reel - a stiff-arm that knocked linebacker Alex Grace backward onto the turf inside the 10-yard line to set up a touchdown.
"He's like a river behind a dam," Babers said. "You're trying to hold him off."
The Seawolves opened their season last week by beating Division II power Bowie State 40-23 behind senior RB Ryan Fulse, who rushed for a career-high 271 yards and three TDs. This will be Wagner's ninth game against a Bowl Subdivision team since 2012. Although the Seawolves have yet to win one, stepping up in competition is no longer such a big deal.
"It's just another game, another week," Wagner coach Jason Houghtaling said. "It's exciting, but because we've done it quite a bit around here, I don't think we make it bigger than it is anymore."
Although Syracuse won its opener and the defense nabbed two interceptions, the Orange defenders allowed 42 points and 621 total yards to a team that was ranked near the bottom of Division I in offense last year. The Orange secondary was twice beaten for long TDs - 84 and 64 yards - in a span of just over 2 minutes in the third quarter.
CUSTIS CATCHES ON
Redshirt senior WR Jamal Custis is on the cusp of becoming the next go-to target for the Orange. He had six catches for 168 yards and two TDs against WMU, the top receiving yardage total in the Atlantic Coast Conference in Week 1.
Syracuse has won its last 34 games against current FCS teams. The Orange's last loss to a current FCS squad was 14-13 at Holy Cross in 1958.
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Updated September 7, 2018