By JOHN KEKIS
The Associated Press
Maybe the breakthrough Syracuse coach Dino Babers has been expecting has finally arrived.
The Orange have won their first two games for the first time under Babers, and his up-tempo offense has shined in victories at Western Michigan and at home on Saturday over Football Championship Subdivision foe Wagner.
In his first two head coaching stops, at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green, his teams clicked in his second season at each school. His third year at Syracuse so far is the charm for Babers.
“I think we just did what everyone anticipated us doing,” Babers said. “If we did anything different, there would be all kinds of articles written. But we’re at the spot where we’re supposed to be.
“To be where we are and to keep it going would be a very favorable situation for us.”
Senior quarterback Eric Dungey has orchestrated the two wins with his legs and strong right arm, amassing 646 yards of total offense to rank 17th nationally. He’s 35 for 63 passing for 467 yards and seven TDs with one interception and has rushed for 244 yards and one score, averaging 9.4 yards per carry.
Against Wagner, Dungey matched a school record with five touchdown passes — to five different players — to lead a 62-10 assault.
“I get to build chemistry with different guys,” Dungey said. “That’s big for us. Spread the ball out, let those guys make plays.”
Syracuse has scored 117 points and its 58.5 points per game is tied for sixth nationally with Atlantic Coast Conference rival Boston College as the Orange prepare to host Florida State (1-1, 0-1 ACC) on Saturday in Syracuse’s first conference game.
The Seminoles, who were ranked No. 19 in the preseason poll, are coming off a victory over FCS foe Samford, but had to rally late in the fourth quarter to get it.
Syracuse, which has beaten perennial powers Clemson and Virginia Tech in the Carrier Dome since Babers took over, will present a challenge for the Seminoles defense. Dungey, who rushed for a school record 200 yards against Western Michigan, guided scoring drives on seven of the first 10 possessions against Wagner as Syracuse built a 45-7 halftime lead. The 45 points tied the school record for points in a half, set against Colgate in 1959, when the Orange won their lone national championship, and equaled against Miami in 1998, the final home game of quarterback Donovan McNabb’s stellar career.
“They really go fast, and I know this season they’ve done a good job of being pretty balanced … running and throwing the ball and having some skilled guys out there,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said. “So another challenge for our defense.”
Overall, Syracuse is averaging 508 yards of total offense per game, 274.5 on the ground, 6 yards a play, and 7.4 yards per pass attempt. The Orange also have converted 12 of 14 red zone possessions, scoring 10 TDs, and special teams have performed at a high level. The Orange are ranked in the top 20 nationally in kickoff return defense, net punting, and punt return defense, and walk-on place-kicker Andre Szmyt, a redshirt freshman, has yet to miss a kick — converting 15 PATs and four field goals.
“I think that we’ve done really well,” Babers said. “Now the real test is we’ve got some guys [FSU] that are bigger than us, some guys that are faster than us, definitely guys that were more highly recruited than the guys that we’re playing with.
“We’re going to have to see where our development is, find out exactly where we’re at.”