Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey is about to confront a big challenge - ignoring a frightening moment in his college career.
It's been two years since he took a violent helmet-to-helmet hit in the Carrier Dome that knocked him out of a game against Central Michigan in only his second start for the Orange. The Chippewas (2-0), who lost that game in overtime, return on Saturday with the player that delivered the blow - defensive end Mitch Stanitzek - a prominent part of their defense.
Dungey said he remains focused on the task at hand.
"I'm just going to try and go out and put my team in the best situation to win the game," he said. "I try to protect my body, and I'm hoping the refs can keep me safe as well."
Dungey said the team hadn't talked about the play - Stanitzek was ejected for targeting - but Central Michigan coach John Bonamego anticipated addressing it before the opening kickoff.
"It's probably something that we'll discuss," Bonamego said. "Mitch, in his heart, knows what he did was not intentional."
"It was just one of those bang-bang plays," Bonamego said. "He (Stanitzek) had already committed himself to the tackle and Dungey stumbled right before the contact. It was an ugly play to watch happen. I'm pleased to see that he's healthy."
Syracuse (1-1) needs a win after an unexpected home loss last week to Middle Tennessee . That was an emotion-packed game with former Syracuse coach Scott Shafer calling the defensive shots for the Blue Raiders, derailing Dungey and the Orange's uptempo offense.
"We know that it is very important. We have to get this win," Syracuse wide receiver Steve Ishmael said. "We know that we are a good football team. We know that we can win."
The game promises to be an aerial assault. The Chippewas rank 13th nationally in passing offense (360 yards per game) and the Orange are 25th (306.5). Michigan transfer Shane Morris is operating at a high level for the Chippewas. The left-hander threw for 467 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-27 win last week at Kansas .
"This guy has a lot of experience," Syracuse coach Dino Babers said. "He's an older guy. He's not going to be intimidated by the environment."
Other things to know when Syracuse hosts Central Michigan on Saturday:
Ishmael leads the nation with 26 catches and is the first player in Syracuse history to post consecutive games with at least 11 receptions. The Orange also are the only FBS team with two players who have at least 140 or more career receptions. Ervin Philips has 147, Ishmael 140.
Central Michigan has eight interceptions to lead the nation. That includes a program-record six in the season opener against Rhode Island, a triple-overtime win. The Chippewas had 13 picks all of last season.
THIRD DOWN KEY?
The Orange rank second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and fifth nationally in third-down conversion defense at 14.8 percent (4 of 27). The Chippewas rank 116th in the FBS in converting on third down with a success rate of just 28.1 percent (9 of 32).
POWER 5 SUCCESS
The Chippewas have done well against Power 5 teams, topping Iowa in 2012, Purdue in 2014, Oklahoma State last year and Kansas this season.
"I think it (the Kansas win) confirms validity for us," Bonamego said. "There was a sense of urgency and pride to show people what we're all about. When we play well, we feel our best is good enough to beat anybody."
Babers will face a Mid-American Conference foe for the first time as the Orange head coach. He coached current MAC member Bowling Green for two years before taking over at Syracuse before last season. He guided the Falcons to the conference title in 2015 but never coached against Central Michigan. His last loss to a MAC opponent was 44-28 at Toledo in November 2015.
Copyright 2017 by the Associated Press