Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey is certain of one thing - the second game of the season will be a reunion in his football journey.
The Orange's record-setting junior quarterback is thriving in the uptempo offensive scheme of second-year coach Dino Babers. On Saturday, he'll face the coach that saw something special in him in high school in Oregon when few others did and lured him across the country to Syracuse. Scott Shafer will be on the opposing sideline in the Carrier Dome when Middle Tennessee visits on Saturday.
Shafer is in his first season as defensive coordinator for the Blue Raiders, who lost their opener at home to Vanderbilt 28-6.
"He's a genius, so he's going to come up with something," Dungey said of Shafer.
Former athletic director Mark Coyle fired Shafer, who won 14 games in three years, with one game left in the 2015 season. But Shafer was allowed to coach his last game at the helm. That game in the Carrier Dome ended in a last-second victory over Boston College, and he was carried off the field by players.
Many of those players are still dressed in Orange, and Babers understands their mindset.
"A lot of these guys are in the room because Scott Shafer recruited them, and that's a positive," Babers said. "Now it's an opportunity for them to go back, `Hey, you know what? You recruited me, you thought I could do this.'"
Shafer, who also served as Syracuse's defensive coordinator, seems to be relishing the opportunity.
"He said we would all be best friends for life if we beat Syracuse," Blue Raiders senior linebacker D.J. Sanders said. "That's extra motive for us. It's may be kind of personal for him, but for us it's just another game and that's how we're going to approach it."
Other things to know when Syracuse hosts Middle Tennessee on Saturday:
Despite missing almost eight games because of injury in his first two seasons, when he's been healthy Dungey has been stellar under the guidance of Babers. In last week's opener against FCS foe Central Connecticut State , Dungey was 37 of 52 with three TDs and finished with 328 yards passing to tie Ryan Nassib for the most 300-yard games in Syracuse history (seven). He also ran for a team-high 51 yards and two more TDs in a 50-7 victory.
"From a quarterback standpoint, it was the best game Dungey has ever played here," Babers said. "He was operating at a very high level."
THE SHAFER FACTOR
Babers knows the Blue Raiders have an advantage with Shafer calling the defensive shots against the team that fired him. He remains confident, nonetheless.
"It's a huge advantage," Babers said. "If you asked me to go back and coach one of my old teams, I'm going to know most players. What he doesn't know is what's happened since he left."
DOWN, NOT OUT
Middle Tennessee was unable to capitalize on the home field advantage last week against an in-state rival that plays in the powerful Southeastern Conference. Forgetting that loss to Vandy is paramount for success against the Orange.
"The response that I wanted was a team that was going to be resilient, not feel sorry for themselves and hang their head, and that's what I got," Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said. "Our players invested a lot in that game, not just in the week prior, but since January when we came back. When you invest that much and you don't get the reward that you were striving to get, it's tough."
In the loss to Vandy, Middle Tennessee allowed QB Kyle Shurmur to complete 13 of his first 14 passes as the Commodores built an early 21-0 lead. Dungey completed his first 13 passes and the Orange led CCSU 21-0 in the first quarter.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Stockstill's son, Brent, is Middle Tennessee's starting quarterback, and he can strike fear into opposing defenses. The left-hander counts junior wideout Richie James as his favorite target. James is the school's all-time leading receiver (3,083 yards) and has registered at least 100 yards receiving in 11 of his last 15 games.
Copyright 2017 by the Associated Press