Even as his third season at Syracuse begins to seem like a mirror image of the second, coach Scott Shafer likes what he's sees.
Last year, Syracuse won its first two games before a slew of injuries to key players short-circuited the promising start. The Orange finished 3-9 overall, 1-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and missed the postseason after winning a bowl game in Shafer's first season.
Syracuse started this season 3-0 but has since dropped three straight: 34-24 at home game against then-No. 8 LSU; a 45-24 blowout at South Florida; and 44-38 in triple overtime at Virginia on Saturday.
''We're a young team that's working hard, that's learning week to week,'' Shafer said Tuesday during a conference call. ''We really felt confident that we had some talented young players, but the proof is in the production, and the production's been very good.''
On this week's two-deep depth chart for Saturday's home game against No. 25 Pittsburgh (5-1, 3-0 ACC), 10 players on offense and 14 on defense are either freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores.
''That's pretty good,'' Shafer said. ''Underclassmen are 95 percent of our offense, so we're going to have all these guys back.''
Leading the way has been freshman quarterback Eric Dungey, who replaced Terrel Hunt after the senior starter was lost for the year with an Achilles tendon injury in the first quarter of the opener against Rhode Island. Dungey is 58 of 92 passing for 810 yards and nine TDs with only one interception, has rushed for 222 yards and three scores, and leads the ACC in pass efficiency (167.1).
''These are real completions, and that's extremely encouraging as a young quarterback to see that efficiency rating,'' Shafer said. ''He's doing a good job with his decisions.''
Key contributors also include: freshman Jordan Fredericks, who has 269 yards rushing and three TDs and is now listed first on the depth chart at running back; sophomore wideout Steve Ishmael, who has 18 catches for 258 yards and three touchdowns; and sophomore hybrid back Erv Philips, who's averaging a team-high 49.6 yards receiving per game, though he missed three games with a knee injury.
''I'm happy with where they are right now,'' Shafer said. ''My expectations (before the season) were to just see if they could help us. I guess you could say they're probably exceeding where I thought they'd be initially. I haven't looked at it quite that way, but they're doing a good job.
''We're going to have to ramp it up in the second half of the season,'' Shafer added. ''The good news is those guys, they're still young, but they're not as young as they were when they first walked in here. They're continuing to grow.''
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