Syracuse coach Scott Shafer is running out of time to put the skids on what's shaping up as another lost season.
The Orange (3-6, 1-4 ACC) have lost six straight after a promising start and quarterback Eric Dungey is recovering from another hard hit that knocked him out of the Louisville game on Saturday.
Shafer said Tuesday that Dungey was being monitored daily and declined to say whether the freshman would start at home on Saturday against No. 1 Clemson (9-0, 6-0 ACC).
''I'm concerned about the well-being of every single athlete on our team, as I always have been,'' Shafer said. ''We make the best decisions to protect our players from the information we get from the ... medical staff.''
Dungey did not play against LSU in late September because of a likely concussion suffered in a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit against Central Michigan the previous week. Syracuse does not publicly specify whether players have concussions unless they are prevented from playing.
Despite caution urged by the coaching staff, Dungey has been hit hard in the head area on several occasions since then while scrambling or running. He endured a hard hit against Virginia while leaping over a defender into the end zone for a touchdown and was flattened by a hit against Pittsburgh, briefly lying face-down and motionless before popping back up. Against Louisville, his legs writhed in pain before he walked off the field after being hurt on a play. Dungey was examined briefly by the staff on the sideline, then went to the locker room.
Shafer, who was criticized for having Dungey in the huddle with 4:21 remaining in the game and the Orange trailing 41-10, said afterward that Dungey suffered a head injury, but did not elaborate.
Dungey leads the Orange in carries with 91 for 351 yards and five TDs, and he's 105-of-176 passing for 1,298 yards and 11 TDs with five interceptions.
''For Eric, a very competitive guy ... for the most part he's done a very good job of that (avoiding big hits),'' Shafer said. ''I personally feel really bad that he got hurt there late in the game. For me, it was still an opportunity to keep our first-string offense in because we want to continue to compete ... try to make it interesting.''
Dungey is listed on the depth chart as the starter for Clemson. If that changes when the injury report is released Thursday, walk-on Zack Mahoney could make his second career start. At least he's seen the top echelon of the college game - his first start was against then-No. 8 LSU in late September and he threw three touchdown passes in a 34-24 loss.
Shafer shrugged at the thought of Mahoney, who enrolled in January after playing one season of junior college ball at the College of DuPage in Illinois, making his first two FBS starts against two of the top-ranked teams in the nation.
''It's not hard to approach,'' Shafer said. ''The kids love football and they love the opportunity to play in a game like this. They're living the dream, man.''
Syracuse finished 3-9 last year, dropping nine of its final 10 games, and this year's slide has spiked the criticism of the coaching staff. First-year athletic director Mark Coyle has said he will assess the football program at season's end.
In the meantime, Shafer simply soldiers on, trying to mold a winner out of a bunch of youngsters. Twenty-seven underclassmen have made at least one start this season.
''We're fighting our tails off to get better,'' Shafer said. ''I knew a couple years ago that we were gonna have a void this season and have to play some young, talented players.''
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