Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey has adapted well to coach Dino Babers and the fast-paced offense he's installed. And Dungey has turned more than a few heads with his success in the new system.
Syracuse (4-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) leads the ACC and ranks fifth nationally in passing offense, averaging 357.1 yards per game, and he leads the conference with 328 passing yards a game.
''I'm just trying to do my part,'' said Dungey, leader of an offense that's on pace to produce the most prolific passing season in program history. In a 28-20 win at Boston College two weeks ago, he threw for a career-high 434 yards and three touchdowns, his sixth 300-yard passing game of the season.
The Orange are coming off an important bye week. They've had two weeks to get ready to travel to No. 3 Clemson on Saturday. The Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC), one of five undefeated teams remaining in college football, are coming off a 37-34 triumph at Florida State .
Despite consecutive victories over then-No. 17 Virginia Tech and Boston College that rescued a fading season, the Orange are listed as 28-point underdogs against Clemson , ranked second in the season's first College Football Playoff rankings.
Still, they relish the chance to shine in the national spotlight.
''We've been the underdog all season,'' Dungey said. ''I think we were supposed to win just one game, but it's cool. Really no pressure on us. The pressure's on the other team.
''It's a huge statement if we beat them. We just have to focus on doing our job.''
Babers garnered national attention with his stirring speech in the Carrier Dome locker room after the big win over the Hokies. This week he's using a different tack.
''The really cool thing about football is that the ball's not round, and it doesn't bounce correctly all the time,'' Babers said. ''If we can get a couple of bounces our way, then maybe, maybe we get a chance. Maybe.
''But don't bet the house on it, brother.''
Understandable sentiment since the game will be played in Death Valley. It's also the sign of a master motivator.
''That's Coach B.,'' Dungey said. ''I love to prove people wrong. That's one of my favorite things. At the end of the day, it's just going to be us lined up against another team.
''It's going to be loud, but at the end of the day the field ... is the same size. Coach says you can't let the stage get too big.''
Last November against Syracuse, Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson made sure the unbeaten Tigers stayed on track for a shot at the national championship, accumulating 461 total yards and accounting for three touchdowns in a 37-27 victory over a team that finished 4-8.
It seems different this time for the Orange.
''Last two games have built our confidence a little bit, raised the bar, raised the standards,''said Syracuse wideout Amba Etta-Tawo, who tops the conference with 1,034 yards receiving and seven TD catches.
Added linebacker Zaire Franklin: ''It's just a different vibe in the locker room. Our outlook is looking a lot different. I'm not looking at it as a big statement. I'm just looking at it as beating a very good team on the road. To be blessed on this upward swing, everybody's playing with a little more confidence.''
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Freelance writer Mark Frank contributed from Syracuse.
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