Football

Play stoppages disrupt Syracuse’s offense in 30-23 loss to Middle Tennessee State

Colin Davy | Staff Photographer

Every time it seemed like Syracuse got in a rhythm on offense, Eric Dungey said, a Middle Tennessee State defender went down with an apparent injury.

Eric Dungey stood at the Middle Tennessee State 39-yard-line, ready to take the snap coming out of a timeout. The game was on the line. Syracuse was facing a fourth-and-2 with 1:15 left, down by seven.

Fans around Dungey showered the field with boos on what was, at that point, the biggest play of the game. MTSU defensive backs Mike Minter Jr. and Jovante Moffat were jumping up and down, almost coaxing the fans on.

SU had run three quick plays before to get them to this spot. The timeout was called because, before the fourth-down snap, trainers needed to evaluate a Blue Raiders lying on the ground.

It happened several times throughout the game. SU would get plays off quickly, and then an MTSU defender would go down, needing to be looked at. It was clear from the fans boos that they thought some of the injuries weren’t genuine. They weren’t the only ones.

When Syracuse wide receiver Ervin Philips was asked if he thought MTSU faked some of the injuries, he immediately said, “Oh yeah.”

Syracuse (1-1) is known for running lots of plays and moving quickly on offense. On Saturday afternoon in the Carrier Dome, the team ran 93 plays, 10th-most all time and the sixth time under head coach Dino Babers that the team has run at least 90 plays. Syracuse moved the ball ineffectively on offense, blew several opportunities in the red zone and seemed stymied by blitz packages from MTSU defensive coordinator and former head SU coach Scott Shafer. But its momentum also got stalled every time a defender went down with an injury.

“I feel like if they did fake or not, it happened and it worked out in their benefit,” wide receiver Steve Ishmael said. “I can’t really say if they were faking or not.”

Throughout the game, as it has since Babers came to Syracuse, the offense tried to wear down an opponent with speed. SU was facing a third-and-2 late in the second quarter after quarterback Eric Dungey connected with Ishmael for a gain of nine. Fullback Chris Elmore came on quickly for Philips. MTSU tried to swap out personnel to match Syracuse, but Dungey called for the hike before the Blue Raider defender could get off the field, drawing an illegal substitution penalty.

But perhaps a half-dozen times, when a player went down, the whistle was blown and play stopped. Most of the time, it happened as the offense was already lined up, ready to take the next snap.

“It seemed like every time it was in a crucial situation,” Dungey said of when a Blue Raider went down. “That’s a tough question (on whether or not MTSU was faking the injuries), because you don’t know if they’re actually hurt or not. That’s a question for them, honestly.”

The MTSU postgame press conference was held at the same time as the Syracuse one. Therefore, The Daily Orange did not get to ask Middle Tennessee State players about this matter.

Safety Jordan Martin said that he didn’t notice when most of the injuries happened, because when the SU offense was on the field he was busy trying to get ready for the next defensive series. He did hear the boos coming from the crowd.

Martin, a Toledo transfer, said that while he’d never been told before to fake an injury in a game, he’d heard that it’s a tactic other teams sometimes employ. He did say that some players will also cramp up at times when a game is moving quickly, the way that SU’s offense likes to operate.

Defenders falling to the turf and stalling the offense happened to SU a few times last year too, although never to this extent. But this defense was led by Shafer, though Ishmael and Philips didn’t seem bothered by that. But in a close loss, the Orange found it “frustrating,” as Philips said, at how frequently play stopped.

“I hope they’re not faking injuries,” Dungey said, shaking his head. “Because that’s just unheard of.”

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