Late in the second quarter, with the Syracuse Orange down 21-0 to the Florida State Seminoles, ESPN’s Beth Mowins and Anthony Becht remarked that Amba Etta-Tawo was not putting up his usual numbers (he had just one catch at the time).
Within minutes, he ended up catching a 46-yard Hail Mary in a crowded end zone to give Syracuse their first points of the game as time expired in the half.
Etta-Tawo, once on pace to shatter every Syracuse and NCAA receiving record, has been slowed by defensive adjustments to him and the Orange offense stalling without Eric Dungey. That said, he’s still maintained record numbers for the program, surpassed nearly every previous single-season mark, and continues to be the team’s most reliable playmaker.
When SU was in hurry-up mode on Saturday, he was suddenly everywhere (especially in the back of the end zone). Last week, vs. NC State, his 81-yard touchdown catch was the lone offensive highlight of the day, and kept SU in a game it wasn’t fit to be competing in.
Etta-Tawo’s the focus of this year’s receiving corps. breakout, yes. But he’s also not the only player catching a ton of passes for the Orange, or assaulting the record books. A look at SU’s starting four and where they stack up in terms of single-season and career numbers:
Receptions: 81 (first, single-season)
Yards: 1,304 (first, single-season)
Touchdowns: 9 (tie-fourth, single season)
We went through Etta-Tawo above, but it bears repeating: what he’s done in a single season has never been done before at Syracuse. Not only has he played his way into being an NFL Draft prospect this season, but he’s also a very solid advertisement for any player in a similar grad transfer situation. “Didn’t get playing time at your old school? One year in Dino Babers’s offense turns you into a pro prospect.” I’d almost expect another grad transfer receiver to come this offseason at this point.
Single-season receptions: 79 (second)
Career receptions: 123 (eighth)
Single-season touchdowns: 6 (tie-15th)
Career touchdowns: 11 (tie-11th)
While Etta-Tawo has been the big-play receiver for this offense, Philips’s production is really what keeps the motor running. When SU’s passers have kept him involved, the offense has moved the ball and kept defenses on their heels. When he’s nowhere to be found, the offense stagnates.
Dan and I hemmed and hawed when it was announced that Philips, once a promising running back as a freshman, would be moving to wide receiver full-time. We’ll gladly eat that crow now, given the results he’s put up.
Though Etta-Tawo’s explosive numbers take the headlines, you look above and see that Philips has still been able to make his own mark too. In just two seasons as a “receiver” (all in a slot-type role) he’s already made a sizeable dent in career numbers for receptions and touchdowns. Yardage is much further down, but even another year like this one would get him into the top 10 or so of that list as well.
Career receptions: 107 (10th)
Career touchdowns: 11 (tie-11th)
Ishmael may not have had the breakout year many projected for him in this offense, but he still put up a career high in receptions (41), which should further aggravate you about his misuse in his first two seasons. This season also sets the groundwork for what should be a much bigger senior year for him now too, though. He’s well within striking distance of the top 10 in career yardage to go with his other accolades.
Despite being a senior, Estime failed to climb the receiving record books, and that’s fine. His contributions this year were all career-highs, and like Ishmael, they point out his frustrating misuse in the previous regime more than anything else.
Where Estime will truly make his mark for the Orange, however, is in the punt return game. SU doesn’t keep many numbers available in the record book, but I’d bet his work over the course of his career is at or near the top in terms of yards per return. In the limited times opponents actually kicked to him this season, he made the most of it. On 14 returns this year, he’s averaging 19.4 yards per — a number boosted by yesterday’s impressive output of 64 yards on just two returns.
When Sean Riley takes over for him next year, we’re going to have to hope Estime’s taught him a trick or two. Estime’s ability to flip the field has been more valuable to this program over the last four years than most realize or can quantify.
We’ll revisit all of the offensive records broken post-season. But wanted to get the discussion of Syracuse’s skilled collection of wide receivers going in advance of that. All four players will get one more chance to add to this year’s numbers. And if the Orange have a shot vs. Pitt, they’ll need to produce quite a bit.