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Dino Babers talks UConn, injuries and all hail Amba

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Babers appeared on the ACC Coaches Teleconference today. Here’s what he had to say.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange (1-2, 0-1 in ACC) will look to stop their recent two-game skid when they travel to Mansfield, Connecticut to take on the University of Connecticut Huskies (2-1, 0-1 in AAC) Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.

Syracuse coach Dino Babers addressed his team’s recent play and evaluated their upcoming opponent while appearing on the ACC Coaches Teleconference on Wednesday.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways.

New Sheriff Shirreffs in Town

Syracuse’s last two opponents have both been led by a productive dual-threat quarterback – Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and USF’s Quinton Flowers – and this week is no different. UConn’s offense, while not as high-scoring as Louisville’s or USF’s, is centered around junior Bryant Shirreffs.

“Offensively, everything goes through their quarterback,” Babers said.

While Shirreffs won’t burn teams with his arm – he rarely throws for more than 250 passing yards in a game – the 6’2” 220-pound quarterback is an accurate passer who seldom turns it over. Shirreffs is completing 71 percent of his passes this season and has just one multi-interception game in his entire collegiate career.

In addition, Shirreffs can make plays with his feet if necessary – he currently leads the team in rushing yards, with 160.

“He’s someone who extends plays with his legs and isn’t afraid to run the football at all,” Babers said.

Running in Place

Despite the disappointing end result, Babers said he was pleased to see his team finally have success running the football last week against USF – specifically starting running back Dontae Strickland, who finished with 127 yards on 30 carries.

While Babers said he was impressed by his team’s ability to run the football against USF, he also acknowledged the Orange will have a lot more trouble doing so against UConn this week.

“I was happy for the football team and the offensive line to finally get that monkey off their back a little bit,” Babers said. “But I really think Connecticut’s defense is going to be a lot better than the University of South Florida’s.

“I think they’ve got some stouter people up there. From a scorer’s standpoint you might say, ‘Why in the heck are you going to say that coach?’ But I really think this defense is something to be reckoned with, and we’re going to have our hands full.”

The Legend of Amba Continues

If there has been one singular constant factor for Syracuse this season, it has been the stellar play of wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo. The Maryland transfer burst onto the scene with 12 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown in Syracuse’s season-opening win over Colgate and hasn’t looked back.

Etta-Tawo’s 436 receiving yards rank first in the ACC and third in the nation. The redshirt senior is projected to shatter Syracuse receiving records. Former Orange wide receiver Alec Lemon and Marvin Harrison currently hold the single-season receptions and receiving yards records with 70 receptions 1,131 yards respectively. Etta-Tawo is currently on pace to finish with 112 receptions for 1,744 yards.

As a result of his breakout performance, Etta-Tawo was recently added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, the award given out every year to the nation’s best receiver.

While Babers said he knew Etta-Tawo was a talented wide receiver after re-watching tape of Bowling Green’s matchup against Maryland last season, but he admits even he had no idea the redshirt senior was capable of this type of production.

“Amba has been outstanding. He has been a pleasant surprise,” Babers said. “Obviously we had no idea he’d be able to do the things he has done so far. But it doesn’t surprise me, with the work ethic that he put in when he started here, coming in this summer, working with Eric Dungey and the way he goes about his work in practice.”

No Update Injuries Update

Another week, and another pile of names on the seemingly never-ending list of injured Syracuse players. The Orange currently have four starters banged up: center Jason Emerich, tackle Omari Palmer, defensive tackle Kayton Samuels and safety Kielan Whitner.

Both Palmer and Samuels were injured in last week’s game against USF, while Emerich and Whitner didn’t even suit up for the contest. Babers said he still isn’t certain of any of the four injured starters’ availability for Saturday.

“I don’t know yet. We haven’t gotten the final calls on all of those guys,” Babers said. “We probably are not going to hear until the end of the week sometime.”