Amba Etta-Tawo is four games into his all-too-short Syracuse Orange career but if current pace holds (or even drops off slightly), he’s on pace to live on in the record books for a long time to come.
It is at once a stunning example of what Dino Babers’ offense is capable of as well as a stunning reminder of little Syracuse’s offense has traditionally relied on the passing attack.
It’s similar to a few years ago when Ryan Nassib broke down the SU passing record books in Doug Marrone and Nate Hackett’s air attack. He would leave ahead of names like Marvin Graves, Donovan McNabb, and Don McPherson on most passing lists. It doesn’t mean Nassib was a better quarterback than them, simply that the game Nassib played was a very different one to what they did.
Similarly, Etta-Tawo is probably going to surpass names like Marvin Harrison, Rob Moore, Tommy Kane, Kevin Johnson, and Alec Lemon. He’s already surpassing any single-season numbers put up by Art Monk, an absolute legend of the game who played in an era and offense not suited for his talents.
Syracuse hasn’t had very many legendary receivers. Really, the holy trinity has to be Monk, Moore, and Harrison. And while that trio made their mark here, the honest truth is that their stats are fairly pedestrian when compared to some of the other major programs out there.
Coupled with Lemon, who played in that same system with Nassib, only three SU receivers have ever put up 1,000-yard seasons. Only eight SU receivers have ever caught more than fifty passes in a season (Lemon twice). Only two SU receivers have ever averaged more than 100 yards per game in a season.
All of which isn’t to say that Syracuse’s receivers have been terrible. That’s obviously not true. They just mostly played for teams that weren’t focused on them. Syracuse has been a run-first kind of team since, well, forever. You usually can’t find a QB or WR from before 1980 that put up any significant numbers. With guys like Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, and Larry Csonka, you understand why. Even in the 80s and 90s as offenses opened up and airing it out became the norm, SU never forgot where it came from, holding onto the option long after most others had given it up.
So as we watch this offense rack up numbers and take over the record books (at least when it comes to QBs and WRs), it’s fun to wonder what guys like Harrison and Moore might have been able to do in today’s game. Marvin got 1,131 yards in his senior season. Would he have reached 1,500 today? Hell, could he have gotten to 2,000? Moore’s 1989 output of 1,064 yards & 9 TDs could have been something like 1,600 yards and 15 TDs, at least.
Point is, it’s important to remember that these guys weren’t worse because their numbers don’t add up. They just played a different game. It’ll be fun to watch Etta-Tawo, Brisly Estime, and future wide receivers tear up the record books. But that doesn’t take anything away from the wideouts whose shoulders they stand on.