When Syracuse tabbed Dino Babers as its new head football coach, Eric Dungey may have been the happiest man in Central New York. Running the head honcho’s fast-paced, quick-hitting system, the quarterback appears to have a golden opportunity to rack up huge numbers in his sophomore campaign. After working under Scott Shafer and Tim Lester, whose offense was heavily predicated on the run, Dungey must be chomping at the bit to toss the pigskin all over the Carrier Dome.
Someone has to be on the receiving end of those passes, and the odds-on favorite to emerge as the Orange’s number one target is junior Steve Ishmael. When he came out of high school in 2014, the 6-foot-2 wideout from southern Florida received offers from Miami, West Virginia, and Cincinnati, and also attracted attention from Oregon, Louisville, and Nebraska. No one will ever doubt the guy’s talent. The prolific statistics simply haven’t followed — yet.
If you’re looking for an indictment of the previous coaching staff’s offense, here it is: Ishmael gained 570 receiving yards last season, and that was nearly twice as many as the next-best pass-catcher (Brisley Estime had 293). As a team, SU threw for 1,881 yards, good for 118th in the country (out of 128 teams). With Babers calling the shots, Bowling Green chewed up 5,135 — second-most in the nation.
Roger Lewis was the receiver for 1,544 of those yards, the second-highest total in the country. He pulled down 85 balls at a gaudy average rate of 18.16 yards per reception; the next-highest figure among players with at least 75 catches was 17.06. The 6-foot sophomore also found the end zone 16 times, half of which came from at least 45 yards out, despite his average speed and ball skills. Gehrig Dieter, the Falcons’ number two receiver, caught 94 passes (ninth-most in the country), and, with 10 touchdowns of his own, made BGSU one of only three Division I teams to feature two wideouts with double-digit scores.
It’s reasonable — and, honestly, conservative — to expect Syracuse’s new-look offense to exceed 3,000 yards through the air. The receiving corps is experienced, with eight of last year’s top nine wideouts returning, but Ishmael is the headliner. Erv Phillips, a short, quick running back-receiver hybrid, should man the slot, with Brisley Estime opposite Ishmael on the perimeter. That leaves No. 8 as the clear-cut top option on the outside.
Only three SU receivers have eclipsed 1,000 yards in a single season. Ishmael could become the fourth.
Last September, the Fizz posted this article. We were a year too early. Now, Ishmael appears ready to live up to the hype.