The offense was (as expected) fast, explosive, and efficient. The defense was (as not-so-expected) stout, consistent, and immovable. Despite some struggles in the run game — aside from Moe Neal’s 49-yard touchdown, SU averaged an even two yards per carry on its other 34 attempts — and an inability to finish several drives in the end zone, Syracuse’s first game under Dino Babers was a resounding success, as the Orange raced past its Central New York rival Colgate, 33-7.
The most impressive unit was undoubtedly the Syracuse passing offense, led by sophomore quarterback Eric Dungey, who shattered his career highs in completions (34, second-most in one game in program history), attempts (40), completion percentage (85%, best single-game mark in program history among passers with more than 20 attempts), and yards (355, ninth-highest single-game total in program history). Dungey found the hands of six different Orange receivers, but two stood out: graduate transfer Amba Etta-Tawo and junior Erv Philips.
In his first game with SU after transferring from Maryland, Etta-Tawo stole the spotlight. The Georgia native piled up 12 catches for 210 yards (only four Syracuse wideouts have ever recorded a higher single-game total) and a touchdown. The 43-yard score may have been the most impressive play of the contest, with both the passer and receiver executing to perfection — Dungey dropped a dime into a spot where only Etta-Tawo could catch it, and the wideout fought through pass interference to corral the pigskin and put up Syracuse’s first points of the season. And that may not have been No. 7’s most impressive reception on Friday; Etta-Tawo escaped tight coverage, pulled down a prayer of a throw from Dungey, and tapped his toes inside the right sideline for a gorgeous 40-yard catch.
If you thought Etta-Tawo’s total of 12 catches was impressive, check out Philips’ line: 14 receptions (which tied NFL Hall of Famer Art Monk for the most in a single game in program history), 87 yards, and a touchdown. Fourteen is an absurd number, and he could have easily tacked on more if the first-team offense had remained on the field for the entire game. Philips set the tone early — the slot machine caught a pass on four of the Orange’s first five plays.
Steve Ishmael entered last night as the presumed No. 1 option — and with sky-high expectations — in the Orange’s passing game, and he still might end up filling that role (Colgate devoted a ton of defensive attention to the junior, so SU may have swapped him with Etta-Tawo as the offense’s primary receiver). Ishmael could easily lead the team in receiving this season, especially if opposing defenses treat Etta-Tawo like Syracuse’s top receiver.
Babers’ system, which he learned at Baylor, has produced several prolific receivers in recent history. Josh Gordon, Terrance Williams, and Corey Coleman have each gone from the Bears to the NFL in the past half-decade, and last season, Babers’ Bowling Green Falcons produced Roger Lewis (1,544 yards, second-most in the country) and Gehrig Deiter (94 catches, ninth-most in the nation).
Whether it’s Etta-Tawo, Philips, or Ishmael, expect the 2016 Orange to feature the fourth (and maybe fifth) wideout in program history to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a single season.