Steve Ishmael is doing his best Amba Etta-Tawo impression this season. The senior wideout has filled the shoes of the graduated Etta-Tawo very nicely this season, as evidenced by his nation leading 45 receptions (seven more than the next player) which has produced 512 yards, good for third in the nation.
Ishamel’s strong start has landed him an early season add to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. Sound familiar? It should. Etta-Tawo did the same thing last season.
By extrapolation (which is not recommended by 10 out of 10 math teachers), Ishmael is on pace to shatter Etta-Tawo’s receptions and yards records. But keep in mind that through four games, the now Jacksonville Jaguar was also on pace for 20 more receptions than he ended up with and almost 1,400 more yards as well. So extrapolation isn’t the best of methods.
However, Etta-Tawo’s tale may cause some concern for Ishmael’s production for the rest of the season. After game four, Etta-Tawo’s hit a steady decline. While that can be expected with ACC opponents, his numbers really bottomed out from his early season production against mostly bottom tier pass defenses. Through four games, Etta-Tawo averaged 176.5 yards on an even 10 catches. But in the final eight games, those numbers were nearly sliced in half down to 97 yards with less 6.7 catches per game. In that final eight game stretch, Etta-Tawo only eclipsed the century mark in yards three times after having a pair of 200-plus yard games through his first four starts and only caught double-digit receptions twice after averaging 10 catches to begin the season.
Breaking down Etta-Tawo’s decline, there were a number of factors that caused his production to dip. First, in that eight game stretch, Syracuse faced five pass defenses in the top half of college football, three of which were in the top 30. You can essentially toss another game out the window since SU played Wake Forest in the middle of Hurricane Matthew. So in six of the Orange’s final eight games, the cards were stacked against the passing game. Another factor is Eric Dungey’s health. When the quarterback went down, so did the passing attempts. After he got hurt, the Orange was attempting about five fewer passes per game.
Looking at Ishmael, of course Dungey’s health is a major factor, but that’s unpredictable. Looking ahead, Ishmael has something that Etta-Tawo did not: a pretty soft schedule in terms of passing defenses. He faces four defenses that rank outside the top 85 (out of 129 teams), including this weekend’s matchup against NC State. Along with that is a game against Boston College, a top 20 pass defense. However, last season B.C. was ranked inside the top 35 and Etta-Tawo still torched the Eagles for 10 receptions and 144 yards. While Ishamel’s numbers will still probably take a slight dip since the Orange only faces ACC teams from here on out, it won’t be as sharp as Etta-Tawo’s. And if Dungey can stay on the field, Ishmael has a real shot to take down the records Etta-Tawo set just one season ago.