In case you haven’t heard by now, SU football is 2-3 after a loss to NC State on Saturday. Despite the loss, there was a gigantic bright spot in the form of Erv Philips. The senior wideout caught a school-record and ACC-record 17 passes for 188 yards. Both of those marks also served as career-highs for Connecticut native. While some might be looking at Philips’ performance and writing it off as just a one-time showing, I’m here to tell you why his monstrous output was so important and how it affects this Syracuse offense moving forward.
Gets Erv in the groove
Coming into the season, many thought that Philips and Steve Ishmael would serve as a kind of two-headed monster in the receiving game. Many also believed that it would be Philips leading the way because Erv was far superior to Ishmael in 2016 (822 yards vs 559 yards). Up until Saturday that just hadn’t been the case with Ishmael going over the century mark in each of the first four weeks of the season and Philips not tallying 100 yards in any single game. Philips’ reception numbers were also way down, including a spotty performance against Central Michigan when he caught just three passes for just 32 yards. However, Now that he’s got this astonishing performance under his belt, he can use it as a motivator moving forward. Erv has now proven that he can perform at an elite level against a pretty good defense in NC State and that will serve as a confidence booster down the stretch. Not to mention that big games like this one tend to build on each other and may signal a huge upswing in production for the senior.
Takes the pressure off Steve Ishmael
As I just mentioned, Steve Ishmael is off to about as good a start as Orange fans could have hoped for this season. He leads the country in receptions with 51 and is second in receiving yards with 632. He’s done most of it on his own and without much help from other receivers like Philips. Heck, he drew a double team for most of the game on Saturday and still went for 120 yards. However, now that Philips had his breakout game and proved that he is still very much a threat, things may start to open up for Ishmael even more. Teams won’t be able to simply focus on Ishmael and double team him, meaning that unless they play exclusively zone against the Orange (which they won’t), Ishmael is going to draw single man-to-man coverages. If Ishmael continues to perform the way he has so far this season, those single coverages are going to be exposed by both him and Erv and if that happens, well, watch out.
Opens up the offense
Finally, perhaps the most important thing that Philips’ standout showing does for this Syracuse football team is that it spreads the field and opens up the offense. Philips is the archetypical slot receiver: fast, shifty, great hands. His game is really all about catching short passes from Eric Dungey, either over the middle or on the sidelines, and using those athletic tools to make men miss in open space and go for big gainers. However, with his production down in the early part of the season, a lot of that possession and short-yardage receiving fell on the shoulders of Steve Ishmael. We simply haven’t seen SU take as many shots downfield as it did last year with Amba Etta-Tawo. With that being said, we did see more of that vertical passing against NC State and it all started with Philips. With Erv’s production on an uptick, Ishmael can abandon the short-yardage void that he had been filling all season and be used in a more effective way. He can now become the big play threat that Etta-Tawo was a season ago and Syracuse can start taking some more shots downfield. In turn, if those deep shots become successful, opposing defenses won’t be able to just key in on the short passing game and the SU attack will be able to hurt its opponents both down the field and to the sides on short, quick passes in the up-tempo Dino Babers offense. If Philips takes some of that pressure off Ishmael and can provide a dichotomy between short-medium passes and long balls, the entire field will open up both horizontally and vertically, the offense will become more versatile, and the Orange can get back to being the new fast.