¬†Two years ago, Ryan Nassib, Marcus Sales, and Alec Lemon graduated from Syracuse.¬† The passing attack was left in shambles with no answer at quarterback and a load of inexperience at the receiver position.¬† That year, Nassib racked up 3,749 passing yards with 26 touchdowns.¬† Lemon had a 1,000 yard receiving year and Sales finished with 882 receiving yards.¬† Lemon had seven TDs and Sales had eight.
Last year, the passing game took an expected hit.¬† The cycle of Orange quarterbacks threw for only 2,366 yards (only 63 percent of 2012‚Äôs total).¬† This was due, in part, to the embarrassing showing from the wide receivers.¬† Without Sales and Lemon, the Orange‚Äôs leading receiver was Ashton Broyld who only managed 452 receiving yards.¬† He had no touchdowns.¬† The Orange‚Äôs second leading receiver last season was Jarrod West, who had only 397 yards and one TD.
Enter 2014: the first full year of the Scott Shafer era.¬† The recruiting class was supposed to be a huge plus, but K.J. Williams, a four-star receiving recruit, reclassified for academic reasons and re-opened his recruitment.¬† This left Steve Ishmael as the top receiving recruit.
Ishmael played sparingly through the first chunk of the team‚Äôs schedule.¬† Until¬†yesterday‚Äôs win against Wake Forest, the freshman had nine catches for 176 yards and two touchdowns.¬† But, against the Demon Deacons, Ishmael had his second-straight big day in Orange, hauling in six balls for 72 yards.¬† This built upon last week‚Äôs performance, in which he caught A.J. Long‚Äôs first two touchdown throws against the defending national champions.¬† In the last two weeks alone, Ishmael has tallied nine catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
Ishmael could have had his third touchdown in two weeks¬†against the Demon Deacons, but the play was called back for offensive pass interference.¬† He also had a huge 33-yard reception on a jump ball that helped the Orange convert on 3rd¬†and 14.¬† Cole Murphy would end up kicking a field goal after the conversion.¬† In addition, Long‚Äôs trust in Ishmael can be seen from his throw selection.¬† Ishmael caught five of his six balls on third down, four of which resulted in first downs.
The young receiver‚Äôs confidence is showing, as Ishmael is quickly becoming Long‚Äôs favorite target.¬† Hunt‚Äôs injury may have been the best-case scenario for the true freshman, as both¬†him and Long have formed a connectionthat could be the cornerstone of Syracuse‚Äôs offense for the next four years.
Ishmael has a huge test next week against Clemson on the road.¬† The Tigers are allowing only 18 completions per game and have the 40th-best passing defense in Divison 1.¬† The Tigers only allow 215 yards through the air.¬† Ishmael will have to fight for yards, but next week‚Äôs performance will be telling.¬† If Ishmael can continue his climb to the top of the depth chart next weekend, Syracuse could have found its next top receiver.
Posted: Jason Weingold