Item: Our dreams have finally been realized. After watching and reporting on Syracuse football for now 42 seasons, and 37 of them in the Carrier Dome era, after only one game – ONE GAME! – we’ve finally seen a ‘Cuse football coach abandon the traditional “Eastern Football methodology” of establishing the run game first and play not to lose, as opposed to taking advantage of the 100 percent unobtrusive weather conditions under the building’s Teflon roof, pass the ball like crazy with no wind or rain/snow to worry about, and dare teams to beat you by scoring more points. We’ve seen the future of the program’s renaissance under Dino Babers direction, and it’s as easy to see as one statistical line from last Friday night’s season opening blitz of FCS foe Colgate to successfully usher in the Babers era.
For 39 years the mark has stood so tall among those in the Syracuse football record book that when college and pro football Hall of Fame member Art Monk (1976-79) was honored in 2012 at the National Football Foundation’s annual glitzy, December black tie dinner at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, his 1977 sophomore season performance at Navy was heralded by the athletic department as “the greatest game by a receiver in Orange history” catching 14 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns in SU’s 45-34 victory, the second of four straight wins to end a 6-5 season under Frank Maloney.
Fast forward to last Friday night’s sweltering opener against upstate neighbor Colgate and after one quarter of play not only was the game surprisingly tied 7—7, but junior receiver Ervin Phillips was already halfway to tying Monk’s one game reception total. By halftime Phillips had added his eighth catch, and he was two receptions away from tying the mark entering the fourth quarter with the SU lead bulging to 19 points.
Once he grabbed his record-tying 14th ball on a nifty scramble out of trouble by Eric Dungey (who’s 355 passing yards was ninth most in a game in school history) to haul in a four yard touchdown pass early in the quarter to put the Orange up by the final 33-7 score, Phillips had one last chance to set the new mark for “greatest game” by a receiver, but a Dungey pass attempt his way went incomplete ending a drive, and most of the starters then took the rest of the night off.
As we kept checking the live statistics during the game watching Phillips’s reception totals climb by the quarter, we immediately thought of the Monk record and poof, in one game, we were mesmerized over the fact that the Babers philosophy was blowing a nearly four decade savored mark right down the drain.
And has there been a better Syracuse debut since freshman Damien Rhodes (2002-05) dynamically raced for 84 yards and two scores at BYU in 2002 than the one graduate transfer wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo displayed against ‘gate with 12 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown? His game receiving stat line tied for third best in school history (Mike Williams had 13 catches against South Florida in 2009), marking the first time ever two SU receivers had double digit catches in a game, and none were prettier than his 43 yard touchdown grab from Dungey for the season’s first points, and later hauling in a beautiful 37 yard sideline pass masterfully dragging one foot in bounds.
“I love the atmosphere, it’s a fast track,” Etta-Tawo said afterwards when asked about his early breakout performance. “Play fast, and you can make plays.”
Which after one game, albeit against a less talented opponent, is exactly the formula we’ll now come to expect as the program’s footprint under Babers, starting with Friday night’s tough test against pre season 19th ranked Louisville (8:00 p.m. ET / ESPN2) who put up 70 points on Charlotte last week.
“There’s tons of room for improvement, we can play faster,” Dungey cautioned after SU won its opener for the third straight year. “I’m pretty sure coach was (correct) saying it’s not fast enough.”
Sounds good to us, for at this pace, many all-time offensive records will continue to be shattered the rest of the season, while hoping those equal out-scoring the opposition.