SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse coach Dino Babers is the first to admit that it wasn’t exactly love at first sight with wideout Amba Etta-Tawo.
“When I was at Bowling Green last year, we played Maryland; I didn’t really remember Amba in the game,” said Babers, hired by Syracuse in December to replace Scott Shafer.
Now it’s difficult not to notice the elusive Etta-Tawo, who apparently liked what he saw in Babers’ up-tempo style of offense during Bowling Green’s 48-27 win over the Terps in 2015 and transferred to Syracuse for his final year of eligibility.
Three games into the season, Etta-Tawo is thriving in the Orange’s new offense. He leads the Atlantic Coast Conference and ranks third nationally in receiving yards per game (145.3), and his 9.3 receptions per game are tied for fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“I think I’ve adjusted pretty well (to Babers’ system), but there’s always room for improvement,” said Etta-Tawo, whose parents are Nigerian. “Just take it step by step, and at the end of the day everything will work out.”
Etta-Tawo has 28 catches for 436 yards — an average of 15.6 yards per catch — and three touchdowns. That receiving yardage total is the most ever for a Syracuse player in the first three games of a season. No surprise that his name was added this week to the national watch list for the Biletnikoff Award , given annually to the best receiver in the nation.
“Amba has been outstanding. He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Babers said. “Obviously, we had no idea he’d be able to do the things that he’s done so far, but it doesn’t surprise me with the work ethic that he put in when he started here, coming in the summer, working with (quarterback) Eric Dungey, the way he goes about his work in practice.”
Etta-Tawo’s first game with the Orange is one he’ll likely remember forever. He caught 12 passes for 210 yards in a 33-7 victory over Football Championship Subdivision foe Colgate. Against then-No. 13 Louisville in Week 2, he had eight catches for 103 yards and two scores, one a 47-yarder, in a lopsided home loss to the rising Cardinals. He followed that with eight receptions for 123 yards in a loss against South Florida on Saturday in the Carrier Dome.
That’s an impressive improvement from his time at Maryland, where Etta-Tawo had 61 catches for 938 yards and scored three times.
“I knew what I could do,” said Etta-Tawo, who led Maryland with five catches for 49 yards in that game against Babers and Bowling Green last season. “It’s just learning what the coaches are preaching. They’ve done a great job teaching me new techniques and things to up my game a little bit.
“If you’re on the same page as the quarterback, you’re going to make it work.”
Syracuse (1-2) travels on Saturday to UConn (2-1), which could use a threat like the speedy, 6-foot-2, 202-pound Etta-Tawo. The Huskies have just 580 yards passing as a team, ranking last in the American Athletic Conference.
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