EAST HARTFORD— Two of the top possession wide receivers in college football went head-to-head Saturday afternoon, and both certainly lived up to the hype.
Syracuse’s Amba Etta-Tawo entered the Orange’s matchup with the Huskies (2-2, 0-1 the American) ranked third in the nation with an average of 145.3 yards per game and fourth overall with 9.3 catches per game. UConn’s Noel Thomas was close behind Etta-Tawo in receptions per game prior to taking on Syracuse, ranking seventh nationally with 8.7 per game. Both turned in stellar performances in Syracuse’s 31-24 victory at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
Etta-Tawo helped the Orange (2-2, 0-1 ACC) get out to an early 14-0 lead, burning Huskies standout cornerback Jamar Summers for 118 yards and two touchdowns on five catches less than five minutes into the game.
“It was a challenge I didn’t come prepared for,” Summers said of covering Etta-Tawo. “I didn’t come fully mentally prepared. I was physically there, but not mentally. I was out of my game.”
The graduate transfer from Bowling Green would go on to finish the day with 12 receptions for 270 yards, including a crucial 59-yard catch on 3rd-and-7 from the Orange’s 4-yard line late in the fourth quarter. The catch led to Syracuse’s fourth touchdown of the day, giving the Orange a 31-17 lead with under three minutes left.
Etta-Tawo’s 270 receiving yards set a Syracuse record for most in a game, and were the most the Huskies have surrendered since Rutgers’ Brandon Coleman racked up 223 yards in 2011.
“We really think that Amba can beat anyone out there. He is an exceptional player with a lot of god given ability. He has really come in and bought into techniques and fundamentals and he has really taken off,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “I think he has already passed his previous career-high as a collegian in four games with us than his entire time at the other school.”
On UConn’s end, Thomas once again paced the Huskies’ offense with 111 yards on a career-high 14 receptions. Thomas’ 14 catches were the second-most in a game in program history, just one short of Geremy Davis’ 15 receptions against Memphis in 2013.
Thomas is now 10th all-time on UConn’s career receptions list and is now among the top three Huskies in career receptions since UConn made the jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level. With 123 career catches, Thomas is now just three receptions behind Kashif Moore for ninth all-time.
“He just makes plays,” Shirreffs said of Thomas. “It’s like I know where he is at all times in a subconscious way.”
Over the course of their two seasons together, Thomas has emerged as Shirreffs’ favorite and most reliable target. With 40 receptions through the team’s first four games, Thomas is on pace to shatter the Huskies’ record for single-season receptions with 120 and will rank among the nation’s best in catches per game after this weekend’s performance.
“Me and Bryant, we’ve been playing together for a while now,” Thomas said. “We’ve got a million reps together, he trusts me and I trust him.”