Football

3 things Dino Babers said on the ACC spring coaches teleconference

Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

Dino Babers and Syracuse wrapped up spring ball on Saturday. In a few months, SU begins training camp. The season opener is Sept. 1 in the Carrier Dome.

Four days after Syracuse completed its annual spring game to round out spring practice, head coach Dino Babers spoke on the Atlantic Coast Conference coaches teleconference. Babers, who will enter his second season, addressed on Wednesday morning both sides of the football, special teams, recruiting and NFL Draft prospect Amba Etta-Tawo.

Here are three notable things Babers said.

Etta-Tawo is NFL Draft ready

Etta-Tawo, Syracuse’s first Associated Press All-American since 2001, shattered records in his lone season at SU. The 6-foot-2, 202-pounder is projected to be a fifth or sixth round 2017 NFL draft pick, per CBS Sports.

Etta-Tawo finished first in program history with 94 receptions, 1,482 yards and 14 touchdowns (tied first). Against then-No. 3 Clemson on Nov. 5, he broke Marvin Harrison’s single-season receiving yards record with three games on the schedule. Despite having played only 12 games, Etta-Tawo ranked fourth in the nation in receiving yards and seventh in touchdown catches. He was named to the All-ACC First Team.

Etta-Tawo was also a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation’s top wide receiver.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Babers said. “You’re getting someone that’s 4.4, 4.3 track time, verified out of high school, a huge body for a wide receiver and a giant catch radius. He’s gone against the best competition there is in the ACC, and he’s made plays against everybody.

“For him to put up the numbers that he put up with eight weeks of the starting quarterback (Eric Dungey) and four weeks of our backup (Zack Mahoney), I just think has been amazing.”

The draft begins Thursday in Philadelphia.

‘No doubt’ Syracuse needs to improve running game

In 2016, Syracuse finished 13th of 14 ACC teams in rushing. The Orange averaged merely 3.2 yards per carry, collectively, and scored only 15 touchdowns on the ground. SU averaged 119.6 rushing yards per game, second-worst in the conference to Virginia.

Starting running back Dontae Strickland averaged 3.5 yards per attempt on 162 carries. Moe Neal took 68 handoffs, scoring two touchdowns on an average of 5.3 yards per carry. Dungey scored six rushing touchdowns across nine games. Throughout the season, Syracuse boasted the ACC’s second-best passing yards unit (321.3 yards per game, second to only national champion Clemson). But it lacked both depth and consistency on the ground, especially during its four-game losing streak to end the season.

“There’s no doubt that we need to be better in the run game,” Babers said. “You just can’t go back and throw the ball every single snap and be consistently good … We’re working hard on not only running the football but making sure we’re able to stop the run.

“To me, those are still the keys, minus turnovers and specials teams, to winning football games.”

As Babers round two approaches, Syracuse is where it needs to be

Babers has said Week 4 of his second season, 2017, would be when his team begins to materialize and look like the product he promised when he arrived at SU in late 2015.

“I think we’re right where we need to be,” Babers said. “We’re a little bit behind offensively, from the moving from an option-based offense to the stuff that we want to do now with the quarterbacks and the O-line and the skill people that we have in the upper class who were recruited for another style of play.

“I think we may be a tad behind, but I think we’re where we need to be.”

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