Since the moment he got on campus, the one offensive weapon it feels has been criminally underutilized at Syracuse is Steve Ishmael. The wide receiver from Florida is arguably the most talented pass catcher Syracuse has had since Mike Williams (though, that Alec Lemon kid was pretty good, too), but his career numbers haven’t backed up what we’ve expected.
Of course, this year that’s likely to change in a big way. Ishmael enters his junior season with 66 catches in his career (27 as a true freshman, and a team-best 39 last year). There’s a very realistic possibility he surpasses that total this year alone. He could also top his career marks of 985 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. But is it unfair to expect him to do it?
Consider that, in the Dino Babers offense, a season of 66 catches, 985 yards, and 10 touchdowns would be good – but probably not in the top two on the stats page (at least for catches and yards). Last year, Bowling Green had three players haul in more than 66 catches. Two surpassed those 985 yards. And the 10 touchdowns would have only tied for second best on the team.
But that’s also the second year for that offense under Dino Babers. It’s probably a bit unfair to compare Ishmael’s potential production to a season in which the offense was fully installed, and didn’t need to be taught anymore. In 2014, the leading pass catcher for Bowling Green grabbed 73 balls for 1,094 yards and seven touchdowns.
Honestly, that’s probably a much more realistic set of statistics for Ishmael to shoot for this year – particularly against the brutal schedule Syracuse faces, which will feature some elite defenses.
Regardless, every single season pass catching record is very much in play for Ishmael this season. Alec Lemon caught 70 balls in 2012 to establish Syracuse’s single-season mark. Marvin Harrison had 1,131 receiving yards in 1995, and is one of only three Orange football players to ever surpass 1,000 yards. The other two are Alec Lemon in 2012 (1,070) and Rob Moore in 1989 (1,064).
Both the single season receptions and receiving yards records are in play for Ishmael this season, with receptions being the most likely to fall. Ishmael is an excellent route runner with tremendous hand and body control, but he’s not a blazing fast guy – making it a little harder for him to catch Harrison in the receiving yards category.
The most difficult single season record – by far – for Ishmael would certainly have to be touchdown receptions. Tommy Kane caught 14 touchdown passes in 1987, which is an awfully tall order for Ishmael to attempt to match or surpass.
A lot of Ishmael’s success this year will, naturally, depend upon what kind of help he gets from his fellow receivers. Who’s going to step up into the second outside receiver role? Will Brisly Estime and Erv Philips take enough pressure off of Ishmael that teams will rarely have the option to give him double coverage? In one on one situations, I like Ishmael’s chances of coming down with a well thrown ball. If his fellow receivers can restrict how often opposing defenses can double him, it’ll go a long way toward chasing down those single-season marks.
But all three of those records are firmly on the table for Ishmael this year. I’m going to go ahead and predict that the receptions record will fall this year, but receiving yards and receiving touchdowns will have to wait at least until 2017 for someone to really threaten them. And yes, that someone will more than likely be Steve Ishmael, once again.