COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- There weren't a ton of positives coming out of Senior Day Nov. 29 after one of the bigger meltdowns in recent Terps football history, a 41-38 loss to Rutgers on the final day of the regular season, Maryland's first in the Big Ten.
But for a guy probably known more for his season drops than his eight receptions in 2014 heading in, Terps sophomore receiver Amba Etta-Tawo finally put it together.
"Together" would mean combining his once clocked 4.35 40-yard dash time with his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame and some college-level hands and taking it all to the field.
Last night the up-and-down Etta-Tawo (see three drops versus Michigan State three weeks ago), strutted his stuff in one of the longest offensive plays from scrimmage this season, a slant pattern he took 71 yards from C.J. Brown for a score, putting Maryland ahead 14-3 as the second quarter began.
After catching 31 passes a year ago and two touchdowns, Etta-Tawo had but eight receptions in 2014 and no scores before last night's bit of a breakthrough. His season had been defined by bad drops, not garden variety ones, but rough ones, though it has been a topsy-turvy season for the offense and passing game as a whole in 2014.
While it was his only catch of the night (Brown through high to an open Etta-Tawo streaking down the middle late in the third quarter), the smooth, long-strider didn't have any drops on the night. And when he caught his scoring strike, no one was catching the speedy wide out as he ran past the Rutgers defense in a flash, giving Terps football observers something they had been longing for some time.
And the soft-spoken Georgia native was emotional afterwards, his eyes bloodshot when he arrived to the interview room after seeing 22 seniors miss out on a chance to win their final home game at Byrd. Despite some of his misfortune this season, you won't find a more conscientious and giving teammate than the sophomore from Powder Springs. Ga., who doesn't lack for trying.
Etta-Tawo was part of some early fireworks offensively the Terps couldn't sustain in the second half amidst the RU onslaught in the second as they came back from 25 points down to win in the final minutes.
Etta-Tawo said the touchdown play was in the game plan all week, and here was a guy getting more of a chance of late with star receiver Stefon Diggs down, and others on the unit (see Marcus Leak) struggling badly with their own cases of the drops.
"It was a 'man' slant route. It was in the game plan the whole entire week so I was expecting it," Etta-Tawo said. "It was just a good call, and C.J. just did a good job, he got me the ball early in the right hole and I was able to make a play on the safety."
The long catch and run made up for a lot of misfortune for both Etta-Tawo and the Terps receivers corps of late, which has underachieved for the most part this season and hasn't had enough 'splash' plays.
"It was big for my confidence. Of course I know I am able to make plays, but I just....it's a focus thing and trusting my hands and doing what I can do," Etta-Tawo said.
It has been a process for the former football and track prep star, taking what he does at practice to the game field more often. He said senior Deon Long took him under his wing this season, constantly chatting in his ear to stay focused and not let up, and he is grateful. Etta-Tawo said it's been not since high school he has run free like that for a big play. Etta-Tawo said his biggest technical improvement has been being more patient and looking the ball in "and not trying to run before I catch the ball."
Etta-Tawo said first-year receivers coach Keenan McCardell has been a blessing this season, working on the little things to perfect his craft.
"He has had a great impact, helped me a lot, with a lot of the small things like punching at the top of my route, looking the ball in, things like that," Etta-Tawo said.
The receiver group, he said, has grown mentally, and of late "as we pride ourselves on next man stepping up," Etta-Tawo said of the last two games, when both he and Daniel Adams came through with touchdowns after making little noise this season. "I think we have matured as a group through some of the adversity."
Other teammates have seen that, including senior defensive end Andre Monroe, one of those 22 seniors with great emotion Saturday at Byrd.
"I am very happy for him, that's my man," Monroe said. "I have seen him work hard every day, and finally to see it come together with that touchdown. And I have seen players in the past, young guys finally getting that touchdown, like a Levern Jacobs, do the same thing, finally get that first touchdown. And that's what I thought about. They finally did it, finally did it, been something they have been wanting for so long and finally did it."
Despite the loss and the emotion, Etta-Tawo said it has been great to see the senior C.J. Brown turn his season around as well these last few games.
"I think C.J. has been great for us. He's single-handily helping out the receivers catch passes, throwing the ball accurately, making the right reads. So he has done a great job turning it around," Etta-Tawo said of the streak Brown began last week at the Big House in the win at Michigan, and continued against Rutgers, but it was wasted.
It was a bittersweet pill no doubt for Etta-Tawo, considering his big score, but the Terps tragic loss at the same time. Going forward, the Terps are going to need a consistent Etta-Tawo more and more, with the likes of Long, likely Diggs, and others moving on as they replenish their receiving corps for the future.
"It's a tough loss," Etta-Tawo said. "But the main thing is being together as a family for one last time, creating the memories that we always want. So we got one more left so we got to go out and create better memories to cap their careers. Fortunately we have another opportunity. But I feel the emotions for the seniors most."
Etta-Tawo Finally Flashes Big-Play Ability
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