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Regular Season Finale – Syracuse vs. ND Preview

In light of the recent news surrounding the abbreviated end to the ACC season, this Saturday will mark the final regular season game for the 2020 Irish.  A senior day match up featuring the 9-0 and second ranked Irish taking on the 1-9 Syracuse Orange will take place on Saturday afternoon in Notre Dame Stadium.  This will be Notre Dame’s final task to wrap up another undefeated regular season, but let’s take a look at some of the key factors to keep an eye on this weekend.

Syracuse’s lone win this year came back in September when they defeated Georgia Tech 37-20.  That game was statistically dominated by the Yellow Jackets in just about every category other than passing yards.  It was Georgia Tech’s inability to hold on to the ball that did them in, committing five turnovers – one lost fumble and four interceptions thrown.  The Irish are coming in to Saturday’s matchup as almost five touchdown favorites.  I expect this game to be relatively close early, but Notre Dame (knock on wood) should not have too much difficulty taking care of business.  I never want to get ahead of myself, and putting that in writing actually gives me some doubts, but the Irish talent on both sides of the ball should prevail.

The Orange have used a multitude of quarterbacks throughout this 2020 season, but their most recent outings have featured a combination of Rex Culpepper and JaCobian Morgan taking the majority of snaps at this position.  Culpepper, a senior out of Tampa, Florida had his best outing in the Orange’s most recent game against North Carolina State, completing 23 of his 45 passing attempts for 254 yards and two touchdowns through the air.  Morgan, a freshman out of Canton, Mississippi has only attempted 49 passes on the year with two touchdowns and two interceptions – his best game coming against Boston College where he completed 19 of 30 attempts for 188 yards.  Syracuse’s leading rusher is freshman running back Sean Tucker who has been responsible for 114 carries for 525 yards on the ground.  The Orange look to junior wide receiver Taj Harris, their leading pass catcher this year, for explosive plays down the field.  Harris has hauled in 50 catches averaging just over 13 yards per reception.  Syracuse has also given up 37 sacks on the year and with the way Notre Dame’s defensive line has been playing, there shouldn’t be any doubt that that number will have increased after Saturday’s match up.  The Orange offense, although relatively productive, doesn’t possess the sheer playmakers that the Irish have gone up against with the likes of Clemson and North Carolina so a sound defensive performance should be able to keep Syracuse in check.  

On defense, the Orange secondary has shown their ballhawking prowess, already tallying 12 interceptions this year.  Their playmakers are linebackers Mikel Jones and Goeff Cantin-Arku as well as corners Ja’Had Carter and Garrett Williams.  With the Irish offense really coming into form in the last few games, this Syracuse defense will undoubtedly have their hands full on Saturday.  With the continued steady production from Irish running back Kyren Williams, I expect Notre Dame’s offensive line to continue to open up running lanes for him while he is in the game.  Williams is in need of only 99 more yards to be a 1,000 yard rusher during the regular season – quite an accomplishment given the fact that the season has already been shortened! The predicament I run into when trying to predict the final score lies in the fact that this will be Notre Dame’s final regular season game, and against an opponent like Syracuse, I would not be surprised to see quite a few of the Irish starters pulled sometime in the second half to ensure no significant injuries take place.  Don’t get me wrong, throughout the majority of the first half, I expect Book, Williams, McKinley, Skowronek, and the rest of the Irish playmakers on offense to make their presence felt, but if things go according to plan, I wouldn’t be surprised if a large Notre Dame lead results in many Irish starters not seeing much playing time as the game moves on.  

With the Syracuse team being so young at so many positions, I’m not expecting the Irish to have much difficulty putting up points this weekend.  However, the key to Saturday’s game is going to be getting out of it with a win and no significant injuries.  As long as the Irish offense can put up points throughout the first half, I expect to see a lot of new players getting game experience come the second half, not only for their own benefit but also to preserve the starters for the upcoming post-season push.  I’ll predict the Irish to come out victorious with a final score of 41-10.  It’s time to finish the regular season strong.  Go Irish.  Beat Orange.