And just like that, the Irish remain perfect throughout this 2020 regular season. Notre Dame capped off their ACC schedule with a perfect 10-0 record (9-0 in conference) after a 45-21 victory over the Syracuse Orange on Saturday. The most important part of the victory was that the Irish were able to get out of the game without sustaining any significant injuries – meaning the team should be healthy and well rested for the Conference Championship Game coming up on December 19. Coach Kelly did note that Bo Bauer suffered a leg contusion, but is expected to participate in practice this week and looks to remain in the swing of things for the Irish defense.
After getting off to a slow start offensively, Notre Dame proved that their superior talent would win out. I thought the Orange did a great job coming out of the gate and playing with a fiery intensity, making a couple defensive stops and moving the ball down the field against Notre Dame’s defense. What I have come to observe about Clark Lea and his defensive schemes is that Lea seems to coordinate similar to a boxer during a fight – he will take a couple body blows just to feel out the game and will then make the necessary adjustments to win the fight. When it came to Saturday’s matchup, I thought the defense gave up way too many points to an offense that had no business scoring 21 in the game. I thought Notre Dame’s defense could have and should have been in control from the beginning. Now, I am by no means saying that this was a poor defensive performance by the Irish, but rather there were multiple opportunities to come up with some takeaways and limit the Orange’s scoring output. Clarence Lewis led the way for the Irish with 10 tackles, however that was in large part due to the fact that Syracuse quarterback Rex Culpepper seemed to go to any Orange receiver that Lewis was covering. I am not sure why the Irish defensive backs were playing such soft coverage, allowing constant five yard completions, but in the end it led to a Notre Dame victory so I cannot complain too much! One of the more shocking points that came from the Irish defense during this game was the fact that they gave up over 100 yards to two Syracuse running backs. After holding Clemson and North Carolina’s top backs to less than that, this was a bit surprising to see. Both Sean Tucker and Cooper Lutz broke the 100 yard rushing mark for the Orange.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Irish were able to dominate just about every major statistical category. The Irish led the way in total yards, passing yards, rushing yards, and yards per play – what was expected going up against a much younger and inexperienced Syracuse defense. On the ground, Kyren Williams totaled 20 carries for 110 yards allowing him to accomplish the feat of 1,000+ rushing yards during the regular season. Chris Tyree followed that up with six carries of his own for 109 yards and one touchdown. This was another dominant performance from the Irish rushing attack. Through the air, quarterback Ian Book found his “go-to” man, Javon McKinley for seven receptions, 111 yards, and three touchdowns. McKinley could have very easily had a fourth touchdown if it wasn’t for that pesky December sun in South Bend. Ian Book finished out his regular season racking up his 30th victory as a starter, becoming the winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history – quite the accomplishment! Book racked up 285 yards in the air and three touchdowns. The lone blemish was his first interception thrown since the Duke game back in the middle of September.
This game, being the recently announced as the final regular season game of the year, didn’t show me too much about the Irish and I am perfectly fine with that. Syracuse, as mentioned, came out with a lot of intensity and it showed in their style of play early on. As the game progressed, the more talented team came out on top. Yes, Notre Dame gave up 100+ rushing yards to two Syracuse backs and Ian Book did throw his first interception since September, but on the positive side, it shows that top notch teams know how to manage their output. It seems that the best teams know when they don’t have to have their foot to the floor during every minute of every game. I am not advocating that the Irish (or any team for that matter) take plays, or even games off, but rather it is about managing output and ensuring health and safety for the extremely important games to come. With the regular season in the books, it’s time to focus on the ACC Championship – something I never thought I would say as a Notre Dame fan. It’s time to take advantage of this lone year in a conference and put together another competitive showdown with Clemson.