After improving to a 4-3 record on the year with a 44-21 victory over UNLV, the vibes around the Notre Dame football program should be pretty positive, right? Yes, the Irish won by 23 points, but I don’t feel that they answered many of the questions that needed to be addressed going into last week’s matchup. The offensive play calling remains mediocre at best, and the defense allowed the Rebels to score more in this game than they did against their previous two opponents combined. Let’s take a deeper dive.
Offensively, Drew Pyne finished the game completing 14 of his 28 pass attempts for 205 yards and one touchdown. Of those 14 completions, six went to Michael Mayer who averaged 19.2 yards per completion and hauled in one of the most spectacular catches that I have ever seen. Logan Diggs led the way for the Irish ground game getting 28 carries for 130 yards. After seeing a steady rotation of the three backs – Diggs, Tyree, and Estime – through the early part of the year, Tommy Rees focused in on Diggs this game as Tyree and Estime only combined for 13 rushing attempts. I have no problem whatsoever with Diggs being as productive as he was – he is a phenomenal football player and an extremely talented running back. The problem arises in the misuse of Tyree – continually being called for running plays up the middle when he is Notre Dame’s fastest running back. Why can’t the Irish get the ball outside or put Tyree in space and allow that speed to be shown? I think the play calling, again, remained dull and uncreative; something that has plagued this offense for the majority of the season. Of Pyne’s 14 completed passes, there were only four Irish targets that hauled those in – Michael Mayer, Braden Lenzy, Jaden Thomas, and Lorenzo Styles. In order for the Irish to have success in the remainder of the games this year, more Notre Dame play makers are undoubtedly going to need to step up.
The Irish travel to the JMA Wireless Dome to take on the 16th ranked Syracuse Orange this Saturday. The Orange are led by head coach Dino Babers and enter the matchup with a 6-1 record, their only loss coming last weekend to fifth ranked Clemson. As previously mentioned, I have no idea what to expect going into this game and almost any outcome wouldn’t surprise me. Syracuse could blow out Notre Dame, Notre Dame could blow out Syracuse, or it could be a close game that goes into overtime – I haven’t a clue. The silver lining for the Irish is that they seem to play up or down to the level of competition they are playing on a weekly basis. Notre Dame’s three best games have come against the three best opponents that they have faced this year – Ohio State, North Carolina, and BYU. The Irish have also put together more complete performances on the road this year, another point in Notre Dame’s favor for Saturday’s matchup.
Looking at the Orange, they enter the contest averaging almost 34 points while the defense is only giving up an average of 15 per game. What scares me is the talent in the Orange secondary. Babers and the Syracuse defense have the upmost confidence in their defensive backs and safeties and aren’t afraid to put them on coverage islands. Because of that, they have the ability to load the box and focus the energy up front on mitigating the run game, something that Notre Dame has relied heavily on. With more defenders up near the line of scrimmage, Syracuse will likely be daring Drew Pyne to beat them with the pass and here is where the game hinges – will the Irish receiving corps be able to step up to the challenge? Pyne has relied heavily on Michael Mayer, especially on third downs and if Syracuse is able to limit Mayer’s production, the rest of the receivers don’t have an exorbitant amount of tape showing they are capable of being relied upon (this year, that is). For Notre Dame to have success on offense, I expect them to continue to use the run game effectively, but effectively is the key word. I hope that Tommy Rees is able to scheme up a better game plan that allows the speed of the Irish backs to get into space, rather than continuing to pound the run game up the middle.
On the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame will need to slow down Syracuse’s quarterback Garrett Shrader. Shrader is completing nearly 70% of his passing attempts and is averaging almost 230 yards per game through the air and another 50+ on the ground. Sophomore running back Sean Tucker is the Orange’s leading rusher through seven games averaging just under 100 yards per contest and has racked up six touchdowns of his own. Oronde Gadsden is by far Syracuse’s biggest threat in the passing game and provides a coverage nightmare as he is 6 foot 5 inches and 216 pounds. I expect that Syracuse will lean heavily on designed quarterback runs and/or RPO reads in an attempt to get the Irish defense guessing and out of place – a similar gameplan as to what North Carolina attempted to execute. The Orange’s defense is certainly the strength of their program, so any positive momentum that the Notre Dame defense can create will go a long way in a successful outcome for the Irish. With all of that being said, I think that this Syracuse team is going to provide a very competitive matchup. They will certainly be ready for the task of the Irish and I don’t expect them to carry in much of a “hangover” after playing Clemson close last weekend. With Notre Dame seeming to play better on the road and playing up to the level of competition they face, I think the Irish will find a way to string together enough positive plays to come out with their fifth win of the season with a 27-20 victory. Go Irish. Beat Orange.
A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:
Ohio State: 7-0 overall, currently ranked #2, beat Iowa 54-10
Marshall: 4-3 overall, beat James Madison 26-12
California: 3-4 overall, lost to Washington 28-21
North Carolina: 6-1 overall, currently ranked #21, beat Duke 38-35
BYU: 4-4 overall, lost to Liberty 41-14
Stanford: 3-4 overall, beat Arizona State 15-14
UNLV: 4-4 overall, lost to Notre Dame 44-21
Syracuse: 6-1 overall, currently ranked #16, lost to Clemson 27-21
Clemson: 8-0 overall, currently ranked #5, beat Syracuse 27-21
Navy: 2-5 overall, lost to Houston 38-20
Boston College: 2-5 overall, lost to Wake Forest 43-15
USC: 6-1 overall, currently ranked #10, coming off bye week