First things first: hi! It’s been awhile. Work and all that nonsense. I’m glad we took this time to catch up. You look well. Anyway, moving on. As Syracuse heads to MetLife Stadium this weekend to take on a reeling Notre Dame team, the question Orange fans are asking is: can SU pull off the upset and topple the Irish?
It’s a proposition that might have seemed a little farfetched a couple weeks ago, but Notre Dame is a bit of a mess right now. They just lost to Duke – a team that, you might recall, lost its starting QB to a season-ending injury before the first snap of the year. The Irish have been beaten and battered on defense, including surrendering 38 points to a Blue Devils team that had combined for 27 points against Wake Forest and Northwestern.
Things have gotten so dire with the Irish on the defensive side of the ball that they quickly fired their defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder, whose unit was ranked among the worst in the nation in virtually every statistical category. So far this year, Notre Dame has surrendered 33.5 points-per-game, and nearly 6.2 yards-per-play. They were also the last team in the country to record a sack, and it didn’t even come from the defensive line.
The Irish are giving up 201 rushing yards-per-game and 253 passing yards-per-game. That’s a potential recipe for disaster for Notre Dame as they get ready to face a Dino Babers offense that’s putting up record setting numbers for Syracuse, even against primarily strong competition.
Now obviously, Syracuse’s own defense is struggling this year. The Orange are surrendering 34.5 points-per-game this year, a number that’s obviously a bit skewed after facing Louisville and Heisman-favorite Lamar Jackson. Louisville is averaging a staggering 63.5 points-per-game, which leads the nation. Another of Syracuse’s opponents this year, South Florida, is ninth in the country with an average of 46.0 points-per-game.
But while defense is a major issue for Notre Dame, like the Orange, offense hasn’t been much of a problem for the Irish. They’re ranked 43rd in the country with an average of 37.3 points-per-game, despite being just 1-3 on the year (with losses to Texas and Michigan State, in addition to Duke). Syracuse has the 7th best passing offense in the nation, averaging 371.8 yards-per-game through the air. Notre Dame is 28th, averaging 292.
Basically, Notre Dame’s offense is exactly the kind of offense that’s given Syracuse trouble this year. The Orange have struggled to contain versatile quarterbacks, and Notre Dame’s Deshone Kizer certainly fits the bill. He enters Saturday’s game having thrown for 1,096 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions, completing 62% of his attempts on the year. He’s added 186 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
So as usual, the key for Syracuse’s defense will be trying to contain an athletic quarterback who can beat you with his arm and his legs. Notre Dame also features a solid running attack behind Josh Adams, who has rushed for 238 yards but only one touchdown on the ground. He averages 5.1 yards-per-carry, but again, most of the damage Notre Dame has managed to do this year has been through the air.
Syracuse’s secondary will be facing a massive test, and it’ll be crucial for the front seven to not just contain Kizer but also put pressure on him to help a depleted secondary. The cornerbacks will have their hands full with Equanimeous St. Brown, who has 21 catches for 359 yards (17.1 yards-per-reception) and four touchdowns. Torii Hunter Jr and CJ Sanders give Kizer two more athletic threats in the passing attack.
The hope for the Orange is that Notre Dame’s defense is in such disarray that Eric Dungey, Amba Etta-Tawo, and the rest of the offense can take advantage and not only strike quickly – as they’ve done each of the past two weeks – but maintain a little bit more offensive consistency and keep moving the ball. The Notre Dame defense has been swiss cheese this year, and the Orange have managed to put points on the board against far better units. Louisville, for instance, is ranked 13th in the nation in total defense. UConn is 55th, and South Florida is…well, not so good. They’re 100th. But that’s still three spots higher than Notre Dame.
Unfortunately, it’s also 11 spots higher than Syracuse’s total defense ranking. Saturday’s matchup will see two teams with similar strengths and flaws. One is in a bit of disarray right now, with coaching changes and turmoil surrounding the program. The other is still learning new systems on both sides of the ball and trying to work around several key injuries.
Syracuse certainly has a chance to knock off the Irish. The offense will need more consistency, and the defense will need to play its best game of the season.
Amazingly, this will only be the 8th time that Syracuse and Notre Dame have ever played. The Orange have won three of the previous seven prior matchups, including two of the last four. In 2014, Notre Dame topped Syracuse 31-15 in MetLife. In 2008, the Orange won in South Bend, 24-23. Notre Dame won in South Bend, 41-17, in 2005. In 2003, Notre Dame made its only trip – ever – to the Carrier Dome. Walter Reyes ran wild on the Irish that day, and Syracuse won 38-12.
But let’s go back to that 2008 matchup. You want to know if Syracuse has a chance to beat Notre Dame? Look no farther than that meeting, and remember: if Greg Robinson can win in South Bend, then Dino Babers can sure as hell win on a neutral field.