Well, that was less than ideal. If you’d told us before kickoff that the Syracuse defense would force five turnovers, every single one of us would have thought that Syracuse not only beat No. 8-ranked Notre Dame, but wound up kicking the crap out of them. And then again, if you’d told us that Everett Golson would complete 25 straight passes, each and everyone one of us would have thought it was a Notre Dame rout. Turns out, it was neither, and the game wound up being a 31-15 decision in favor of the Irish.
“Weird” is the only legitimate description of that game. Let’s be honest here, no one could have predicted the bizarre ups and downs for each team, with the Irish unable to hold onto the ball but the Syracuse offense unable to make Notre Dame pay for its mistakes. Golson set a Notre Dame record with his consecutive completions streak, yet he looked pretty shaky for a large chunk of the game, and was helped out largely by his consistent ability to complete screen passes that kept going for big gains.
Oh, those damn screen passes. George McDonald has been trying to incorporate the bubble screen without much success at Syracuse, so Orange fans already hated that play call. The fact that Notre Dame was able to turn that play into gain after gain only serves to make us all hate it even more.
Of course what this game really boiled down to was the complete inability of the Syracuse offense to muster anything remotely resembling momentum. The defense did its part, particularly when you remember that the final 10 points for Notre Dame came following failed onside kick attempts. The bottom line is that, quite frankly, you can’t force five turnovers and get only six points out of the deal. And that’s considering that the defense had to score those six points, with Durell Eskridge getting a late pick six. The absolute inability to turn the fumbles and interceptions into points is going to haunt the Orange, particularly if they find themselves struggling to limp into bowl eligibility later in the season – a very realistic scenario considering that games against Louisville, Florida State, and later a trip to Death Valley to take on Clemson are all looming.
There were a lot of frustrating moments in tonight’s game, the most consistent frustration coming from the completely vanilla, uninspired playcalling on offense. It wasn’t until late in the game that McDonald opened up the playbook and, lo and behold, as soon as he did the offense, under the guidance of a banged up Terrel Hunt, started to actually move the ball. Alas, it was too little, too late, and being in full desperation mode hurt Syracuse’s chances to come even remotely close to making any headway.
We could obviously talk about the officiating, considering there were some questionable moments scattered throughout the game. This is not an attempt to say that it was one-sided against Syracuse, mind you. Instead, there were simply some head scratching initial calls – including the first Golson fumble that was quickly overturned once someone with eyes saw the replay – and most egregiously a bafflingly quick whistle on one of the final plays of the first half, when the referee jumped the gun and blew a play dead despite the fact that Golson had clearly mishandled a snap, and a Syracuse touchdown return was negated thanks to the official screwing up.
But obviously, we can’t blame the game on the officials, because Syracuse shot itself in the foot more than the refs could have ever hoped to screw the Orange over. Syracuse got the ball to start the second half and was threatening to score, but Hunt’s interception ultimately led to a Notre Dame touchdown, resulting in at the very least a 10 point swing and making it 21-3 rather than either 14-6 or 14-10 early in the third quarter.
Hunt wound up with solid passing numbers, hitting on 22-of-38 attempts for 294 yards and added 26 rushing yards and a touchdown, but it says an awful lot about the state of the offense when Riley Dixon’s fake punt, which gained 42 yards, made him the team’s leading rusher. Things certainly aren’t going to get any easier for Syracuse, particularly as the team continues to get banged up and the kicking unit continues to have some struggles. Cole Murphy stepped in as the field goal kicker and hit his first attempt, but his second clanged off the upright.
Meanwhile, speaking of injuries, the Orange saw Kendall Moore leave after a scary injury, while Hunt got banged up and was visibly limping as well, and Brisly Estime left with an injury late.
Friday night is going to be pretty telling for Syracuse. We hate to say it’s a make or break game, but let’s be honest – it’s getting to the point in the season where it absolutely is. Syracuse’s best hope was to win one game in its current three game stretch against Notre Dame, Louisville, and FSU, and frankly the top chance for a victory was always Louisville. A win over Louisville is the difference between 3-3 and 2-4, and for a program trying to gain a bit of a foothold, that one game makes all of the difference in the world.
Let’s all just hope that Syracuse can finally put things together and give us one hell of a performance against the Cardinals later this week.