Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 26, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 22 of 55 NOV. 26, 2018 23 SYRACUSE RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE Similar to Florida State the previous week, the Orange was able to find some gaps, especially through the middle, in the Irish nickel package because of the scheme and structure that sometimes had less linebacker help, especially in the first half, at the second level. More help came in the second with a huge lead. It's an elementary principle that if you emphasize shutting down a particular area, in this case the spread passing of Syracuse, there would be some "give" elsewhere. Thus, running backs Moe Neal (18 carries for 74 yards) and Dontae Strickland (eight carries for 50 yards) compiled a respectable 124 yards on 26 carries be- tween them — just as Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick (combined 116 yards for FSU) did the previous week. What was more telling was the Orange had no run longer than 14 yards and managed only 119 total — well below its 216.1 average. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame SYRACUSE PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Losing senior quarterback Eric Dungey to an injury in the first quarter was a significant setback because of his dual-threat skills. Backup redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito did excel in victories this year against Florida State and North Carolina, but the Fighting Irish were a completely different animal. Going back to the point of emphasis and structure for this game, the Irish provided no openings in the short passing game with its press coverage, and when DeVito tried to take shots deep downfield most were not close with the safety help, and the Irish consistently had the leverage advantage. In the first half, Syracuse was 5-of-18 passing for 35 yards with three interceptions. By the second half, despite an original desire to not abandon the run, Syracuse's offensive line was no match for Irish front that rotated liberally, and included the best game of his career by sophomore nose tackle Kurt Hinish. Notre Dame finished with a season-high six sacks, and Syracuse's 35 passes resulted in 115 yards, a measly 3.3 yards per attempt that wouldn't even cut it for a ground attack. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. SYRACUSE RUN DEFENSE After senior running back Dexter Williams' 202-yard rushing output the previous week versus FSU, plus 365 total rushing yards by the Irish, Syracuse prioritized its scheme against the run, mindful also that junior quarterback Ian Book had a week layoff with an injury and might need time to find a rhythm. It was a logical decision, because the Irish managed only 52 yards on 18 rush- ing attempts in the first half. The 171-yard total at the end was boosted on the final scoring march late in the fourth quarter with a 35-yard scramble by No. 2 quarterback Brandon Wimbush and a 32-yard scoring scamper by Williams shortly thereafter. ADVANTAGE: Even NOTRE DAME PASSING GAME VS. SYRACUSE PASS DEFENSE Because the Irish had their way with the pass in the first quarter (11 of 15 for 169 yards) and first half (253 yards) versus Syracuse's coverage, it wasn't as significant that the ground attack was slowed. In the last month, junior wide receiver Chase Claypool has become a much more consistently reliable target in the short, intermediate and deep game, with his 33- and 27-yard catches in the first quarter setting a tone. Book was sacked for the first time since the Pitt game Oct. 13, but his innate sense of the rush, ability to extend plays, and quick delivery and accuracy repeatedly produced. The Irish held the dynamic pass-rushing tandem of Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman at bay for the most part, but it did come at the cost of some penalties, including three motion infractions by sophomore right tackle Robert Hainsey, perhaps trying too eagerly to offset the edge quickness. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame SPECIAL TEAMS A 3-of-3 effort on field goals by senior kicker Justin Yoon was the highlight for the Irish. Syracuse bottled up Notre Dame inside the 10 with a punt and quick kick, but the Irish have been apt to excel when backed against their goal line. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame THIRD-DOWN CONVERSIONS Syracuse entered fifth nationally in third-down defense at 26.2 percent, but the Irish converted 6 of 15 (40.0 percent). The 18-yard Book pass to junior run- ning back Tony Jones Jr. on third-and-15 set up the first touchdown, and a 17- yard toss to sophomore tight end Cole Kmet on fourth-and-one set up another touchdown, as did a third-and-12 pass interference penalty on the Orange. Syracuse was 6 of 18 (33.3 percent), but it was 2 of 8 in the first half and 0 of 3 in the third quarter when all three of its series were three-and-outs. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame TURNOVERS Syracuse entered the game tied for fourth in the country in turnover margin with a plus-1.30, and tied for third in turnovers gained with 25. It not only lost the turnover battle 3-1, but junior safety Jalen Elliott set up a first-quarter field goal with a 24-yard interception return, and junior safety Alohi Gilman's second-quarter 54-yard interception return led to a nine-yard touchdown that broke open the game with a 20-0 advantage. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame ANALYSIS While the injury to Dungey helped reduce Syracuse's effectiveness, this was much more about Notre Dame's complete effort on all three levels of the de- fense. Even Dungey struggled in the three series he was in, connecting on just 1 of 4 throws for 10 yards with an interception. This was flat-out Notre Dame's day on defense, which took its recent efforts to this crescendo level on that side of the ball. The offense has understandably received much of the attention with the game-changing additions of Book and Williams after the third and fourth weeks, but it is the defense that has from week one made the Irish a bona fide College Football Playoff and championship contender, a la Alabama and Clemson. ON PAPER REVISITED BY LOU SOMOGYI Senior running back Dexter Williams had another productive day, catching a nine-yard touchdown pass to stake the Irish to an early lead and leading the rushing attack with 74 yards and a score on 13 carries. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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