Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 26, 2018

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

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30 NOV. 26, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WHAT WORKED Pass Defense Dominates: Syracuse came into this matchup averaging 266.1 passing yards per game, and its quarterbacks had completed 59.3 percent of their passes in its first 10 contests. Notre Dame held that unit to just 115 yards through the air, and the Orange quarter- backs completed just 15 of 35 passes (42.9 percent). Notre Dame got outstand- ing play from its secondary, with junior safeties Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman combining for three inter- ceptions. The cornerbacks also were good in coverage, and the defensive approach played a big role as well. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea built a game plan that put a lot of pressure on his cornerbacks in man coverage on the outside, and the safeties were asked to play in space quite a bit in the game. Syracuse likes to attack the perim- eter quickly with the pass game, so Lea asked his cornerbacks to play much tighter to the line of scrim- mage, and that served to eliminate much of the short passing game. That strategy exposes cornerbacks to downfield passes, and Syracuse has had a great deal of success with those throws in recent weeks. The cornerbacks defended the deep ball well, and Lea also used the safeties to protect the seam routes. That is exactly what Syracuse tried to beat Notre Dame with in the sec- ond quarter, but Gilman read the play perfectly and made the inter- ception. With Syracuse forced to look for more downfield shots, the Irish pass rush had time to be impactful. Notre Dame brought down the Syracuse passers six times, and several of those sacks came on plays where the quar- terback initially had time to throw but the coverage was too good. Second-Half Run Defense: With Notre Dame focused so much on stopping the pass, the Orange was able to have some success running the ball in the first half. Syracuse racked up 95 yards on the ground in the first two quarters, and its only two third-down conversions in the first half were on runs. Notre Dame made some adjust- ments in the second half, and Syra- cuse also made some changes that actually helped the run defense. In the second half, the Orange started using its tight ends more and didn't spread Notre Dame out as much, which allowed the Irish to put fifth-year senior linebacker Drue Tranquill back in the box after he spent most of the first half outside. Lea brought his safeties down more in the second half, and the Irish defensive line was far more disrup- tive in the third quarter. The result — the Orange was held to minus-eight rushing yards in the third quarter. Big-Play Offense: The Irish of- fense was sloppy for much of the game and the run game struggled to get much going against a Syracuse defense that placed its emphasis on slowing down the rush. Offensive coordinator Chip Long took advantage of the focus on the run game by trying to create big play opportunities through the air. Notre Dame rushed for just 52 yards in the first two quarters, but it threw for 253 yards. In the first half, junior quarterback Ian Book com- pleted passes of 47 yards to senior tight end Alizé Mack, 33 and 27 yards to junior wide receiver Chase Clay- pool, and 24 yards to senior wide receiver Miles Boykin. Book also hit running back Tony Jones Jr. on an 18-yard pass to convert a third-and-15, connected with Boykin for another 18 to convert a third-and-six and found Claypool again for 15 yards to convert a third-and-12. WHAT DIDN'T WORK S l o p p y O n O ff e n s e : Notre Dame's 33-point vic- tory was certainly impres- sive, but it could and should have been much larger. The Irish offense had to settle for a pair of field goals in the first quarter despite getting the ball inside the Syracuse 10-yard line. Another red zone trip ended with Book getting intercepted in the end zone on fourth down. Notre Dame had four false start penalties on the offensive line, and there were dropped passes that stalled drives as well. Run Defense Struggles Early: The final numbers were outstanding, with Notre Dame holding Syracuse to just 119 rushing yards in the game. Six sacks for minus-36 yards helped, but even without the sacks the sec- ond-half run defense was outstand- ing against a team that came into the matchup averaging 216.1 yards per game. The Orange had averaged 295 yards on the ground in its previous two games, and in the first half it seemed they were on pace for an- other big game. Syracuse had 95 rushing yards in the opening half due in part to the Irish going with just five defenders in the box, and the defensive line not making enough plays on the ball. ✦ Syracuse Game: What Worked And What Didn't CLOSER LOOK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at Fifth-year senior linebacker Drue Tranquill and the Irish defense limited the Orange to just 119 rushing yards, including minus-eight in the third quarter. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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