Blue and Gold Illustrated

Dec 19, 2020

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

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Page 20 of 55 DEC. 19, 2020 21 SYRACUSE RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE The two most glaring statistical mismatches involved this category. Among 127 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, Notre Dame entered the contest No. 4 against the run at 85.3 yards allowed per game, and no opposing running back had eclipsed 70 yards in the nine previous Irish games. Conversely, Syracuse was 124th in yards per game on the ground at 78.3, notably a paltry three yards in the previous week's loss to North Carolina State. Amazingly, Syracuse gashed the Irish several times with the run when some fits were not made. Freshman Sean Tucker's 113-yard performance was highlighted by a 40-yard score on an Irish blitz, and Cooper Lutz's 80-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter pushed him past the century mark as well. It was inconceivable to think the Orange could amass 229 rushing yards. ADVANTAGE: Syracuse SYRACUSE PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Quarterback Rex Culpepper and the Orange emphasized a quick-rhythm passing attack early. It was effective while taking a 7-3 lead, and at that point standout wide receiver Taj Harris had five receptions for 51 yards. Thereafter, Notre Dame began to amp up the pressure a little more with blitzes, and Har- ris — with less time to maneuver — was limited to three catches for 28 yards. The Irish were credited with only one sack, but that was partly a byproduct of the quick, short passes with nothing open deep. A dump-off to Tucker for 37 yards came from a missed assignment. Culpepper (18 of 29 for 185 yards) totaled only 110 yards on 13 completions after the first quarter. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. SYRACUSE RUN DEFENSE A pattern in recent games has seen Notre Dame scuffle with the running attack most of the first half before gradually wearing down the opposition, especially in the fourth quarter. Once again, the pass (29 attempts in the first half) opened up the run. The Irish totaled only 59 yards on 13 carries in the first half, and then 226 yards on 27 attempts in the second, with a fourth-quarter 94-yard scoring romp by freshman Chris Tyree significantly bolstering the data. Another pattern is several times per game, fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Book's scrambling/improvisation skills become back-breaking and demoralizing to a defense. This was evidenced again on 28- and 17-yard scoring runs, plus an eight-yard escape on fourth-and-five to set up one of those tallies. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME PASSING GAME VS. SYRACUSE PASS DEFENSE After Book connected on 21 of 29 passes for 252 yards with two touchdowns in the first half, he was a modest 3 of 8 for 33 yards with one score and one interception (ending a school-record streak of 266 throws without one) in the second as the running game began to assert itself. A perfectly placed 26-yard scoring pass to Javon McKinley (seven catches for 111 yards and three touch- downs) did highlight those final 30 minutes. Not since 2002 with Arnaz Battle, a converted quarterback who had five career catches entering his fifth season, has a fifth-year wideout with a non- descript career up to that point emerged more at Notre Dame than McKinley. Battle went on to become a sixth-round pick who played nine years in the NFL. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame SPECIAL TEAMS Syracuse punter Nolan Cooney twice pinned the Irish inside the 10-yard line during the first half, part of why the Orange held a 7-3 lead with just less than four minutes remaining until halftime. A third punt was downed inside the 20. Syracuse did have two personal fouls on Irish returns while recording zero net yards itself on punt and kick returns. Tyree had a 33-yard kick return to his 37- yard line for the Irish. Senior kicker Jonathan Doerer was effective on kickoffs and was 1 of 2 on field goals, missing from 50 yards. ADVANTAGE: Even THIRD-DOWN CONVERSIONS Notre Dame was 7 of 15 (46.6 percent) compared to Syracuse's 5 of 14 (35.7percent). Most damaging were two third-and-10 conversions by the Irish in the first half that resulted in two different touchdowns. The first was a personal foul for roughing the passer after Book had thrown an incomplete pass. The second was a 21-yard completion to fifth-year senior wideout Ben Skowronek that set up the touchdown pass to McKinley with six seconds left until halftime for a 24-7 advantage. Book set up a third touchdown with an eight-yard run on fourth-and-five. The Orange did convert a third-and-eight on its first touchdown march to move ahead 7-3. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame TURNOVERS Notre Dame won this battle 4-2, with five of the mishaps occurring during the third quarter, four of them on back-to-back plays on both sides. Both teams tallied touchdowns off one of those miscues. Syracuse's first turnover, in the second quarter, a fumble, set up a 21-yard touchdown pass to McKinley on the next play to expand the Irish lead to 17-7 and began to open the floodgates. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame ANALYSIS There was some thought on our end that a 1-9 Syracuse team might mail it in to end a dreadful, injury-ridden season. To the young Orange's credit, they displayed pride and tenacity, and led 7-3 with less than four minutes left in the first half. A crucial penalty and later a turnover by Syracuse dramatically switched the momentum when the Irish tallied three touchdowns in a span of 3:12, the latter with six seconds left until halftime for a 24-7 cushion. Syracuse kept battling in the second half, and its 229-yard rushing output was stunning. If there was a game for the Irish defense not to be at its sharpest or up to standards, this was it — another example of how timing has remained ideal for Notre Dame throughout this season. ON PAPER REVISITED BY LOU SOMOGYI Fifth-year senior wide receiver Javon McKinley entered the matchup with Syracuse with no touchdowns this season, but torched the Orange for three scores among his seven grabs for 111 yards. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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