No. 1 Orange on collision course with No. 2 Irish at Arlotta
Brian Plamondon | Friday, March 27, 2015
When No. 2 Notre Dame takes on No. 1 Syracuse tomorrow at Arlotta Stadium, both teams will bring top-10 offenses and top-10 defenses to the matchup. Naturally, something’s got to give in this battle of heavyweights.
While some might think the stakes higher than usual for Notre Dame (5-1, 1-0 ACC), head coach Kevin Corrigan said the Irish have prepared for tomorrow no differently than previous games.
“We don’t put any more or less importance on any game,” Corrigan said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s not the sexy approach, it’s just the one that works.”
Still, Corrigan said his players are undoubtedly keyed in. After all, the Orange (7-0, 2-0 ACC) recently dismantled No. 6 Duke, 19-7, on Sunday. They sport one of the most balanced and veteran offenses in the country; in addition to a starting midfield made up of three redshirt seniors, the Orange are led by two older attackers in senior Kevin Rice and redshirt junior Dylan Donahue. Donahue leads the Orange with 22 goals this season, while Rice adds 15 goals and 35 points.
“Kevin Rice is the quarterback, but everyone else on that offense can hurt you,” ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said. “ … [Rice is] a playmaker, even if he doesn’t run by you. He always capitalizes off of any defensive mishap, and the guy he’s looking for is Dylan Donahue, who’s a lefty finisher.”
Rice and Donahue are not the only players that can hurt opponents, however. Each of the front-six starters for Syracuse averages at least a goal a game.
“I think the challenge is that you can’t concentrate on any one of their guys,” Corrigan said.
As efficent as Syracuse’s scorers are, the ‘X factor’ for the Orange could be sophomore faceoff specialist Ben Williams. Williams, who has won 68.2 percent of his draws this year, has the ability to dictate the pace of the game, Carcaterra said.
“This is an offense that is veteran, smart and has great lacrosse IQ to begin with, and now you’re giving them so many more opportunities compared to what they had in the past with their ability to win the faceoff with Ben Williams,” Carcaterra said. “He’s is one of the biggest stories of lacrosse. … If you look at the Duke game, Ben Williams won 11 of the first 12 faceoffs. Eleven more possessions than another team. Do the math, it’s just going to put the defense in a tough situation.”
Notre Dame has struggled to find a replacement for graduated faceoff specialist Liam O’Connor, trotting out the likes of senior Nick Ossello, sophomore P.J. Finley and freshman John Travisano, Jr. on different occasions this season. One of them will have to limit the effect Williams will have on the game, Corrigan said.
“The key for us is to make sure [he’s] not a huge factor,” Corrigan said. “Both by winning faceoffs but also by making sure we don’t allow them to make any plays outside of the faceoff game. If they’re [doing that], then that’s a problem for us.”
If the Irish can limit Williams, they will still have to deal with the wealth of offensive weapons at Syracuse’s disposal. That task will be left up to goalie Shane Doss, reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Week, and the defensive trio of sophomore Garrett Epple and juniors Edwin Glazener and Matt Landis.
“[From the defense we need] good, smart, off-ball play; guys working really hard in small spaces to be where they need to be [and] communication at a high level,” Corrigan said. “… [But] it’s nice to know for our defense, when they make a mistake, the other team still has to beat Shane. And that’s no small task.”
The Irish will also counter Syracuse’s firepower with a deadly offense of their own. Junior attack Matt Kavanagh has tallied 13 goals and 27 points on the season, while freshman attack Mikey Wynne has burst onto the scene with 19 goals.
“Matt Kavanagh is one of the best dodging [attackers] in the country without question,” Carcaterra said. “[And] Mikey Wynne is a perfect complement to him because he plays off-ball so well. He’s been a fantastic addition to the Notre Dame offense.”
As prolific as both offenses are, the game may ultimately come down to one player: Ben Williams.
“If Ben Williams has a typical Ben Williams-type day … I don’t know if there’s a team in the country that can beat Syracuse,” Carcaterra said. “[But] if Notre Dame finds a way to bottle up Williams and offset the dominance somewhat … I think they can win this game.”
Notre Dame and Syracuse, the top two teams in the country, clash tomorrow at noon at Arlotta Stadium.