Crushing the Orange
Mary Green | Sunday, September 28, 2014
But led by senior quarterback Everett Golson and his own perfect stretch, the Irish (4-0) recovered from early-game troubles to take down the Orange (2-2), 31-15, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Despite racking up 523 total yards of offense, 29 first downs and four touchdowns, Notre Dame (4-0) struggled not as much to put away Syracuse (2-2) as it did to overcome self-inflicted errors, including five turnovers — three fumbles and two interceptions.
“Well, you can tell in the locker room, there was not the normal chatter and excitement,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “They knew they did not play the kind of football necessary to win each and every week. This game will get you beat week in and week out.”
In a strange comparison that showed both a strong performance and struggles, Golson threw just two more incompletions — seven — than the number of Irish turnovers.
“It’s pretty weird for me,” Golson said. “What I take from it is that I have to get better. There were a lot of mistakes I made. … What we saw tonight was just sloppy — just sloppy, starting with me.”
The first of those five miscues came on Notre Dame’s very first drive. The Irish marched into Syracuse territory, where Golson scrambled 22 yards but had the ball knocked out and recovered by Orange senior cornerback Brandon Reddish at Syracuse’s 16-yard line.
Kelly said Notre Dame’s turnovers — including the first of Golson’s two lost fumbles — occurred in as ideal of locations as they could have.
“Not that it’s a good thing, but we turned the ball over three times in the [opponent’s] 20-yard line, so we never put them on a short field,” he said.
However, Notre Dame held strong on defense and prevented a Syracuse score.
The Irish defense stepped up to stop Orange senior quarterback Terrel Hunt throughout the game. Notre Dame held Hunt — who averaged 91.0 rushing yards per game going into Saturday — to just 26 yards on the ground while allowing Syracuse to convert just three of its 15 third-down plays.
“We get some big guys in there; we get some athletic guys,” Kelly said. “We lost a lot of really good players, but we feel like we’ve got some big, physical players that can stop the run and were built for it.”
Orange head coach Scott Shafer said both his offense and the Notre Dame defense contributed to the lopsided score.
“We were plus-four [in turnovers] and came up short,” Shafer said. “We have to finish on offense. Hats off to Notre Dame’s defense — that’s why they’re one of the best defenses in the country.”
The teams traded punts throughout the first quarter before Golson threw his first interception of the night to Reddish at the Syracuse 36-yard line. The Orange could not get on the board after that, and the period came to a close with no score — the first quarter all season in which the Irish failed to put up points.
In the next Irish series, Golson led the offense 95 yards down the field, completing passes to six different receivers. Aided by a Syracuse pass interference penalty, Golson threw a touchdown strike to sophomore receiver Will Fuller to get the scoring started at 7-0.
“I got on him because we threw a quick screen to him in the very first series, and he didn’t pick up the first down, and I said to him, ‘I think you’re a better player than that — there’s more,’” Kelly said of Fuller. “And he said, ‘Coach, get me the ball again, and I’ll score on that same screen,’ and he did it. I think that’s the kind player of Will Fuller is — he’s an explosive player.”
On that drive, Golson also started a streak of 25 consecutive completions, which fell just one short of tying the FBS single-game record.
Despite the signal-caller’s close call with the record book, many of the players on the sidelines said they did not realize he had kept the string of completions alive for so long.
“Not really at all,” Golson said when asked if he knew about the streak. “I think that stuff doesn’t really matter.”
“Certainly tonight, our quarterback learned a lot from really having a great performance, too,” Kelly said. “He did a lot of really, really good things. He threw the ball on-target down the field, and his perimeter throws were outstanding, so he did a lot of good things but learned so much from it — that’s a great teaching tool.”
In the midst of Golson’s run, Fuller topped his first score with a 72-yard reception for a touchdown just a little more than two minutes later on the first play of the next Irish series, putting Notre Dame up 14-0.“I knew that was the call,” Fuller said. “We worked on that all week, and I thought it would work, and I’m happy it did.”
Syracuse got on the board with a field goal on its next drive, and the Irish responded with another fumble by Golson, this time at the Syracuse 18-yard line, to close out the half.
On the opening series of the second half, Syracuse rolled down the field to the Notre Dame 29-yard line, where Irish senior cornerback Matthias Farley intercepted Hunt.
That set up another Irish touchdown, this time from eight yards out on a pass from Golson to sophomore receiver Corey Robinson.
Fuller led all receivers with 119 yards on six receptions, while Robinson closed the night with 91 yards on eight catches.
“A big part of Corey’s game tonight was his ability to be a complete wide receiver, in the sense that everybody has this sense that Corey is this big target that’s rangy, that you can just throw it up to him,” Kelly said.
Syracuse began the fourth quarter with a rushing touchdown from Hunt, but Irish junior defensive lineman Jarron Jones blocked the extra-point attempt to hold the score at 21-9.
Notre Dame bounced back on the next drive with a touchdown pass from Golson to oft-injured sophomore receiver Torii Hunter Jr., who also made his first career reception in his long-delayed collegiate debut.
“Pretty good for the first time,” Kelly said of Hunter Jr.’s catch. “You saw the guys were pretty excited for him. He’s well-liked by all the players, and it’s nice to get him in there.”
After two consecutive games in NFL stadiums, Notre Dame heads home to face No. 14 Stanford on Saturday.
“It’s always good to be home,” Irish sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “You’ve got your family crowd there; you’ve got your students; you’ve got your classmates and things like that. So we’re looking forward to going back home for the next two games.”
The Irish and the Cardinal kick off Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium.