I took some time with Assistant Sports Editor and football beat writer Phil D’Abbraccio of Syracuse’s student newspaper, The Daily Orange, to learn more about the Orange perspective on the Notre Dame-Syracuse matchup this weekend at MetLife Stadium. Our email correspondence Q&A follows:
What are the keys to the game for Syracuse against Notre Dame?
The key that stands out to me the most is how Syracuse defends Everett Golson’s ability to run. The Orange hasn’t done so well against mobile quarterbacks thus far this season. And it’ll be a really tough challenge for Syracuse’s running game to get rolling against the Irish’s run defense. That should be a fun matchup to watch.
How comfortable is The Orange in MetLife?
Syracuse hasn’t won in MetLife Stadium the past two years, but I’d still say Syracuse feels pretty comfortable regardless. It’ll be the third year in a row the Orange plays a game down there, so I think that kind of familiarity plays into Syracuse’s favor a little bit, even if it doesn’t translate to the game itself. Getting the chance to interact with former teammates like Ryan Nassib, Justin Pugh and Jay Bromley, who are all on the New York Giants now, definitely wouldn’t hurt either, if those three guys make it to the game.
What is the atmosphere around campus going up against Notre Dame?
I’d say there’s a little bit more excitement for the upcoming weekend, but it’s not much more than that — from what I’ve seen on campus, at least. Some students have camped out outside the Carrier Dome for tickets for the game. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t happen for the average regular-season game.
What will be the biggest challenge Syracuse faces against Notre Dame?
Everett Golson definitely presents the biggest challenge for Syracuse. Villanova’s John Robertson scrambled for 115 yards in the season opener and Villanova — an FCS team, remember — almost pulled off an upset in the Carrier Dome. The Orange did a good job keeping containment on Maryland’s C.J. Brown, another mobile quarterback, but the Terrapins still won by two touchdowns. So Syracuse really hasn’t successfully defended a mobile quarterback yet this season and Golson’s one of the best SU will see all year.
Where do you think Syracuse can outplay Notre Dame?
To be perfectly honest, I’ll be surprised if Syracuse outplays Notre Dame in any one area of the game. The Orange’s only clear strength so far has been its run defense but the Irish will be the biggest test Syracuse has seen in that department, so I think that fact kind of neutralizes what SU has done so far in that area.
Although The Orange had 589 yards of total offense last week, they didn’t seem to be able to convert. Why is that? And what has been done to fix that?
Yeah, the story of the Maryland game was that Syracuse racked up a ton of yards but couldn’t put points on the board due to poor execution and poorer discipline. Terrel Hunt and receiver Adrian Flemming had a miscommunication, resulting in a pick-six in the red zone in the second quarter which proved to be the dagger. Later in the quarter, Syracuse committed three penalties in a span of about four plays, moving SU out of the red zone, and then kicker Ryan Norton missed a 25-yard field goal right before the half. Then throughout the second half, Hunt didn’t really seem to be on the same page with his receivers. A lot of dropped passes. The coaches and players said they’ll fix those problems, but we’ll see for sure on Saturday night.
Do you think Syracuse will be able to put up a similar 370 yards of rushing against Notre Dame, as it did against Maryland?
I think 370 yards is probably a stretch, but I do think Syracuse will run the ball pretty well. Although Notre Dame is a top-10 run defense and shut down Devin Gardner pretty well, Terrel Hunt’s done a good job so far reading the defensive ends on zone-reads, especially near the goal line, and making those quick decisions. Prince-Tyson Gulley, the fastest tailback Syracuse has, has looked pretty good so far too, patiently waiting for holes and showing the ability to hit them. So 370 rushing yards is probably unrealistic but I think if Syracuse can get 250, it’ll be a big help to open up the passing game.
Terrel Hunt, just how good is he and what is he capable of? What must he do to exploit the young and injured Irish secondary?
Terrel Hunt’s really had an up-and-down calendar year, dating back to last season. We’ve seen him lead some pretty impressive game-winning drives against average opponents, but the matchups against the powerhouses like Florida State and Clemson haven’t gone so well. It’s been the same story this year. Because he was ejected against Villanova, we can’t really judge how that first half of football went. He looked really good against Central Michigan, planting his front foot down and making some very accurate throws in the 10- to 15-yard range. And then against Maryland, he had the miscommunication that led to the interception but he also dropped in one deep ball that was on the money. He’s pretty hit-or-miss and even on games the Orange picks up a lot of yards on the ground, there’s no guarantee Hunt will be any more successful through the air.
What do you think defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough has up his sleeves for an Irish O-line going through some changes?
Syracuse defensive line coach Tim Daoust spoke really highly of Everett Golson on Tuesday and kept it simple when he said his guys just need to get a hand on Golson because he can take off in a heartbeat. I think the best thing Syracuse can do against that offensive line is mix up the looks for Golson and the linemen. The Orange usually plays a base 4-3 defense but they went to a 3-3-5 in parts of the game to get more defensive backs on the field to handle Maryland’s wide receivers. Facing Notre Dame, I imagine Syracuse will stick with a front seven for most of the game, if not all of it, to limit the running game and try to make Golson beat them with the pass.
What is your overall outlook concerning this weekend’s matchup?
A couple weeks ago Syracuse’s athletic director said on a radio show that an upset in this game would really give Syracuse a chance to become nationally relevant. But I just don’t see that happening. If the Orange had beaten Maryland and came into this game 3-0 like Notre Dame, I’d think Syracuse would keep it competitive but I don’t think that will be the case. I think the Orange goes a third year in a row without a win at MetLife Stadium. Even though these games at MetLife are a great tool for recruiting and give Syracuse a chance to play close to New York City, a big alumni base, but I think the Orange still has a ways to go before it competes with the powerhouse teams they schedule these games against.