Head to Head: Notre Dame vs. Syracuse
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, September 25, 2014
Everett Golson appears to improve with each week. The senior signal-caller has completed 65 percent of his passes for 780 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
Sophomore receiver Will Fuller continues to emerge as Golson’s top target. The speedster has hauled in 19 receptions for 225 yards and three scores — all team bests. The Irish will have to keep up the strong passing game this week without senior slot receiver Amir Carlisle, who is out with an MCL sprain.
Syracuse starts four upperclassmen in the secondary with seniors cornerback Brandon Reddish and safety Darius Kelly and juniors cornerback Julian Whigham and safety Durell Eskridge. But the Orange missed out on some interception opportunities Saturday against Maryland and couldn’t rebound to pull off the victory over the Terrapins. It certainly won’t be able to miss out on similarly big opportunities against the Irish.
Syracuse kept Villanova and Central Michigan under 200 passing yards apiece through the first two weeks of the season. Maryland, meanwhile, struck for 280 passing yards on just 16 completions. The Orange must beware of the big play with Golson flinging the ball.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
After gashing Rice for 281 rushing yards in the season opener, Notre Dame has only managed 193 yards on the ground on 69 carries (2.8 yards per attempt) over the course of the last two games. Senior running back Cam McDaniel (3.9 yards per carry) and sophomore running back Tarean Folston (3.7) have struggled to find much running room. Notre Dame’s longest rush — excluding Malik Zaire’s 56-yard, garbage-time scamper against Rice — is a 23-yarder by McDaniel.
The Irish have explored reshuffling the offensive line with an eye toward getting more of a push inside. More physicality from the guards could lead to more consistent pushes for Notre Dame’s three-headed backfield to run behind.
The Terrapins had a tough time mounting much of a ground game Saturday against Syracuse, gaining just 89 yards on 32 carries. In total, the Orange’s 26th-ranked rushing defense has allowed an average of 104.3 yards per game. Until the Irish prove otherwise, Syracuse claims the upper hand here.
IRISH OFFENSIVE COACHING
Notre Dame’s play-calling and overall offensive coaching has had few questionable moments through the first three games of the season. Still, much of Notre Dame’s offensive success could come down to finding a rushing attack. Otherwise, Golson could be forced to carry the load himself. He’s shown himself capable of doing so, but the Irish need to balance both dimensions a bit better.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly praised Syracuse’s defensive scheme under coordinator Chuck Bullough. Kelly lauded Bullough’s ability to mix things up, bring pressure and force third downs.
IRISH SPECIAL TEAMS
The solid special-teams play continues to be a reality for Notre Dame. Senior kicker Kyle Brindza had some shaky kicks against Purdue, but he’s still reliable there and has been strong with kickoffs and punts.
Notre Dame’s coverage units keep playing well, and graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs has spurred the punt-return game. Sophomore running back Greg Bryant is listed as the top kick returned with Carlisle out Saturday.
The Irish have made special teams into something that can be a strength of the squad, a far cry from recent years.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
IRISH SCHEDULE (3-0)
Aug. 30 Rice (W 48-17)
Sept. 6 Michigan (W 31-0)
Sept. 13 vs. Purdue (W 30-14)
Sept. 27 Syracuse
Oct. 4 Stanford
Oct. 11 North Carolina
Oct. 18 @ Florida State
Nov. 1 vs. Navy
Nov. 8 @ Arizona State
Nov. 15 Northwestern
Nov. 22 Louisville
Nov. 29 @ USC
As dynamic as Syracuse senior quarterback Terrel Hunt has been with his legs, the same cannot be said of his play with his right arm. The dual-threat quarterback has completed 59 percent of his passes with one touchdown toss and one interception.
Against Maryland last Saturday, Hunt completed 14 of 28 passes for 219 yards. His interception proved costly. With the Orange trailing by 11 in the second quarter, the Terrapins picked off Hunt and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown to extend their lead to 18. The Orange wouldn’t get on the board again until the fourth quarter.
Hunt will be without one of his top targets Saturday, as Syracuse junior receiver Ashton Broyld is out for a couple weeks with a lower-body injury suffered against the Terrapins. Broyld leads the squad with 11 receptions and is in a close second with 125 receiving yards.
Notre Dame’s secondary was able to heal during the bye week, and Kelly expects graduate student and captain Austin Collinsworth back in the mix. Sophomore cornerback Cole Luke (head) had the week to heal, and sophomore safety Max Redfield returns after his targeting ejection against Purdue.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer was pleased with the way the Orange ran the ball against Maryland on Saturday, and why wouldn’t he be?
Syracuse racked up 370 yards on the ground, spearheaded by Hunt (156 yards and two touchdowns) and graduate student running back Prince-Tyson Gulley (138). Kelly noted Syracuse’s experience along the offensive line. The five starting offensive linemen for the Orange have compiled a combined 91 starts.
Defensively, Notre Dame has been stout stopping the run. Opponents are averaging just 2.9 yards per carry against the Irish. Purdue, for example, was only able to muster 26 carries for 56 yards.
The Irish should front seven will need to be ready against the run-first Orange. If the defensive line continues to hold up and the linebackers and safeties don’t miss many tackles, Syracuse and Notre Dame should be fairly evenly matched in this regard.
ORANGE OFFENSIVE COACHING
Syracuse offensive coordinator George McDonald will be tasked with finding a way to convert the Orange’s offensive production — 589 yards of total offense against Maryland — into points against Notre Dame. Shafer has stressed the need for the Orange to “finish” in all aspects of the game, something it struggled with against the Terrapins.
But Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has outpaced opposing offensive coordinators thus far, fooling offenses with aggressive play and multiple, deceptive looks. Expect VanGorder to cook up more confusion for Hunt and the Syracuse offense.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
ORANGE SPECIAL TEAMS
Syracuse has had strong coverage units so far this season, and freshman walk-on kickoff man Cole Murphy has booted four touchbacks in 15 tries.
Freshman kick returner Ervin Philips (10 returns for 202 yards) and sophomore punt returner Brisly Estime (six returns for 58 yards) have yet to truly break big plays, but they’ve both been steady.
The questions, for Syracuse, will arise in the kicking game. Junior Ryan Norton has missed three of his seven field-goal attempts, and the longest of his four makes is from 38 yards. Murphy hit a 49-yarder Saturday.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
ORANGE SCHEDULE (2-1)
Aug. 29 Villanova (W 27-26 (2 OT))
Sept. 13 @ Cental Michigan (W 40-3)
Sept. 20 Maryland (L 34-20)
Sept. 27 vs. Notre Dame
Oct. 3 Louisville
Oct. 11 Florida State
Oct. 18 @ Wake Forest
Oct. 25 @ Clemson
Nov. 1 North Carolina State
Nov. 8 Duke
Nov. 22 @ Pittsburgh
Nov. 29 @ Boston College