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ND defense stymies ‘Cuse

| Sunday, September 28, 2014

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — While the Irish offense stole most of the spotlight Saturday night — both for senior quarterback Everett Golson’s 25 straight completions and the unit’s five turnovers — the defense quietly toiled away to minimize any damage from those giveaways.

Irish junior defensive end Romeo Okwara swallows up the Syracuse ball-carrier during Notre Dame’s 31-15 win over the Orange on Saturday at MetLife Stadium.WEI LIN | The Observer
Irish junior defensive end Romeo Okwara swallows up the Syracuse ball-carrier during Notre Dame’s 31-15 win over the Orange on Saturday at MetLife Stadium.

Through the first three quarters, the Orange only managed three points, unable to capitalize on three Notre Dame fumbles and an interception.

Irish sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith said the defense’s game plan remained unchanged despite offensive struggles.

“The goal is to get that three-and-out, allow them no points when there’s that sudden change,” Smith said. “I’m sure there were a lot of times when we withheld them from scoring, so that was the main goal.”

Both Notre Dame giveaways in the first quarter did result in three-and-outs for Syracuse, and the team held the Orange to just three third-down conversions on 15 attempts.

“It’s a mindset that we try to embrace as a defense.,” Irish senior linebacker Joe Schmidt said. “The smaller the down is, the more excited we get. Getting those stops was critical in this game.”

The Irish defense allowed only one touchdown off a turnover, a seven-yard rushing score from Syracuse senior quarterback Terrel Hunt at the beginning of the fourth quarter that came after a fumble by Irish sophomore running back Greg Bryant.

“That’s definitely a big thing that we look forward to,” junior captain and defensive lineman Sheldon Day said. “We put situations in at practice like that, and it’s a game-changer, and we take pride in that, just knowing that you can take the air out of a team that just got some excitement.”

Much of the Irish defensive game plan centered around slowing down the dynamic trio of Orange rushers — Hunt, graduate student running back Prince-Tyson Gulley and senior running back Adonis Ameen-Moore — who combined to average 239 yards on the ground per game entering Saturday’s matchup.

20140927, 20140928, Football, football v. Syracuse, Football vs. Syracuse, Met Life Stadium, The Observer, Wei Lin-8WEI LIN | The Observer

On Saturday, Notre Dame gave up just 135 total rushing yards — including just 29 from Gulley, 26 from Hunt and 15 from Ameen-Moore.

“Containing the quarterback — that was the main goal,” Smith said. “Everything we did was based on that.”

“We wanted to make him play quarterback. And he had some success, but all-in-all, that was our goal, to make him play quarterback, not let him beat us on his feet.”

Defensive stops came from Irish players both young and old, with senior cornerback Matthias Farley picking off Hunt in the third quarter and freshman defensive lineman Andrew Trumbetti using his speed to contribute a tackle for a five-yard loss.

While Golson and Irish head coach Brian Kelly emphasized the work the team as a whole needed to do to prepare for Stanford next Saturday, Schmidt said it was important to be proud of the victory against Syracuse as well.

“You never want to take away a win from being a win,” Schmidt said. “It’s always got to be — you’ve always got to give it its due. So we want to make sure that we’re focusing on getting better in the future, but at the same time, we’ve got to enjoy it.”

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