Head to Head: Syracuse
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, November 16, 2018
Against Florida State, Notre Dame proved once again that it can win with either junior Ian Book or senior Brandon Wimbush under center, but the Irish passing game excels with Book at quarterback. The junior currently has a 74.5 percent completion rate, is averaging 304 passing yards per game and has the eighth-highest quarterback rating in college football at 170. Any concerns about Book’s health after the rib injury he sustained Week 9 against Northwestern should be offset by the fact that Syracuse’s pass defense is currently ranked 109th in the FBS. Their opponents are averaging 262.9 yards in the air, with 2-8 Louisville picking up 210 most recently. With Book back, the Irish passing attack should be strong against the Orange.
EDGE: Notre Dame
The Irish backfield is good and keeps getting better. The Irish offensive line is good and keeps getting better. The Syracuse rushing defense is ranked 69th in the country, giving up an average of 169 yards per game. That’s average, but average won’t cut it against a Notre Dame rushing attack that is averaging just under 200 yards per game on the ground. The Orange have had a tendency to allow chunk plays this season, and not many units are better at ripping off big plays on the ground than the Dexter Williams and the Notre Dame offensive line have been this season. Florida State had the 17th-best rush defense in the country, and Notre Dame rushed for over 300 yards last Saturday. Expect that trend to continue.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Irish Offensive Coaching
Chip Long has nearly mastered his offensive scheme, finding the perfect balance between Ian Book’s graceful arm and Dexter William’s prolific speed to hit opponents just when they start to get complacent. The return of Book should allow the Irish to capitalize on this dual threat, as the Orange have no glaring weaknesses but have allowed opponents an average of 169 and 261.3 yards in rushing and passing, respectively. This Syracuse defense has struggled to contain team’s attempts to convert on 4th down, allowing 50 percent of attempts to succeed, a number the Irish will look to exploit, having converted 13 of 19 4th down attempts this season.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Irish Offensive Special Teams
Justin Lustig and his squad have done a solid job this year on defensive special teams. The Orange rank fourth in the nation in kickoff return defense, allowing only 9.61 yards on average on the kickoff, which is an impressive statistic. For the Irish, sophomore wide receiver Michael Young has proven himself a possible threat on the kickoff return, and senior wide receiver Chris Finke can be slippery on the punt return. The Irish have certainly struggled more defensively on special teams, and matchup here should be a good one this weekend. Both squads have proven enough to the point that the edge could go either way in this one. It’ll likely come down to who does the best job of minimizing the little mistakes.
Currently ranked 36th in the country in passing offense, Syracuse and quarterback Eric Dungey have had some monster games through the air, including a 411 yard performance against North Carolina State on Oct. 27. Dungey, who became Syracuse’s all-time leading passer this season, has 12 touchdowns and five interceptions on the year to go along with his running capabilities, and has plenty of experience as a four-year starter. Defensively, the Irish secondary has played well this season, allowing under 200 yards per game.
Between senior Eric Dungey and junior Moe Neal, Syracuse has a balanced rushing attack that currently averages 216.1 yards per game. Senior Dontae Strickland and freshman Jarveon Howard have also proven they can contribute to the offense, picking up six touchdowns apiece so far. Still, Notre Dame’s rush defense has been solid all year, limiting opponents to 138.9 yards per game. While 32 of the Orange’s touchdowns have come on the ground this season, with 12 from Dungey alone, the Irish defensive line should keep this one competitive.
Orange Offensive Coaching
Syracuse offensive coordinator Mike Lynch and head coach Dino Babers have created an offensive juggernaut this season, as the Orange rank 7th in scoring offense this season at 44.4 points per game. This is a big game for Syracuse — the playbook will be wide open. Notre Dame’s defense ranks 24th in total defense and has been stout all season under defensive coordinator Clark Lea, who has been able to successfully make in-game adjustments this season. This is strength versus strength.
Orange Offensive Special Teams
With four of their last six games being decided by 10 points or less, Syracuse offensive special teams have proven critical down this final stretch of the season. Going 27 of 29 from field goals at an average of 40.52 yards, in addition to returning punts for over 15 yards, make this unit a threat, especially when placed up against the lackluster Irish special teams defense.