Notre Dame nearly shuts out Syracuse to remain perfect in Shamrock Series games
Elizabeth Greason | Saturday, November 17, 2018
The famed frieze of Yankee Stadium was adorned with Notre Dame and Shamrock Series flags that fluttered calmly throughout the game, as if they, like Irish head coach Brian Kelly, were confident Notre Dame would walk away with a win.
An easy, 36-3 one at that.
“We were able to do some things offensively that put us in a really good position and never really felt like the game was threatened at any time,” Kelly said after the game.
After trading scoreless drives to open the game, the Irish offense kicked in, as junior quarterback Ian Book completed a series of passes, first to junior running back Tony Jones Jr. for 18 yards, then to junior wide receiver Chase Claypool for a gain of 27 and then to senior receiver Miles Boykin to get the Irish to the Syracuse 9-yard line. On first-and-goal, Book connected with senior running back Dexter Williams over the center, and while a number of Orange players were able to get hands on Williams immediately, he pushed forward and crossed the goal line for the first score of the game.
After a 52-yard kickoff by senior Justin Yoon, and a 19-yard return, the Orange (8-3, 5-2 ACC) started their drive at their own 32-yard line. Syracuse’s possession did not last long, however, as senior quarterback Eric Dungey was intercepted on the first play of the drive by junior cornerback Jalen Elliott, who returned the ball for 24 yards to the Syracuse 15.
“It was a flower concept and they both kind of came in and I was about to go through the post, and so, I saw him throw it and just kind of broke on it,” Elliott said. “[Defensive coordinator Clark] Lea put me in a great position to make that play and the pressure up front was getting to [Dungey] pretty fast and so it was just my job at that point to go make the play.”
Despite starting in the red zone, however, the Irish (11-0) only managed a field goal. Sophomore offensive lineman Robert Hainsey was called for a false start, forcing Notre Dame back five yards, and unable to convert on third down, Yoon came in for the 26-yard field goal, putting the Irish up 10-0 halfway through the first quarter.
On the next drive, with the Orange marching, Dungey went down on a quarterback keeper, and had to be helped off the field. He did not return with an upper body injury.
Dungey’s replacement, redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito, immediately fired consecutive long balls, both of which fell incomplete.
On their next drive, the Irish started deep in their own territory, but Book efficiently moved the offense down the field once again, thanks in part to a 33-yard Claypool reception and a connection to senior tight end Alizé Mack that went for 47 yards. Book handed the ball off to Jones, who scooted into the end zone for what appeared to be a touchdown, but the score was called back by another holding penalty, this one on sophomore tight end Brock Wright. The Irish were again forced to settle for a field goal, as Yoon sent a 29-yarder through the uprights.
The first play of the second quarter went Notre Dame’s way, as junior safety Alohi Gilman picked off DeVito’s pass at Notre Dame’s 16-yard line. While the Irish were unable to make anything happen with the ensuing drive, it was Gilman’s first interception in an Irish uniform.
“Alohi Gilman was given the game ball for his play today. He was all over the field,” Kelly said. “And I think — you know, when you look at it, his play was infectious because he was outstanding on special teams as well. So really big effort.”
Notre Dame’s defense continued to dominate, forcing the Orange to go three-and-out and sacking DeVito in the process, but the Irish were unable to take advantage and add more points when they got the ball back, as they found themselves on the Syracuse goal line. With fourth-and-one remaining, Book dropped back to pass, but got caught up and slipped. He tossed the ball to the end zone in the process, but his pass intended for graduate student tight end Nic Weishar was caught by Syracuse freshman defensive back Andre Cisco for a touchback.
“I got stepped on, tripped up and was falling backwards, so, gotta get my feet out of there as quickly as I can,” Book said of the play.
Gilman came up clutch again for the Irish, as the Orange, led by a 23-yard rush by senior running back Dontae Strickland, found themselves just past midfield. But as DeVito threw a slant to junior receiver Sean Riley, a Gilman hit jarred the ball loose and the junior caught the pass in mid-air. The safety ran it back for 54 yards, dodging multiple attempted tackles before finally being downed at the 9-yard line.
“Man, that’s huge for ‘Lo. I was thinking ‘Does he have an interception this year?’ I was actually thinking that earlier this week, and I was like, ‘Man, if he doesn’t get one this year, that’s on me,’” Irish graduate student linebacker Drue Tranquill said, since Gilman’s first interception, which came against Stanford, was called back due to a pass-interference call on Tranquill. “And then he got two tonight, so we’re good. He hasn’t come for my head yet.”
Just one play later, sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong found the end zone for Notre Dame’s second touchdown of the game, putting the Irish up by 20, before the two teams punted back and forth for the following five minutes to end the half.
The Orange began the second half with the ball, but once again the Irish defense shut them down, forcing redshirt-junior punter Sterling Hofrichter back into action after just three plays. A combination of mid-range rushes from Williams and Book, as well as a facemask penalty quickly moved Notre Dame into field-goal range, so when the Irish offense stalled out in the red zone, it turned to Yoon again, who easily added another three points to the board with a 29-yard field goal.
The Irish pass rush showed its true strength on the next drive, as DeVito was sacked on back-to-back plays, first by Tranquill for a loss of five yards, and then by junior defensive lineman Julian Okwara for a loss of seven, forcing yet another three-and-out.
“We had a game plan and we kind of just stuck to it. It wasn’t just based off of what they were doing, we kind of knew what we wanted to do and once we saw that it was working, we just pushed forward and kept being aggressive,” Elliott said. “I think Coach Lea called a great game and just put us in position to make plays, like he always says, once he puts us in position, it’s on us now. I think the D-line came up huge and the backers came up huge in stopping that run and continuing to play well, as they have all season.”
Notre Dame’s next scoring drive was kickstarted by a pass interference call on third-and-12, which advanced Notre Dame past midfield. After a seven-yard completion to Boykin, the Irish were facing fourth-and-one and decided to go for it — ultimately a good call as Book completed a 17-yard pass to sophomore tight end Cole Kmet, who tiptoed out-of-bounds at Syracuse 12. A 10-yard completion to Claypool in the end zone put six more points on the board, although the extra point attempt was missed, wide right, putting Notre Dame up 29-0.
Syracuse began the fourth quarter with one of its most extensive drives of the game, eating up six-and-a-half minutes of clock as it advanced from its own 27-yard line to the Irish 5. However, when redshirt-freshman kicker Andre Szmyt came on for his first attempt of the evening from 23 yards, the ball hit the left upright, keeping the Orange off the board.
Notre Dame’s scoring was capped on its next drive, which was highlighted by Williams and senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who came in for Book and used his speed to take the ball 35 yards down the sideline to the Syracuse 22-yard line. A holding penalty on Notre Dame, one of seven penalties on the Irish for 55 yards on the night, pushed it back 10 yards, but it was no problem for Williams, who took it to the house two plays later, giving the Irish a 36-point lead.
On its final drive of the game, Syracuse was determined to get the goose egg off the scoreboard, gradually making its way down the field via short pass completions. Eventually, the Orange ended up at the Irish 9-yard line, and with time ticking down, the Orange passed incomplete, rushed for a loss of a yard and tossed another incomplete pass. With 10 seconds remaining and fourth-and-goal from the 10-yard line, the Orange trotted out the field goal unit and successfully scored their first points of the game.
“I mean, it was a good kick by the kicker. He made it,” Irish junior cornerback Julian Love said with a smile. “It is what it is. But that was a great statement win for us.”
Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said the field goal attempt was a result of trying to limit injury on the final play of the game.
“It’s really simple. We could run another play and we could even score a touchdown, and then maybe even do an onside kick. And maybe score another touchdown. But we’re not going to win. That’s one scenario,” he said. “The other thing is that when you’re running those plays you got a chance to get people hurt. We can get somebody hurt on the play, Notre Dame can get somebody hurt on the play. The score did not matter right there, so it was just go out, run out, kick a field goal, keep your guys healthy, move on to the next game.”
With a near-shutout over the No. 12 team in the country under their belts, the Irish are now looking forward to a chance to go undefeated with a win over rival USC at the Coliseum.
“I’m so excited. I’m ready to go. I’m going to celebrate this one, but I’m going to be ready when it’s time to go,” Gilman said.