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Syracuse remains focused despite hype surrounding Shamrock Series

| Friday, November 16, 2018

The bright lights of the big city can’t distract Syracuse head coach Dino Babers from the task at hand. As the No. 12 Orange prepare to face off against the No. 3 Irish in Yankee Stadium on Saturday in the ninth Shamrock Series, Babers is intent on maintaining perspective despite the high stakes this game brings.

“I don’t see this like one of the biggest games since 2001,” Babers said. “I think about Virginia Tech being a conference game two years ago, Clemson being a conference game one year ago … to me this is like a freebie.”

Syracuse (8-2, 5-2 ACC) has risen to second in the ACC Coastal with key wins over Florida State and North Carolina State while going on the road to take No. 2 Clemson down to the wire. Coming off a 2-6 ACC season and predicted to finish 13th in the conference in preseason polls, their unexpected success has allowed them to have a new appreciation for these matchups.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush looks to pass from the pocket during Notre Dame’s 42-13 win over Florida State on Nov. 10 at Notre Dame Stadium.

“We’re 4-0 in the second part of our season,” Babers said. “We have a nonconference opponent that we’re playing. It doesn’t affect our conference standings, but it does affect our overall record. I look at this one a little bit differently than a conference game.”

The last two times these teams met were both held at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Now, as the teams prepare to take the converted baseball field, Babers is unconcerned by the potentional challenges the field could present due to the unconventional seating.

“When I grew up, we grew up playing on the front lawn of junior high schools and high schools, parks, streets … you know, if you get two really good teams that are motivated, they’ll really play anywhere,” Babers said.

The teams’ most recent meeting in 2016 resulted in a 50-33 Irish win. Babers said Saturday’s game will be telling of how this Syracuse team has matured to handle marquee matchups.

“We’ve played on TV before. It’s no different than playing in Clemson [Memorial] Stadium,” he said. “ … If you’re talking about our O-line and D-line, we’re probably in a better position than we were two years ago. I think the teams are different and the stage is different.”

Despite the fanfare that always surrounds this home-away-from-home game for the Irish, Syracuse is focused on the four quarters they have to prove themselves legitimate contenders for a New Year’s Day Bowl game. As 10.5 point underdogs, Babers understands his team will have to be their sharpest against the well-rounded Irish.

“They’re solid,” he said “Looking for a hole, looking for a weakness, looking for a cheek — they are extremely solid. They’re good with whichever quarterback plays. Their defense is doing really, really well.”

Babers said he hopes his team can contain the dual threat of the Irish offense while looking to senior quarterback Eric Gungey to produce against the Notre Dame defense to give themselves a chance going into the final 15 minutes.

“They’re really, really long. They have a really, really good scheme. It’s the main reason why I’m sure that a lot of teams had a lot of difficulty scoring on those guys,” Babers said. “And then their offense is so good that you’re trying to match suit with them, and then before you know it you’re behind and then the flood gates open and the game’s over. You got to try to find a way to see if you can get it into the second half and get into the third and fourth quarter and make it a tight game. I think they’ve been playing really loose but they’ve normally had leads and comfortable leads so their players could play loose.”

One of the keys to Syracuse’s success this season has been the balanced play on offense, where they average over 100 yards in both passing and rushing. Junior running back Neal Moe and redshirt senior receiver Jamal Curtis are expected to carry the majority of that load, average six yards per carry and 17.81 yards per reception, respectively.

Despite being in Syracuse’s home state, the strong Notre Dame presence in New York City is expected to fill the stadium, leading Babers to call on the Orange fans that will be in attendance to make their presence known.

“They seem to travel wherever they go,” Babers said about Notre Dame fans. “They are the nation’s team, you could call it, and they’re going to be loud.”

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