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One Foot Down Game Day Countdown: Notre Dame vs. Syracuse

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A second straight neutral site game this weekend as Notre Dame looks to avenge 2008.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

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Notre Dame (-9.5) at Syracuse

MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey

Kickoff: 8:00 PM ET

Television: ABC

Series: 3-3-0

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Here is the One Foot Down preview of this Saturday's night game against Syracuse.

5 Factoids

  • .500

Syracuse is one of 7 programs with a .500 winning percentage against Notre Dame. Missouri (2-2-0), LSU (5-5-0), Ole Miss (1-1-0), Clemson (1-1-0), Tennessee (4-4-0), and Penn State (9-9-1) are the other teams.

  • 0-2

This will be Syracuse's third opportunity hosting the "College Classic" game at MetLife Stadium. They are win-less in the series against some strong competition losing 42-29 to USC in 2012 and 23-17 to Penn State last year.

  • 4-1

The Irish are currently 4-1 coming off a bye week under Brian Kelly. The lone loss was the disappointing defeat in 2011 against USC at home on a huge recruiting night.

  • 589

Syracuse lost at home last week to Maryland but their 589 total yards were the most since putting up 595 yards against Wagner in week 3 of last year. Those 589 yards were the most against a Power 5 conference opponent in their last 27 games and their 7.46 yards per play were the most since their bowl game in 2010 against Kansas State.

  • 3

Both the Irish and Orange have been very good at protecting the ball this season only losing the ball a combined 3 times in 2014. Coming into Saturday the only turnover for Notre Dame was a fumble by Ben Koyack against Purdue. Both of Syracuse's turnovers came last week against Maryland. The first was a back-breaking 88-yard pick six near the end of the first half and then a lost fumble late in the game on the first play of their second-to-last drive.

4 Players to Watch

  • RB Prince-Tyson Gulley

At 5-10 and only 192 pounds Gulley isn't the biggest tailback but he's a proven playmaker for the Orange. He broke his collarbone in the middle of the 2011 season and was granted an extra year of eligibility for a fifth season this fall. Coming into this game against Notre Dame he has 2,939 all-purpose yards in his career, as well as 18 touchdowns. Gulley struggled in week two against Central Michigan (13 yards on 7 carries) but has gone over 100 yards rushing in Syracuse's other two games.

  • WR Jarrod West

Syracuse hasn't had an explosive passing game under head coach Scott Shafer (2,360 yards & 13 TD last year and under 200 YPG this season) and current receptions leader Ashton Broyld will be missing Saturday's game with a leg injury. They do like to spread the ball around to a bunch of receivers (they signed 6 in their freshman class although 1 has transferred, 1 moved to tight end, and 2 did not qualify) which is good because now several players will have to step up. Without Broyld look for Syracuse to have 5th-year senior Jarrod West (133 yards), sophomore Brisley Estime (82 yards), and true freshman Steve Ishmael (36 yards) receive more targets. West has 93 receptions and 1,269 yards in his career.

  • LB Cameron Lynch

As is typical, you'll likely hear plenty of talk from Irish fans about the under-sized Syracuse defensive front in the lead up to this game. We're just now getting used to playing sub-250 pound linebackers in a 4-3 multiple system while Syracuse has three starting linebackers averaging 6-0 and just under 225 pounds. Lynch, a senior from Georgia, is having a huge final season for the Orange. He's got great speed, is an active blitzer, and leads the team with 30 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks.

  • QB Terrel Hunt

Hunt is a redshirt junior from Christ the King High School in Queens and is in his second year as the starter for Syracuse after taking the job a few games into the 2013 season. A smooth thrower with a nice touch, he is nonetheless very inconsistent with his accuracy and has made a living off completing short passes. Hunt was last nationally in yards per attempt (6.0) for qualifying quarterbacks last season and his 6.5 YPA in 2014 is 84th nationally right now. Where he makes a big impact is on the ground. Despite being thrown out of their season opener and missing nearly 3 quarters of football for doing this...

...Hunt is still leading Syracuse in rushing and galloped for 500 yards last year, as well. He's a lanky 6-3 and powerfully built at 234 pounds with the athletic ability to make the first defender miss and bruise forward for positive yardage.

3 Concerns

  • The Scene of the Crime

Only a small handful of players are still on the team who witnessed the Massacre in the New Meadowlands back in 2010. Christian Lombard, Justin Utupo, Austin Collinsworth, and Kendall Moore were there (if they all traveled with the team) and the latter of that group is currently suspended anyway. So, nearly every player on the team isn't thinking about that fateful loss to Navy 5 years ago that this guy has called the 33rd worst defeat in school history.

But, most of the coaching staff was there and needs to exorcise some demons in this Jersey wasteland. The good thing is that this will be a primetime night game instead of a noon start. Noon starts always suck and favor the underdog. Hopefully the Irish come ready to play from the start.

  • Hunt's Running Ability

Notre Dame is playing some strong athletes at the quarterback position this year. Devin Gardner, Kevin Hogan, Jameis Winston, Keenan Reynolds, and Taylor Kelly can all do damage running the ball. All things being equal Gardner is a better athlete than Hunt but the former was a mess against the Irish this year. Which means Hunt could be the most dangerous runner Notre Dame has faced so far this season.

  • Turnovers

It's always a concern, isn't it? As noted above, Syracuse has protected the ball well this year through 3 games. However, they've only forced 2 turnovers in 3 games on defense which begs a couple questions. Bob Diaco went further east and is at UConn, right? And, is Syracuse due for a bunch of turnovers on defense? Let's ask a third question. Is Notre Dame due for some turnovers on offense? Golson hasn't thrown a pick yet and his sometimes shaky ball handling when running hasn't gotten him in trouble yet. Is this a reverse jinx? Yes, it is.

2 Sides of the Line

The Orange have brought back an experienced offensive line that includes 4 players who started every game last fall. Redshirt junior Nick Robinson (6-6, 279) missed the first two games of the season with a foot injury but was back at the right guard position against Maryland. Redshirt junior Rob Trudo (6-4, 300) flipped from left guard to cover Robinson in his absence but is back at his normal spot. Fifth-year senior Sean Hickey (6-6, 306) returns to anchor the left tackle position and redshirt junior Ivan Foy (6-5, 292) is back at right tackle. Center was the only position Syracuse had to fill this year and former JUCO recruit and senior John Miller (6-3, 288) has started every game so far. This is a good line that won't make things easy for the Irish.

Three more starters have returned on the defensive front for the Orange. Senior Eric Crume (6-2, 297) is an active nose tackle and has 7 tackles for loss since the beginning of 2013. A pair of fifth-year seniors at defensive end in Micah Robinson (6-4, 266) and Robert Welsh (6-3, 257) are experienced and have combined for 20.5 tackles for loss throughout their careers. Syracuse lost 3rd round NFL Draft pick Jay Bromley on their interior and now have converted tight end redshirt sophomore Ron Thompson (6-3, 257) as an under-sized tackle. The Orange are also getting quality reps out of JUCO early enrollee Wayne Williams (6-4, 326) and redshirt junior Ryan Sloan (6-3, 306) at tackle offering them some more size. A few others may see some rotational snaps, as well.

1 Prediction

On the surface Syracuse's resume doesn't look that great but I think a decent team lurks beneath an underwhelming 2-1 start to the season. Bad teams don't put up almost 600 yards against Maryland without being, at minimum, pretty solid in many areas of the game.

Syracuse lost a couple key players from 2013 (especially on defense) but they also brought back the bulk of their roster with plenty of experienced playmakers. They should be improving in the second year under Shafer if he's not slowly losing what Doug Marone built so I still think they'll make some noise in the ACC. This combined with Notre Dame's first three opponents looking quite poor in late September has led to a tighter-than-you-would-think spread this Saturday.

This might be the best offense the Irish have faced this season (seriously, our schedule has not done us any favors to this point) and if Hunt can find some consistency passing the ball and handle the new exotic Notre Dame blitzes there could be some opportunities to make this a close game. The Orange receivers leave a little bit to be desired but their offense has an experienced line, a nice speed/power combo at running back and a big athletic quarterback who can make plays with his feet. The Irish have only given up just under 11 points per game this year and I expect that average to go up after Saturday.

Football Outsiders' Advanced Stats for Week 5

STAT IRISH ORANGE
S&P 18 69
S&P Offense 32 76
S&P Defense 19 67
F/+ 16 64
FEI 14 59
GE 7 43

Defensively, Syracuse is small, yes, but they're also very aggressive (25th nationally in tackles for loss per game) and they will be sending blitzes from all over the place. This could be a challenge for the re-shuffled Irish offensive line to protect Golson and open holes for the run game.

While another mediocre rushing performance would be disappointing--and perhaps likely, I agree with Pburns it'll probably be some feast but a lot of famine on Saturday--we should be able to rest easy that Golson is both athletic enough to avoid pass rushers and smart enough to pick apart the Syracuse backfield with quick passes. Notre Dame's first 3 opponents all seemed intent on slowing down the Irish ground attack at the expense of exposing their pass defense and Syracuse's scheme is built to gameplan around an offense in similar fashion.

If this game comes down to Golson vs. Hunt in a battle to stay accurate, make smart decisions, and move the ball on third down I think most will take Everett in that situation. I don't want to say there's no way the Irish lose if Golson plays well.  Anything is possible in college football, but he's a game changer that should be the difference.

I think we'll get ours on offense and Golson should continue his high level of play. Even with two weeks to prepare I foresee the Syracuse offense giving the Irish some fits if Hunt can protect the ball.

Notre Dame 36

Syracuse 24