It wasn't pretty, but in the end, a win is a win.
Everett Golson turned the ball over four times, but still managed to go 32 of 40 for 363 yards and 4 TDs as Notre Dame beat Syracuse, 31-15 at Metlife Stadium.
On the statsheet, the Irish were as every bit as impressive as Notre Dame fans expect them to be. A struggling running game went for 162 yards. Golson was electric in the air with a long scoring pass to Will Fuller and efficient drives that resulted in touchdowns by Corey Robinson and Torii Hunter Jr.
But at the same time, it was equal parts ugly.
Golson tossed a pair of interceptions, one resulting in a Syracuse touchdown. He also fumbled twice, with his lost one being a bobbled spike attempt near the end of the first half.
Golson was pressured all night by a blitz-heavy Syracuse defensive gameplan, but the Irish quickly adjusted and overcame the adversity that they themselves created. The Irish tried a few new offensive formations that forced Syracuse to adjust to no avail.
Part of their problem was an inability to contain WR Corey Robinson. The Admiral's son had a coming-out party tonight, hauling in 8 passes for 91 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown.
The Irish defense effectively neutralized Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt's rushing attack, holding the Orange to only 135 rushing yards but the defense did surrender a handful of big pass plays by Hunt and yards in garbage time.
Some thoughts below:
What a weird game tonight, right?
"We're pleased with the victory but we have to do a much better job of protecting the football," said Irish Head Coach Brian Kelly.
And the Irish should be pleased. Notre Dame was clearly the better team and looked to have the game in hand at multiple times, only to turn the ball over at the worst possible moments. Greg Bryant fumbled as the Irish were driving in Cuse territory. Golson's attempted-spike was something that you'd expect to see in a peewee game, not on the FBS-level. Said Golson after the game, "I know my team expects more of me so I gotta come out and do better."
And yet, the Irish outrushed Syracuse, outpassed Syracuse, gained over 500 yards of offense and looked dominant when they played disciplined. Golson was electric as he completed pass after pass after pass (still unsure if he tied/fell short of the record...whatever). Clearly the talent is there, but this was really the first game that Golson was constantly pressured and the results were mixed. With Stanford up next, the Irish cannot afford to turn the ball over 5 times. Do that against Stanford, the Irish lose by at least two scores, even with Shaw's bizarro-offense at times.
Tonight was Sons of Professional Athletes Being Awesome Night
Welcome to Notre Dame Corey Robinson and Torii Hunter Jr.
Robinson was used sparingly so far this season, but was Golson's go-to receiver tonight, catching 8 Golson passes, many of them swing passes that counteracted Syracuse's blitz-scheme. His TD grab was highlight reel and made all the more impressive because he was being massively interfered with.
Hunter, seeing his first game action in the second half, immediately made his presence known, carrying on two sweeps and hauling in a TD on his first catch of his Irish career on a perfectly drawn up play. Hunter has the look of someone special and I'm excited to see him down the road.
The New and Improved Offensive Line is improved...and new.
Don't get me wrong. We rushed for 160+ yards tonight. I'm happy about that. All the Irish RBs averaged 4+ yards per carry. The OL was clearly getting push. But there were some hiccups. Golson faced pressure at times and there were some pretty weak false start penalties. I'm a lot more impressed with the OL than not though.
Special Teams were at parts special and parts not so special
I'll leave this one in detail to Punter Bro, but that fake punt. And Cuse burned a timeout right before it! Would've been the first thing I looked for. Yet, the Irish turned aside two onside kick attempts by Syracuse, and blocked an extra point, so I'm unsure how to feel about the fake punt. It was kind of representative of the game as a whole.
Is Notre Dame overrated?
Straw man argument? Maybe. The Irish are #8 but didn't quite play like a top-10 team. Coming off a bye week with some rest, you would have figured a Brian Kelly-coached team to play a little bit more disciplined, but the Irish struggled with turnovers and careless penalties (8 penalties for 80 yards). However, as the saying goes, good teams win games like this. The Irish turned the ball over FIVE TIMES, and still won the game. That alone is impressive, but not something you want to do on a consistent basis. At the same time, top teams like Florida State and Texas A&M struggled today, but both won. I'm unsure of the Irish's status at this point and may still be unsure after Stanford next week. What do you think?