Well ladies and gentlemen, we’ve finally made it — it’s about time for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team’s regular season finale in their one-year temporary stint in the ACC.
The original plan, of course, was just for this Saturday’s home game against the Syracuse Orange to serve as Senior Day — ND was slated to make up their postponed Wake Forest game on 12/12 as the season finale. However, the ACC had other ideas on Tuesday.
So, our beloved Irish enter this game against the 1-9 Orange having very much earned this easy final test prior to playing in the ACC Championship on 12/19. They had one helluva November, starting the month off by beating #1 Clemson in double OT, then overcoming a stupid narrative by beating down Phil Jurkovec and Boston College mid-month, and then went ahead and handily beat a top-20 North Carolina team the day after Thanksgiving.
Now, they take on a STRUGGLING Syracuse team that’s had plenty of injuries and lots of really tough Saturdays this year. Considering that, what do we need to know about the Orange heading into this game?
To answer that question, I reached out to my friend John Cassillo, Managing Editor over at Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician, our Syracuse sister site here at SB Nation. John answered a few football questions and then a number of silly fan-submitted inquiries as well, so let’s go ahead and dive in and have some fun in getting ready for this game!
1. It has been a ROUGH two-season stretch for Syracuse football fans, especially considering how good 2018 was. As an admitted Dino Babers super-fan, I feel compelled (but afraid) to ask: is it time for the Orange to move on and look for a new coach, or should Babers be given a couple more years to right the ship? Do you truly believe he’s still the guy capable of doing so, and if so, why (if not, why not)?
John Cassillo: I think this season’s been a unique disaster — both around the country and specifically for Syracuse. Between two new coordinators, COVID-related limitations on practice and a laundry list of injuries this fall, it’s hard to really evaluate Dino Babers’s job accurately this fall. It’s not a great look to go 1-10 (as will be the case after this Saturday). But if there’s a season you’re going to do it, this would be the one.
Given the fact that Dino won 10 games in 2018 and proceeded to sign a big extension, he’s going to get 2021 to sort things out. It’s crucial he makes a bowl next year, however, to show that the program at least got something (experience for a ton of young players) out of this year’s freefall. I think he can turn it back around. However, it’s going to take some tweaks to the offense — including (hopefully) firing OC Sterlin Gilbert after just one season.
2. I know there’s been a few different guys manning the QB spot this year between Tommy DeVito, JaCobian Morgan, and Rex Culpepper.
Is Culpepper the QB that the Irish should expect to face on Saturday, and what does he bring to the table compared to the others? How can the Irish shut down whoever is QB1 for ‘Cuse this weekend?
John Cassillo: Culpepper’s the likely starter for Syracuse, despite last Saturday’s fourth down spike mishap. It’s not that he’s the most skilled QB by any means. But with DeVito only recently out of a walking boot and JaCobian Morgan still potentially recovering from an “upper body injury” he suffered vs. Louisville, he may be the only experienced passer available to go vs. Notre Dame.
While Morgan may have more potential if he’s healthy, I also think feeding a freshman like him or Dillon Markiewicz to the wolves vs. the Irish also seems like a terrible idea — especially given the play of our porous offensive line. Culpepper is not overly accurate throwing the ball (under 50% completion rate on the season) and doesn’t have all that big of an arm. But he’s decisive most of the time, and that helps avoid as many big hits as DeVito was taking when he was healthy.
It shouldn’t take much to shut down this passing game, though. Just pressure the O-line and the rest should sort itself out pretty easily
3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Syracuse defense, and how do you think they’ll hold up against what has really developed into a balanced, dangerous Notre Dame offense?
John Cassillo: The transition to the 3-3-5 has gone pretty well despite the off-season challenges and injuries. Yet, the raw numbers won’t necessarily tell that story due to how gassed this group is by the end of games (courtesy of a lack of depth and a struggling offense).
SU’s strength is the secondary, and especially corners Ifeatu Melifonwu and Garrett Williams, who’ve only allowed a couple touchdowns on the year (both last week courtesy of some NC State circus catches). The linebackers are aggressive and a key aspect of any pass-rush you’ll see the Orange generate, yet they’re also young and can be found out of position at times.
Without much size up front for the Orange line, Notre Dame is going to be able to break through on the ground. Syracuse has improved its run defense in recent weeks, but it’s unlikely to be as effective against Notre Dame’s offense. Ian Book’s mobility should also pose a major challenge that keeps SU off-balance all afternoon.
4. FAN QUESTION:
After the spike on fourth down, what play were they going to run on fifth down?— Jamie ling (@Jamieling9) November 29, 2020
John Cassillo: Definitely a fade.
5. FAN QUESTION:
What soup would Donovan McNabb’s mom say the team has most played like this season? Extra bonus points if its Chunky style.— Moons (@GAMoons) November 29, 2020
John Cassillo: Cold chicken corn chowder. Maybe doesn’t sound like a miserable idea at first, but certainly does once you see it.
6. FAN QUESTION:
If Syracuse was forced to change its mascot to a different fruit, what would be your preferred fruit choice? What about a vegetable?— Mike (@MrCockyHill) November 29, 2020
John Cassillo: Would absolutely be a potato. Salt potatoes are a local thing in Central New York, so it’s the easiest and most preferred option. Syracuse’s triple-A baseball team has even shown us what a logo would look like already.
7. FAN QUESTION:
Does Rex Culpepper's shag give him super powers that Tommy Devito did not have?— theycallmecas (@theycallmecas) November 29, 2020
John Cassillo: Why, yes! His powers include ball-to-ground magnetism, quick decision-making and an uncanny ability to avoid winning games.
That said, Rex is also a cancer survivor, which is its own impressive, real superpower.
8. FAN QUESTION:
If the Orange were to revisit their past QB recruiting strategy of bringing in grad student transfers who exhausted eligibility in another sport, who would be the best fit and why— Kevin Laughlin (@Kevin_Laughlin) November 29, 2020
John Cassillo: Can we opt for LeBron James? He’s built like a house and can definitely take some hits.
If we’re opting for players that actually played a college sport and/or haven’t already gone pro, Iowa center Luke Garza could probably be a fun option who would be more enjoyable to watch than most of what we saw at the QB position this season.
9. FAN QUESTION:
When, if ever, will Dino Babers fulfill his wish to host Notre Dame in the "damn Dome!"? (Not sure on correct punctuation there.) pic.twitter.com/KhEX41F21U— Jude (@ndjrs) November 29, 2020
John Cassillo: If he makes a bowl game in 2021, yeah, it’ll happen. The Irish are slated to visit the Dome in 2022, and I don’t see a situation where this athletic department would willingly give up those gate receipts without a big payday from MetLife Stadium or Yankee Stadium.
It’s not impossible, I suppose. Just seems like the days of the Orange giving up home games for the “spotlight” of New York (something they haven’t done in quite awhile) are over.
10. It’s been two years since I authored Otto the Orange/Maury fan fiction trying to understand why Otto is hairy and who Otto’s real parents are (see the “Halftime Fun Facts!!!!!” section of the article at this link).
Any inside info or updates to add from the Syracuse side? Is Obie the Orange Bowl mascot truly Otto’s father???
John Cassillo: Obie and Otto have been estranged for decades and now, they’re further from one another than they have been in years. Obie won’t answer Otto’s calls and keeps redirecting him to a line in the Bronx.
Meanwhile, Otto tries to call Obie but Obie just yells “THE NUMBER YOU HAVE DIALED IS NOT ACTIVE” and hangs up. It’s a rough situation for everyone involved. Hopefully they’ll meet again someday.
11. Alright, let’s get your prediction on Saturdays’ game: who wins, what is the final score, and explain your reasoning.
John Cassillo: Welp, can’t say this is going to be a fun game for anyone involved. Notre Dame’s looking for style points before the ACC title game, but also doesn’t want anyone getting hurt going into the rematch with Clemson. Syracuse is gassed and hasn’t faced an offense as good as Notre Dame’s since the Clemson game.
Maybe SU manages a turnover or two that makes it look interesting for a little while. But in all likelihood, this is a blowout win to the tune of something like 41-7 or 50-7, depending on how much the Irish are trying by the fourth quarter. Syracuse’s offense can’t do much and the defense isn’t ready for what ND’s going to be throwing at them. Alas...
BONUS CONTENT: PAT RICK PICKS HIS FAVORITE NAMES ON THE Syracuse ROSTER
Due to some of the...lacking...answers provided to me in past weeks, and because asking this question every week is 75% just for me anyway, I chose to not bother John with this question and instead just give you my personal favorite names on the Orange roster.
Here they are:
- TE Maximilian Mang
- DB Trill Williams
- QB Luke MacPhail
- LB Anwar Sparrow
- LB Marlowe Wax
- DL Kingsley Jonathan
- LB Ishmael Goulbourne
- RB Markenzy Pierre
- PK Andre Szmyt
- RB Jawhar Jordan
- DB Ja’Had Carter
- DB Ifeatu Melifonwu
- DL Latarie Kinsler
- LS Mike Midkiff
- OL Garth Barclay
- WR Ja’Vontae Williams
- QB JaCobian Morgan
- DB Neil Nunn
- OL Ryan Kisselstein
- LB Lee Kpogba
I wanna give a massive shout-out to John for answering every question I threw his way — especially my follow-up on the Otto/Obie/Maury saga, because making people go back and re-read that is not necessarily a friendly thing to do.
Make sure you head over to Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician to check out the work of John and the rest of his writing staff, serving up any and all key insights you’ll need about the Irish’s downtrodden opponent this week. You can even check out my ramblings answering John’s Q&A while you’re there!
Also, make sure to toss both the site and John some follows on Twitter — they’re excellent and entertaining folks and can provide you with any and all urgent updates on Syracuse prior to Saturday’s match-up.
That’s all for now, folks — GO IRISH!