The 2020 regular season is over, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are once again undefeated. Before diving into a few specific threads, let’s take a moment to appreciate what Saturday’s ho-hum blowout of the Syracuse Orange brought the Irish. A third undefeated regular season this decade, and a second in three years. Four consecutive ten-win seasons. Individual records and milestones all over the field (we’ll get to that later). In a year where not having a season at all was a very real possibility, we should be incredibly thankful for this remarkable campaign.
With all that said, let’s dive into three things I noticed in Notre Dame’s 45-21 win over Syracuse.
Even on an off day, the Irish linebackers made plays
Credit Syracuse with showing up in this game and fighting all the way through. With the Irish sleepwalking early on, the Orange took an early lead and established some momentum. The Irish defense appeared to be caught off guard by Syracuse’s up-tempo scheme, with the Orange moving the ball and scoring early while the Irish offense was slow in getting going.
However, once Clark Lea had made his ever-important adjustments, the tide turned rapidly. Consistent stops and a back-breaking fumble recovery gave the offense an opportunity to seize control, with the Irish going from down four to up seventeen in the final 3:25 before halftime.
In this stage of the game, the Irish linebackers were central - Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Drew White each helped force a fumble (White’s was credited to Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, but both players were present on the hit), while JOK and Marist Liufau each recovered one. Despite an uglier stat sheet than we are used to - Cooper Lutz and Sean Tucker each outrushed Travis Etienne, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams against the Irish - the front seven still mostly controlled the game and gave the Irish offense the space they needed to take control.
Big days on the ground
The Irish running game was slow in establishing itself as the new-look offensive line settled in and the passing game failed to sustain drives. However, by the end of the day the Irish had piled up 283 yards on the ground. What’s more, each of the top two Irish backs had a banner moment: Kyren Williams surpassed 1000 yards on the season before exiting in the mid-4th quarter, while Chris Tyree got his chance to shift into LUDICROUS SPEED on a 94-yard touchdown.
It’s worth noting here that Ian Book also had another excellent game on the ground, scoring two critical touchdowns - one of which gave the Irish their first lead of the game and the other of which gave them a commanding 31-14 advantage - on scrambles. Book’s improvisational playmaking is probably the biggest wild card the Irish have on offense, and it was on full display in this game.
Senior Day Superlatives
Overall, Book closed his career at Notre Dame Stadium in fine fashion, with a lone interception marring an otherwise excellent game that more or less summed up his entire career: efficient and accurate passing combined with a deadly running performance. After all the work, the struggle and the criticism that came with it over the last three seasons, he stands now as the winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history. It should be impossible for Irish fans to think of Book as anything less than a hero.
A classic Senior Day moment happened when Daelin Hayes snagged an interception after dropping into coverage. It was a great moment for a player who has meant a ton to this program, not only as an on-field contributor but as a leader and ambassador on and off the field.
Other great send-off moments included Javon McKinley’s three touchdown catches, which capped off a comeback campaign that could well land McKinley, once an afterthought on the Irish roster, in the NFL; Drew White and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa jointly forcing a fumble - MTA also recovered one forced by Owusu-Koramoah - while Ade Ogundeji forced one of his own; and of course the customary garbage-time snaps for little-known faces like J.D. Carney and Cameron Ekanayake.
The 2020 regular season is a wrap, and so far it’s gone as well as it possibly could have. The postseason looms - let’s get ready to see what hardware this team can bring home.