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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Syracuse Orange Week

Let’s chat about that Peacock game and about the tough game standing between the Irish and an even tougher game

I’m surprised how much pep in my step I have this lovely Monday morning, but I guess it makes sense considering this is technically a short week heading into a long weekend for me — shout out to my girlfriend’s sister’s wedding celebration in just a few days, it’s gonna be WILD.

Anyway, I’m definitely feeling better than I was last week at this time, even if there’s still plenty of doubts about Project W.I.N. and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team...those are problems for future Pat Rick, as this week is all about showing up, doing the minimum, and then keeping the good vibes rollin’ heading into this weekend. Let’s do this!!!

*presses “Join Call” button*

GOOOOOOD MORNING, EVERYBODY! How’s everyone doing today — did everyone have a nice weekend?

*everyone is as silent as ever, and those brave/foolish enough to have their cameras on give as figurative of an eye-roll at my unusual chipper-ness as they can muster without literally doing so*

I will take that as a yes! It was certainly beautiful and warm weather, so hopefully everyone managed to get outside. I got out a bit, hit up the farmers market for the final time before it shuts down for the winter...yeah it’s been great, it’s always nice to pick up some fresh produce and try some good stuff while wandering around on a slow Sunday morning.

Anyway, I know Heather, Darren, and Nicole all can’t make it, so I think this is everybody — why don’t we jump into the deck, as there’s plenty to discuss this morning.

Can you all see my screen?

No? Hmm, that’s odd. Let me try un-sharing and then re-sharing.

*hums to self as everyone silently listens to me clicking way more than I should need to click to do the above*

Oooookay how’s that? Can you see it now?

Alright awesome, glad that worked!

Okay, so here’s the agenda — pretty typical for a Project W.I.N. meeting, so I don’t think we need to go over it in much detail.

And here’s the typical definition and process slides for W.I.N., I assume we don’t need to cover these at this point — but let me know if you have any questions or if anyone you share this with might need a Project W.I.N. 101 session.

I can have Aaron set up some time to run anyone through that who needs it!

Sweeeet, so now let’s talk about last week, as our beloved Fighting Irish actually got out to a fast start and blew out an opponent for the first time in A WHILE, managing to defeat the UNLV Rebels by 23 despite honestly not playing that impressively.

So here are the main positives and negatives I think we need to quickly review — let me know if there’s anything I missed or if you need any clarification on any of this!

Let’s cover the negatives first this week, just so we can get them out of the way and then focus on celebrating some solid successes from the weekend.

On offense, I’d say one of the biggest ones to note is that Audric Estime fumbled yet again, and it’s safe to say the poor kid has a case of the fumble-yips. He’s been fantastic this season otherwise and clearly has bright future in blue and gold, but MAN has his recent spree of fumbles — notable especially because he said earlier in the year he had never fumbled in a game until this season — been tough to see and absolutely back-breaking at times, as we saw in the 4th quarter of the Stanford game.

Stanford v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Estime only got 3 carries on the day and clearly needs to get his mind right, but thankfully the Irish have other good options at the position who not only can pick up the slack on the field, but also can pick Audric up off it. It was heartening to see, right after his fumble, that when Peacock showed Estime sitting on the bench beating himself up about it, on either side of him were Chris Tyree and Logan Diggs, consoling him and trying to hype him back up. That’s what good teammates do and that’s what good culture looks like. Love that support shown there.

Drew Pyne played somewhere in between last week’s horrible version and the really good version we saw against UNC and BYU, completing just 50% of his passes, missing pretty badly a number of times, and throwing another interception.

He also continues to miss poor Braden Lenzy whenever he gets open, which is really frustrating for the senior wideout, I’m sure. I’m not the biggest believer in Lenzy by any means, but it’s really become clear of late that the kid can’t catch a break in terms of his QB either, as it seems every time he beats his guy for a big play deep, Pyne misses — oftentimes badly — on the throw. It was nice to at least see Lenzy get a touchdown for his troubles/frustrations on Saturday.

NCAA Football: UNLV at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

If Pyne can clean his game up a bit and even just occasionally hit receivers on big shots downfield, it would do wonders for the offense and probably help the running game a lot too, considering it would at least force defenses to somewhat respect the deep pass and stretch themselves a bit.

The other negatives from the offense really came from just efficiency and ability to convert on opportunities. The Irish were 9-of-17 on 3rd down conversions, which isn’t AWFUL but also definitely isn’t ideal, barely converting on 50% of 3rd downs. Even worse, though, is the Irish’s problem with converting in the red zone. ND started the game by scoring a touchdown on only 1 of its first 4 red zone trips, and is now 82nd in the country in red zone scoring %, scoring points just 80.8% of the time. They’re also 54th in TD %, managing to score a touchdown just 65% of the time they enter the red zone.

On the other side of the ball, the defense wasn’t horrible or anything, but they did manage to give up 21 points to a UNLV team missing its starting QB and starting RB, including allowing 146 yards, 3 rushing touchdowns, and 5.2 yards per carry on the ground.

The tackling issues still exist for sure, and despite some nice moments, guys like J.D. Bertrand and Marist Liufau continue to struggle to not either run straight into blocks or just whiff in open space on ball carriers, leading to big runs like Courtney Reese’s 74-yard scamper in the first quarter to set up the Rebels’ first touchdown.

NCAA Football: UNLV at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Irish also managed to allow UNLV to convert on two out of three 4th down chances, which certainly isn’t what you’re hoping for in such important moments on opponent drives.

Finally, Blake Grupe was mostly great on the day, but he did miss a field goal from 42 yards out, which is obviously not a gimme but also needs to be a kick he makes just about all the time. Luckily, he took care of his business besides that kick and overall had a really nice game.

Okay, with all the above noted, let’s have fun and mention the positives, as of course there were plenty in a 44-21 win over an out-matched opponent.

First, hats off to the team — particularly the offense — for getting off to a fast start for really the first time all season. ND entered the game having scored 6 first quarter points in the first 6 games, and managed to put up 23 in the initial period on Saturday to build an early double-digit lead.

Of course, plenty of that can be attributed to the star of the game, Isaiah Foskey, who decided to make up for some no-show games earlier in the year to absolutely dominate the Rebels himself and provide fantastic field position for the offense on numerous occasions. Foskey was a menace on defense, picking up 3 sacks on the day, but the even bigger news was his performance on the punt-block team, where he managed to not only block a punt, or even not only block TWO punts, but to do so in a span of less than 2 minutes of game time, on back-to-back UNLV possessions. That was super fun, and should make all opponents going forward rethink how many they need to keep back to protect their punter with Foskey roaming around on the punt team.

Isaiah Foskey? More like Isaiah BLOCKSkey, amiright??? Or maybe also Isaiah Can’t-Be-Blocked-skey?????

Sticking with the defense, it was overall a very solid performance, especially by the secondary and pass rush. The Irish managed to sack UNLV QBs 4 times and picked up 4 QB hurries, and the secondary largely covered Rebel receivers quite well en route to allowing just 17-for-33 passing for 153 yards, 0 TDs, and a measly 4.6 yards per attempt.

That really helped limit the damage UNLV could do on the afternoon, and several guys managed to make nice plays from the DBs and LBs, including TaRiq Bracy looking good in his return from injury (3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PD), Clarence Lewis recovering two fumbles, J.D. Bertrand picking up 1 PD to go with 7 tackles and half a sack, and even Houston Griffith making a few nice plays.

Additionally, the whole defense needs to be commended for their 3rd down defense, as it was literally perfect. UNLV finished the game 0-for-12 on 3rd down and had to punt 7 times on the day, which helped lead to the Irish’s advantage in time of possession, 34 minutes to 26 minutes for the Rebels.

Back to the offense, they managed 23 first downs to UNLV’s 11 on the day, led mostly by the rushing attack, which finished with 223 yards and 4.7 yards per carry on 47 attempts. The offensive line dominated an opponent they SHOULD dominate, and Logan Diggs was the main beneficiary of that blocking, running super well to accumulate 130 yards on 4.6 yards per carry, taking a 28-carry load.

NCAA Football: UNLV at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

From a receiver standpoint, most of the receivers had pretty quiet days, except for one Michael “Big Beefy Boy” Mayer, who had his usual fantastic stat line (6 receptions, 115 yards, 1 TD) as the Rebels simply had no answer for him and as he tied Ken MacAfee for most career touchdown receptions by a Notre Dame tight end.

I literally called him “Big Beefy Boy” multiple times out loud and in messages to friends as I watched the game alone in my apartment, and enjoyed that so much that I think we need to brainstorm a bunch of beef-themed nicknames and phrases for him, considering how much of a hoss he is and how dumb that “Baby Gronk” nickname always was.

Here are my initial ideas, but please sound off in the comments if you have something better to suggest here!

Michael Mayer Meaty Nicknames/Phrases — A Brainstorming Workshop

  • Big Beefy Boy
  • The Butcher (because he carves up and/or tenderizes defenses)
  • Sir Loin
  • Meatball Mike
  • “You gotta brisket to get the biscuit”
  • “Michael Mayer, Nice to Meat Me”
  • “Never Seen an ND Tight End Like This Beef-ore”
  • “Single-Covering Him Is A Mis-steak”
  • “Plays His Best When the Steaks Are High”
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 22 UNLV at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To Mayer and on a couple other occasions, Drew Pyne did manage to make some nice throws, looking at least a bit better than he did against Stanford, even if he still wasn’t fantastic. Plus, we got to see TE Mitchell Evans go under center for some QB sneaks, including a touchdown on one in the second quarter, and Steve Angeli got the slightest bit of PT, never getting to throw it but with the Irish scoring on the first play he came in for, probably because of his great vibes and leadership, to be honest.

Lastly, let’s mention a great day for Brian Mason and his special teams units — we’ve already talked about Foskey’s punt blocks, which need to be credited to Mason for putting him in that position to get them, and then Brandon Joseph had a nice 20-yard punt return, which was pretty fun to see.

Additionally, Jon Sot had a 51-yard punt on one of his two reps of the day, and Blake Grupe, besides the one missed field goal, was otherwise really good, hitting 3 of his 4 field goal attempts (including a couple from 40+ yards out) and all of his extra points. Grupe accounted for nearly 13 of the team’s final point total just on his own, scoring 14 in total.

NCAA Football: UNLV at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Okey dokey, let’s quickly check out our scorecard for the project so we can see how we’re tracking against some of the key milestones we all know we’re working toward here.

I’ll let you all review this in your free time, but just want to commend the team on a lot of green this week thanks to some really nice work coming from Isaiah, Michael, Logan, the offensive line, the defense as a whole, and Blake. We obviously still have some items in red we need to resolve ASAP, but things are looking much better just one week after we had a lot of red following that Stanford game. Well done folks, that’s a big win!

With that all said, let’s go ahead and also celebrate the individual successes of this week and hand out some awards for Team Members of the Week!!!

Major congrats are in order for Isaiah, Michael, Logan, the Irish secondary, and Blake, as they all had really nice performances and drove this team back above .500 and to a much more comfortable victory than Irish fans have seen this season.

Okay, one final slide before we turn the page to this coming weekend — let’s take a quick glance at my live journal from the game, as I watched by myself on my couch (which is honestly one of the best ways to consume Notre Dame football) and consumed several beverages as part of a really lovely afternoon of college football-watching.

Cool cool cool.

So, let’s now talk about this Saturday, as things are about to GET REAL for the Irish after playing some iffy competition recently. We all know the #5 Clemson Tigers will be coming to town to kick off November very soon, but before then, the Irish will have to travel to New York to take on the #16 Syracuse Orange, who are 6-1 on the year and took the Tigers down to the wire in Clemson last weekend, leading for much of the game but ultimately unable to answer a furious Clemson rally down the stretch.

So, let’s start with just a quick overview of this Syracuse team that clearly isn’t going to be an easy opponent, especially on the road — what do we need to know about them at a high level?

I will let y’all go through this competitor overview in more detail offline in your own time, but just want to highlight a few key points for everyone to be aware of:

1. Syracuse’s Wikipedia claims that their only color is orange. Not orange and blue, like most of us would have guessed — just orange. Does that mean any given day now they could come out in an orange/pink or orange/green or orange/whatever uniform and it’s technically still within their color scheme???

2. Their mascot, Otto the Orange, is fascinating to me. I’ve written extensively about him in the past, authoring some Maury fan fiction about him in 2018 (scroll to the “halftime” section) and then analyzing how he would fare in a fight vs. the ND Leprechaun in 2020. I recommend you all take a lot of time this week going way too in-depth on this rotund weirdo and his history/hypothetical abilities.

3. Did you guys know the Carrier Dome was no longer called the Carrier Dome? I probably saw a news story about it at some point, but definitely forgot and audibly gasped when I saw it had a new name. “JMA Wireless Dome” just ROLLS off the tongue!!!

4. I love Dino Babers with all my heart, so I hope this continues, but it feels wild he’s mostly thought decently well of as a head coach and yet he’s only had 2 winning seasons in 7 seasons at Syracuse. I know it’s not a super easy P5 program to win at, but still...

NCAA Football: Virginia at Syracuse Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

5. Dino Babers’ middle name is Sean. I don’t know what I expected it to be, but it wasn’t that. The legend of Dino continues...

6. The last time Syracuse beat ND in football, it was that horrific Senior Day game at Notre Dame Stadium in 2008 where the fans allegedly threw snowballs at the team and Manti Te’o was on his official visit, somehow still deciding to sign there after that experience.

7. You probably know Syracuse as a school that churns out sports journalists like Marv Albert, but I implore you to note that their alumni list has so much more than that, including pornographic actor/director/producer Lexington Steele, one of the The Chainsmokers guys, the cartoonist who created Marmaduke, the founder of Home Shopping Network, Jerry Stiller and Dick Clark, Rocket Ismail’s brother Qadry AKA “The Missile,” and Schmidt and Nick in New Girl. What a crew!

Okay, so now that we know Syracuse at a 30,00-foot view, let’s get a bit more granular and double-click on what we all know is one of the most important KPIs to track when we do competitive intelligence analyses like this — awesome names!

As we’ve seen with other opponents like Cal, UNC, and UNLV, the Orange boast a deep depth chart of marvelous monikers, as you can see in this list. I won’t read them all off, because I think it’s more impactful if you each take 30 minutes this afternoon to do that yourselves out loud alone in your respective offices, but I just want to give a major shout-out to some of those top-performers atop the list, including Belizaire, Marlowe, Anwar, both Maximilians, Mr. MacPhail, Ja’Had, Yosuke, Umari, Quan, and Mr. Jobity Jr.

Your parents are magnificent human beings for naming you such cool and fun names, and we thank them a thousand times over for giving us the happiness of reading and speaking your names aloud!

Moving on to the boring details, let’s take a look at some key competitive insights we should all be aware of as the Irish head to Syracuse to take on this ranked Orange squad.

The first thing to know is just how efficient these guys are offensively. They’re not a super explosive or big-play group, but they’re led by Garrett Shrader at QB and Sean Tucker at RB, both very competent and capable of making you pay if you don’t execute defensively. Shrader is a former Mississippi State transfer who’s had a really nice year, throwing for 1,601 yards, 13 TDs, and just 4 interceptions while completing 69+% of his passes and managing 9 yards per attempt.

He’s currently 16th in the nation in passer rating and 17th in completion percentage, showing you just how reliably-good he’s been so far this year against some decent defenses from Clemson, NC State, etc. And although he won’t be mistake for Lamar Jackson anytime soon, he’s also a capable runner, having picked up 371 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns this season, averaging 3.7 yards per carry.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Anderson Independent Mail-USA TODAY NETWORK

Shrader has been sacked 18 times this year, though, so the Irish will certainly have an opportunity to impact Shrader’s efficiency by hitting him early and often. The Orange offensive line is tied for 97th in the country in sacks allowed per game (2.57) and is 93rd in total sacks allowed, and so it will be important for Al Golden’s group to take advantage of that and try to disrupt the flow of the Syracuse offense.

If they can’t do that, Shrader does have a handful of very nice receivers to throw to, led by WR Oronde Gadsden II, the son of former NFL receiver Oronde Gadsden. Gadsden II is the only consistent big-play threat the Orange possess, considering he’s averaging 16 yards per reception and sits 25th in the country in receiving yards per game (84.7). He’s reeled in 37 passes for 593 yards and 5 touchdowns overall in 2022.

Secondary targets for Shrader include WRs Devaughn Cooper (18 catches, 234 yards, 1 TD), Courtney Jackson (12 catches, 168 yards, 1 TD), Damien Alford (6 catches, 138 yards, 1 TD), and Trebor Pena (11 catches, 103 yards), as well as RB Sean Tucker, who’s got 28 catches for 216 yards and 2 receiving touchdowns out of the backfield. TE Maximilian Mang doesn’t seem to factor into the passing attack essentially at all, with just 3 catches for 18 yards this season.

Disrupting Shrader and that passing attack will go a long way on Saturday, but the Irish also need to bring their A-game in the tackling department as well, considering Tucker’s role in the Orange offense. He’s run for 698 yards and 6 touchdowns on 5.4 yards per carry this season, and over his three-year career at Syracuse he’s been one of the best running backs in the entire country, amassing 2,820 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He’s currently 19th in the country in rushing yards per game (99.71) and 18th in rushing attempts per game at 18+ per contest.

However, he only managed to get 5 carries last weekend against Clemson (rushing for 54 yards and then also catching 5 passes for 18 yards and a receiving TD), so that’s something to note heading into this one. Clearly the Tigers found a way to force Syracuse to go away from Tucker despite his effectiveness when he touched the ball. If ND can lock him down in a similar fashion, it would eliminate one of their most dangerous offensive weapons and force someone like backup running back LeQuint Allen to do more (138 yards, 8.6 YPC, 1 TD in 2022).

Overall, the Syracuse offense is good and efficient (T-26th in the country in YPP at 6.49, T-13th in YPA at 8.9, 38th in YPC at 4.81), but definitely not a juggernaut who can’t be tamed. The Orange are ranked 61st offensively in SP+, 36th in scoring (33.9 PPG), 61st in total offense (412.6 YPG), 44th in rushing, and 71st in passing. They’re not particularly great at converting on 3rd downs (T-44th at 43%), and despite converting on 60% of their 4th down attempts this season, they’re tied for 128th in attempts, so it’s not something they do often.

One note that relates to their efficiency, though, is their red zone scoring % — it’s tied for 14th in the nation, as they manage to score points on 93.33% of their drives into the red zone. They’re just 63rd in touchdown %, though, so if the Irish can keep them kicking field goals as they’ve been prone to doing so far this season, that could go a long way toward potentially winning this game.

The other side of the ball is where the Orange have really thrived this season, despite the fact that most of us think of Syracuse as a team who might have a fun offense but typically doesn’t have much of a defense.

Defensive coordinator Tony White is in his 3rd season in that role under Dino Babers after spending time at Arizona State and San Diego State as a position coach, and he’s got this Orange defense firing on all cylinders to really drive their success so far in 2022. His unit is ranked 31st in SP+ thanks to their 6th-ranked scoring defense (15.1 PPG allowed) and their #13 spot in both total defense (allowing less than 300 YPG) and Yards Per Play Allowed (4.73).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Syracuse at Louisville Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

That overall success has mostly been driven by their pass defense, as they allow just 171 yards per game through the air (10th-best in the country) and just 6.1 yards per passing attempt (12th in the country), leading to their #19 ranking in passer rating allowed. They’ve only surrendered 5 passing touchdowns ALL SEASON (T-5th nationally), and yet it’s not like they haven’t been tested — they’re tied for 21st in pass attempts against per game at 28.3. Of course, they haven’t exactly had to face a slew of excellent QBs like ND has seen so far this year (NC State was without Devin Leary in that game, D.J. Uiagalelei continued to struggle last weekend), but the Irish also don’t have an excellent QB to attack them with, so it’s likely that the Irish will struggle to pass effectively/consistently this weekend.

The Orange have a number of very solid playmakers in the secondary, led by Garrett Williams, who’s stuffed the stat sheet so far this season to the tune of 32 tackles, 3 PD, 2 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, and 1 sack. Other names to know include Ja’Had Carter (21 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR TD), Darian Chestnut (20 tackles, 1 PD, 1 INT TD), Justin Barron (24 tackles, 1 PD), Alijah Clark (22 tackles, 1 PD), Jason Simmons Jr. (10 tackles, 4 PD, 1 INT), and Isaiah Johnson (17 tackles).

NC State v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

That group gets plenty of support from the Orange defensive front as well, as Syracuse ranks tied for 35th in the country in sacks per game and tied for 44th in tackles for loss per game — not spectacular numbers, but certainly good enough for them to do some damage if Drew Pyne doesn’t make quick decisions in the pocket. Defensive linemen Steve Linton (15 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR) and Caleb Okechukwu (21 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT TD) lead the way in terms of wreaking havoc in the backfield, and get supporting help from Kevon Darton (27 tackles) and Jatius Geer (15 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 PD).

The linebackers for the Orange are really damn good as well, contributing a lot across the board in defending the pass, rushing the passer, and stopping the run. Mikel Jones leads the team in tackles with 52 so far this year, also adding 3 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery, and Marlowe Wax isn’t far behind him in terms of production with 45 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries this season.

Those two make up a helluva duo in the middle of the Syracuse defense, and in conjunction with Derek McDonald (26 tackles, 1 PD, 1 INT) and Anwar Sparrow (12 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 PD) should give the Irish all they can handle.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Syracuse Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse’s run defense, though good, isn’t nearly as elite as their ability to shut down the pass. ‘Cuse is 38th in the country in rushing defense (allowing 123 yards per game) as well as 38th in yards per carry allowed (3.63), both good-not-great marks that could potentially be exploited by the Irish if the offensive line comes to play.

The Orange aren’t particularly good at getting opponents off the field on 3rd down (53rd in the country at 36.17%) or 4th down (T-48th at 46.67%), but the bad news for Irish fans is that they’re VERY good at shutting opponents down once they reach the red zone. Syracuse is 17th in the country in red zone score % allowed at just 75%, and tied for 21st in TD % allowed at 50%. For an ND team struggling to score touchdowns (and sometimes at all) when they enter the red zone, that’s going to be a key metric to track on Saturday. Notre Dame will need to buck their current trend to ensure they have a chance in this one.

On special teams, there isn’t too much to note except that the Orange have a very good, veteran kicker in Andre Szmyt. The senior and 2018 Lou Groza Award winner is a perfect 28-for-28 on extra points this season, but even more impressively is 11-for-12 on his field goal attempts, making him 15th in the nation in field goal % and tied for 23rd in field goals made. He’s got a decent leg, power-wise (1/1 from 50+ yards, 1/2 from 40-49 yards) and could be a big factor late in the game if the Orange are driving and need just a few points to win it.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Syracuse Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

So, overall, Notre Dame certainly has their work cut out for them against this Syracuse team who’s much better than most of us expected entering the season. At 6-1 (3-1 ACC) and fresh off a near-road upset at #5 Clemson, they’ve clearly got a very nice combination of efficient offense and stifling defense that’s allowed them to dominate Louisville and UConn, overcome Purdue and Virginia, destroy Wagner, convincingly beat NC State, and then really control the game against Clemson until true freshman Cade Klubnik entered the fray and led the Tigers to a comeback victory.

Okay, so knowing all of that, What’s Important Now for the Fighting Irish as they travel to Syracuse to face a team like that?

I’m glad you asked!

I’m going to move quickly through these because we’re short on time and I know several of us have a hard stop at 9, so I’ll just quickly jump through these:

1. Notre Dame’s defensive front MUST pressure Garrett Shrader and try to make him uncomfortable. Syracuse’s offensive line isn’t very good at protecting him, but he’s otherwise super efficient and could carve up an Irish secondary that has been good but not dominant from week to week. The Irish need Foskey to replicate his UNLV performance against a much better opponent, and they’ll need a few other guys to get home on some blitzes/pressures just to give the back-end of the defense a chance to make some plays.

2. Just as important as the above is that the Irish need to contain the Orange’s star RB, Sean Tucker. He’s the best player on their offense and is a pretty strong runner while also being dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield, so it’s going to be important that ND tackles much better this weekend and always is aware of where Tucker is, especially on 3rd downs when preventing him from getting the ball could be the difference between a forced punt and a long, extended ‘Cuse scoring drive.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

3. The secondary MUST keep Oronde Gadsden II in front of them. Al Golden’s group has had a knack for giving up a few big plays per game, and Gadsden is one of the only guys truly capable of making lots of explosive plays like that. He’s a big-play threat and very good, just like his dad, but without him burning the defense for big plays, the Orange pass offense is pretty dink-and-dunk and much more manageable over the course of the game.

4. Tommy Rees, meanwhile, needs to double-down in the first half (and also in the second, assuming the Irish are within striking distance or leading) on establishing the run. Syracuse’s defense is good at everything, but they’re borderline elite in defending the pass whereas they’re just ~top-40 against the run. Notre Dame needs to assert their strengths and probably advantage in the trenches and pound it to force the Orange to sell out to stop the run, which will hopefully in turn open up some downfield opportunities for Drew Pyne to hopefully maybe hit on (at least one would be great!) later in the game.

5. It’s time for Notre Dame to win the turnover battle in a key game against a really good and pretty efficient opponent. The Irish can’t seem to get out of their own way with fumbles and throwing interceptions this season, so they need to really focus on protecting the ball against a team quite capable of wreaking some havoc and forcing some turnovers (they’re not exceptional at it, but will be plenty good enough to do so). If ND can win this turnover battle, they could definitely win this game.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Wisconsin Appleton Post Crescent-USA TODAY Sports

6. Finally, and this sounds pretty obvious but needs to be repeated for this specific Irish team — they need to score TOUCHDOWNS, not field goals. ND won’t beat a team like Syracuse if they have to keep settling for field goals or manage to drive into the red zone and come away with 0 points. The Orange defense is good enough to force plenty of punts on Saturday, so the offense’s ability to maximize points on series where they do find success in driving down the field will be critical to staying in the game and/or obtaining a lead in the second half.

Alrighty, that’s what we’ve got for this week, y’all. Any questions?

Perfect, well let me know if anything comes up, and otherwise I will send the deck out just after this call, per usual, for your reference as we prepare for Saturday.

Thanks for joining today and for the excellent discussion, and I hope you all have a fantastic week!

Talk to you all soon!

*clicks “End Call” button*

Heck yeah baby, now it’s time to do very little and coast through the short week into my long weekend!!!!