In 2004, Nike, in a rebranding effort had the University of Syracuse change their team’s name from the Orangemen to the Orange. Prior to that change, Syracuse was a proud football school, with a national title, a Heisman winner, and a 649-420-49(.607 winning percentage) record. Since then, they have posted a miserable 78-128(.379 winning percentage) in completed seasons, asking this intrepid author, did Nike’s forced name change curse this program? The longest-tenured coach during the era of the Orangemen’s curse is current head coach Dino Babers, now in his seventh season. Since his banner season of 10-3, a loss for each cowardly point he was awarded for kicking a field goal down 36-0 to Notre Dame, he’s posted seasons of 5-7, 1-10, and 5-7. This season he’s 6-1, in year eight, has he finally righted the ship?
This is the same Syracuse team that he’s had his entire tenure, he’s just found ways to win the game he had previously lost. Let’s look at the Purdue game, the Orange
men fall behind 29-25 after a Purdue TD with 51 seconds remaining. The Boilermakers were flagged with two unsportsmanlike penalties, one on the special team’s coach!
But only that, Cuse was aided by a defensive holding call on 3rd and 10 and a pass interference call on 3rd and 10 that helped them pull it out with a 25-yard touchdown with 7 seconds to go. Now one game is yeah, that happens, it's football, but a second? They were down 20-19 against Virginia late in the fourth quarter and on 3rd and 7 Virginia comes up with a sack that would have them punt from their own 35. But wait, Virginia commits a needless facemask and keeps the drive alive and Cuse picks up two more first downs and kicks a game-winning field goal, 22-19. Fortune has smiled upon this team that should very well be slumming it up with Notre Dame at 4-3.
Can you keep the juice from getting loose?
As goes Garrett Shrader, so do the fortunes of the Orange
men. It’s not hyperbole to say that very few players in America have as much to do with their team’s ability to find success offensively as Garrett Shrader does. He’s led the team in rushing in 2 games and went for 94 against Louisville, 83 against Purdue, 81 against NC State, and 71 against Clemson. Their running back Sean Tucker has run for 698 yards on the season and half of those yards (344) came in the games against UConn and Wagner. Notre Dame in this football game will need to put a spy on Shrader, as Clemson did in the second half of that football game, and shut the Orange men out.
If you want a singular reason as to why Syracuse was stymied in the second half, it was that very adjustment. Through the air, everything goes to WR/TE Oronde Gadsden. By everything, I mean Michael Mayer levels of everything. He leads all WR/TE’s with 37 catches for 593 yards, the next most from that position is Devaughn Cooper who has 18 for 234. In fact, the next highest in catches is running back Sean Tucker who has 28 catches but for just 216 yards. Just like what Syracuse is going to want to focus on in defending Notre Dame’s passing game, so too will Notre Dame in defending Syracuse’s. The key difference though is in Notre Dame’s case, I don’t think there isn’t a total void of talent outside of Michael Mayer while in the case of the Orange
men, it is a black hole of mediocrity. PFF has the Syracuse offense ranked as the 29th in the nation, spy Shrader and bracket Gadsden, and let’s fix that.
Can the Irish do enough against this Defense?
Now Defensively, what can I really say? They’ve been mostly solid all year against the kinda trash offensives that they’ve played. The 20 Virginia mustered against Cuse was the most they scored all season against the FBS opponent. Purdue got 29, which we’ll touch a little more on in a moment. North Carolina State only scored 9 but they were starting a 6th-year non-scholarship walk-on at the quarterback position. The Clemson game is a bit of an albatross. DJU could not have possibly played worse and he got benched for it. He threw a pick at the Cuse 15, he had a fumble returned for a TD from the Cuse 3, those are points left unscored. Syracuse has been opportunistic as hell, which doesn’t bode well for ND, with 7 picks and 6 fumbles recovered. Now I’d like to circle back to that Purdue game because there was a component of it that I think is relevant to Notre Dame. The Purdue tight end, Payne Durham, caught 9 balls for 83yards, with 7 of them going for either a first down or a TD. If Purdue needed it, Durham was there to deliver, let’s see what happens with a more talented tight end in Michael Mayer.
When I write and evaluate games, I do so under the pretense that both teams play to about the same level unless I have some gut feeling that tells me otherwise. Notre Dame is the better team and is going to be the better team on Saturday. The matchups favor the Irish, the Irish have played better on the road and there’s an essence of LRO(Luck Ran Out) team to Syracuse going on. I think Notre Dame is able to establish themselves early defensively and over the course of four quarters, squeeze this thing into a double-digit victory 24-13.