The Notre Dame Fighting Irish needed a big win over the Syracuse Orange on Saturday for a variety of reasons, but there was only one reason that mattered — a win. Notre Dame had a certain amount of expectations heaped upon it over the past two games as big favorites over Stanford and UNLV, and they failed miserably against Stanford and — in some ways — they failed against the Rebels as well.
Against a Top 20 Syracuse team, getting a win on the road as an underdog was the singular focus. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a nice laundry list of things we liked and disliked. It was kind of an odd game in retrospect, and while we should all be jumping for joy about a 17 point win over a top 20 team on the road as an underdog — Clemson is next and the 5-3 record in South Bend has everyone on edge.
GROUND AND POUND
Notre Dame racked up 246 yards on the ground. It’s an impressive number for sure, but watching it live was even more impressive. The Irish offensive line consistently moved the line of scrimmage forward 3-4 yards at the snap of the football. When the running back got right up behind them, it looked unstoppable — and then it looked scary as the line scrummed it up and would keep pushing and pushing defenders back.
Audric Estime and Logan Diggs are two different backs, but they both played this game in very similar ways — they ran hard and fell forward. I was critical of the praise that was heaped upon Logan Diggs against UNLV because I felt there were many more yards to be had on the field. Against Syracuse, Diggs looked more efficient — despite his YPC taking a dip (20 carries for 85 1 TD). It doesn’t make any sense (I know I’m nuts), except when you watch him.
Marcus Freeman on the 3 tight end sets:
It’s more so it’s just everybody’s on board with that identity to win. If that gives us our best chance to move the ball, running the ball, and at times being able to throw it out of 13 personnel, that’s what this team is on board with is whatever it takes to win. And that’s why you love coaching these guys. They’re unselfish and willing to do whatever it takes.
With Estime, it was the same Estime we have come to love this season — but he held on to the football throughout the game. Besides being a protector of the football, Audric Estime carried the ball 20 times for 123 and a couple of touchdowns. He looked ferocious and invincible and explosive and whichever other adjective you’d like to use to explain awesomeness.
It’s that combined effort from Estime and Diggs though that really sets it all off. It’s the combination that allows (and should allow) Notre Dame to lean on the running game as much as possible for the rest of the season. It works, and Marcus freeman is in:
“It’s been the plan since probably Cal, you know, to try to establish the run game. We have to. We’ve got to. That’s our identity right now.”
BRANDON JOSEPH’S BIG BIG DAY
It hasn’t been the season we expected from Brandon Joseph, but in one play — the first play — he lived up to a lot of those expectations. Joseph’s interception return for a touchdown on the first play of the game didn’t just set a tone, it helped change a narrative of the Notre Dame defense as non-playmakers in 2022. It was huge.
“To start the game, it was huge. To start the game on defense and the very first play...get a pick-six, trust me, that’s how you want to start if you can. And so, it was good. The group started fast and then they went down and scored to make it a 7-7 game. But the ability to establish, hey, we’re on defense first. We go up 7-0. It’s a huge momentum builder for everybody on our football program.” — Marcus Freeman
Even the interception in the endzone that was called back due to an offsides penalty (that wasn’t) was able to be seen in a different light. Before Joseph’s game-opening interception, Notre Dame’s defense just wasn’t viewed as much of a threat in terms of playmaking. The called back pick might have been a “here we go again” kind of a thing. Instead, it looked like a “you guys are stealing this and we’re pissed about it” kind of a thing. While some may view that as a fan and media thought, it very much exists in the minds of these young football players.
ISAIAH FOSKEY BACK ON THE RISE
There were times this season when we openly question where Isaiah Foskey was — both figuratively and literally. He was someone that was on the sidelines during some very key moments in games this year, and lulls in play made him someone that was easily questioned.
Marcus Freeman challenged Foskey and his fellow defensive linemen, and the message is paying off.
“Anytime you can get pressure with four guys, man, it can change a game. And so, coach Washington has been working on that. And we’ve kind of challenged that group, we can’t continue to bring pressure, you got to make sure that we create it with four guys rushing. Isaiah Foskey is a dominant football player. He just has to play that way. And it’s been good for him, been good for all of us to see him play that way the last few games.”
Foskey’s sack tied him for second all-time at Notre Dame with Kory Minor with 22.5 — just two shy of Justin Tuck’s record.
THE PASSING GAME
I don’t know where to begin, where the middle is, or if there even is an ending. The passing game is brutally short of any standard of success. Drew Pyne was 9-19 for 166 yards with 1 TD (3 yards) and 1 interception (on an overthrow of Michael Mayer in the middle of the field with a RB wide open in the flat). I’m not here to beat up on Drew Pyne — he is who he is at this point, and any expectation of drastic improvement this season would be unrealistic.
That creates a bigger problem for Notre Dame moving forward. There is NO real viable alternative to Pyne right now. I know people just want to throw Steve Angeli out on the field and see what happens, but Marcus Freeman is back in South Bend with a road win in which the Irish scored 41 points. Whether you agree with it or not, Pyne is the guy (still) moving forward.
The big question is how Notre Dame can change things here or there to help the passing game. Maybe that’s getting Pyne out of a pocket that towers over him, or maybe it’s finding a way to give him more confidence in the other receivers on the team not named Michael Mayer.
Deoin Colzie, for example, was someone that stepped up quite a bit against Syracuse with 3 receptions for 44 yards. So we can now add Colzie to the “WR doing it on the field” list that Lorenzo Styles and Jayden Thomas (fellow sophomores) are now on, and it seems like the staff are sold on Colzie.
“I’m proud of him because it’s a reflection of practice. And everything I keep saying is you build confidence in practice, and he had a great week of practice. And for him to go out and have a couple of catches and make some plays and get a little bit more playing time, it reinforces the things I say in that, hey, practice is so important, right? And what we do in practice will get you those opportunities in a game.” — Marcus Freeman
I don’t have any type of great solution for Notre Dame that seems doable with Clemson up next. So... say your prayers and eat your vitamins.
- Chris Tyree's impact on this team seems to lessen each week. Personally, I have gone from “give Tyree more touches” to, “all I want is Estime and Diggs” as a philosophy.
- Notre Dame is a punt-blocking team after getting its 5th one of the season. It’s really cool.
- Garrett Shrader didn’t look healthy at any point in the first half, and I wonder if Syracuse would have been served better if Carlos Del Rio-Wilson would have been the starter.
- I didn’t think Sean Tucker would have a big game because I don’t think Sean Tucker is THAT type of running back. I took some heat for it — but I think I’m still right.
- Marist Liufau getting a LB interception (flying through the air) was a fun moment, and absolutely needed on several levels.
- Notre Dame’s redzone defense is brutal, and I wonder why they use so much man coverage down there. Benjamin Morrison had zero safety help against Oronde Gadsden, and there was nothing he could do about it.
- 5-3 with a chance to beat a top 5 team at home to make it 6-3 has me excited.