clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Notre Dame Football: Three Things We Saw Against Syracuse

I am ready to get hurt again

Notre Dame v Syracuse Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

A day after watching the Notre Dame Fighting Irish clobber the Syracuse Orange on the road, I can confidently say I’ve never been happier to be wrong in my entire time here at OFD. I was so nervous for this game that I decided to keep a mustache I had grown for my Halloween costume the night prior as a good luck charm for the Irish. You better believe that thing is staying on my face through next week’s game against the Clemson Tigers because I am starting to feel something that feels disconcertingly like hope.

It still wasn’t all pretty and there were plenty of things to work on, but this Irish team has the talent to consistently win games like this even when they don’t play a perfect game, and they showed that on Saturday. Let’s dive into three of the mostly good, still-somewhat-bad things we saw in this game - and yes, maybe even a little about what it means for the Clemson game.

Passing Pluses and Minuses

Much digital ink has already been spilled on Drew Pyne’s suboptimal performance in this game, and while it is correct I think it is worth pointing out positive trends as well. First, there was a marked attempt by Tommy Rees and co. to coach and play-call Pyne away from his over-reliance on Michael Mayer, with many more targets directed at the Irish receivers. Deion Colzie was the most visible beneficiary of this change, breaking through for the first time this season with 3 catches for 44 yards, but there was a noticeable effort to target other players like Jayden Thomas, Lorenzo Styles and Tobias Merriweather - although Pyne, struggling with accuracy, failed to make many of these connections. There was also a noticeable emphasis on stretching the field with downfield passes using multiple targets.

Notre Dame v Syracuse Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Yes, the targets only matter if they are caught; yes, Merriweather should have been on the field more; yes, Pyne did still force the ball to Mayer when he had a wide-open check-down in the flat and throw an interception. But the first step to fixing a problem is recognizing that it exists, and the Irish showed that recognition and took some steps toward fixing it against the Orange. They will need much more next week when another orange team with a much stronger defensive line comes to town - the Irish won’t be able to run all over Clemson all night, and Pyne will have to make at least some of the plays he missed against Syracuse. Let’s a hope the opportunity to work out some kinks in a W and another week of practice helps him get to where he needs to be.

Defensive Dynamism

One of the things that was disappointing about the Irish defense so far this year was its lack of game-changing plays. While they were generally effective in its primary goal of limiting the points on the scoreboard, we rarely saw them take over games and create opportunities to score for themselves. But the Irish took that step on Saturday. Brandon Joseph was of course the headliner with his game-opening pick six, but arguably bigger was Marist Liufau’s diving interception, which bookended with an Irish touchdown to snuff out a potential rally by the Orange. It was the kind of play we had rarely seen from Notre Dame’s defense so far this year - the defense creating points as well as keeping them off the board. (As someone who started out at Notre Dame in 2012, it was also just great to see a Hawaiian linebacker diving through the air to come down with a pick. Manti must be so proud).

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to the turnovers, Notre Dame’s defense also created regular havoc through its pass rush, consistently moving the Orange backwards and creating constant pressure on their quarterbacks. It was great to see Jordan Botelho finally get out there and start wreaking some havoc with two sacks. Botelho’s raw athleticism is potentially game-changing, and could make a huge difference if the Irish could find a way to utilize it consistently.

Running the Ball In Punishing Style

Fans of #RTDB had a great day on Saturday as the Irish not only ran the ball with great success, but did so in incredibly physical fashion. Almost all of Notre Dame’s rushing output came up the middle, with the offensive line moving the Orange off the ball and Audric Estime and Logan Diggs ran through tackle after tackle. Similar to the win over the North Carolina Tar Heels, it was beautiful to watch as everyone in the stadium knew what the Irish were going to do and they simply did it anyway because there was no way Syracuse could stop them.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

That said, there is also some reason for concern here. The Irish will not be able to simply bully Clemson’s front the way they did the Orange. Will the Irish be able to find ways to the ball to players with speed on the outside, which has evaded them most of the season? Will they be able to find the balance needed to make the Tigers back up? The answers to those questions will be crucial in determining whether the Irish are able to get one of their biggest wins in recent history this coming Saturday.