Nine Tewaaraton Trophy nominees will take the field Saturday for the matchup the top-ranked Irish have been awaiting all season, as they travel to the Carrier Dome to take on No. 4 Syracuse.
Six of those Tewaaraton Trophy nominees, fighting for player of the year honors, belong to Syracuse (12-1, 4-0 Big East), which features a high-energy offense that averages upwards of 10 goals per game. Irish sophomore goalie John Kemp said he believes containing the Orangemen's midfielders and limiting their transition game will be critical for the Irish (10-0, 5-0) in the game.
"They pretty much have six guys that can go to the goal whenever they want — they're confident," Kemp said. "We need to have good ball pressure at all times, and we need to be aware that they can feed it to anyone they want at any time.
Communication is obviously key with that, knowing who's able to go and who's able to slide, especially because they have so many talented guys. Defense is definitely the key to this game for us."
In order to prepare the Irish for Syracuse's talented offense, Notre Dame's second team has been scrimmaging against the Irish defense, mimicking Syracuse's offensive style.
"Our backups have tried to emulate what they're going to do," Kemp said. "They have set offenses but they kind of have a freelance offense. Their offensive guys kind of have a leeway with what they want to do."
On the offensive side of the ball, the Irish are looking to play aggressively and score early. Syracuse senior goalie John Galloway has been recognized as one of the top goalies in the country, and Kemp says that the Irish must take advantage of his tendency to move around the field.
"He's very active, willing to take chances, and he passes to outlet men. He's willing to take chances to pick off passes and come out for ground balls. He's not much of a sit-back and save-the-ball goalie. He likes to stay active and play a bigger role than a goalie normally tries to play," Kemp said. "He's a goalie that's a lot different than your prototypical goalie. He's obviously had success this year, and I look forward to playing against him."
Despite such widespread talent on both teams' rosters, Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said he thinks the outcome of the game will depend on team play.
"There are going to be a lot of great individual players in the game, but I think it will come down to which team plays better," he said. "There will be good matchups all over the field, but it will come down to which team plays together."
Corrigan said for the Irish this will ultimately come down to playing smart.
"The thing we have to do is keep them out of their transitional game. They're very, very dangerous when things are not set up," Corrigan said. "We have to be smart offensively, take good shots, not have bad turnovers, clear the ball well and not get in foul trouble."
Earlier in the season, Syracuse was ranked ahead of Notre Dame, and the Irish were anticipating a road game against the top team in the country. Corrigan said the team has gotten itself in a great position a few weeks before postseason play begins.
"We're playing not only two of the best teams in the country but two of the more renown programs in the country," the Irish coach said. "I don't think I'm going to have to keep the guys motivated. They've been doing great, working hard every day. We're in a great spot and it's because of how hard they've worked."
Kemp said there is a high energy level in the locker room heading into the matchup at Syracuse.
"There's a lot of excitement. Going over to the Dome is going to be really exciting, and the atmosphere will be awesome. They are expecting about 15,000 people," he said. "I am happy and excited for the opportunity to play them."
The Irish will take on the Orangemen Saturday in Syracuse, New York, at 7 p.m.