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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Head-to-Head 2020: Syracuse Orange

Notre Dame Passing

Perhaps the one redeeming quality of this Syracuse defense is their play against the pass. They still give up 251.8 passing yards per contest, 11.4 yards per completion and 7.49 yards per attempt, but they have a couple of standouts in sophomore linebacker Mikel Jones (5 quarterback hurries, 4 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles) and redshirt-freshman cornerback Garrett Williams (2 interceptions, 7 pass breakups). Even so, Ian Book is a rung above most of the quarterbacks in the ACC — and the rest of the country, despite what Pro Football Focus or USA Today sportswriters may say — and the Irish shouldn’t have too much difficulty moving the ball through the air.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Notre Dame Rushing

The Orange don’t offer much in the way of resistance, especially on the ground. They give up 201.7 rushing yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry, marks that are 100th and tied for 64th nationally, respectively. They’re also 110th in 3rd down defense, allowing over 47% conversions. None of that bodes well against a Notre Dame team running the ball down the throat of every one of their opponents and making believers on 3rd-and-short. Expect whatever combination of running backs Notre Dame throws out on the field to have a big day.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Notre Dame Offensive Coaching 

This is a difficult decision. Tommy Rees is a first year offensive coordinator, and while he’s done spectacularly, he’s facing defensive coordinator Tony White, who has implemented the unique 3-3-5 defense. It can be very effective — and White has made it a weapon at several of his previous coaching stops — but Syracuse has a young defense, and White has struggled to implement it. Rees has demonstrated more creativity in playcalling, and he has to be prepared for a new challenge. If unprepared, Notre Dame could struggle to play with its usual offensive effectiveness.

EDGE: Even

 

Notre Dame Offensive Special Teams

Jon Doerer has been slightly inconsistent lately, missing a field goal in each of Notre Dame’s last three games, but he remains reliable enough on the kickoffs and on extra points. The Irish are averaging a hair over 10.5 yards per punt return this season, with junior wide receiver Matt Salerno attempting a rare return against North Carolina for eight yards. Freshman Chris Tyree remains a threat to break one on kickoff returns. Syracuse’s coverage numbers are nothing to blink at, so the Notre Dame’s talent and relative consistency wins out here.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Syracuse Passing

After losing redshirt junior quarterback Tommy DeVito, the Orange haven’t looked themselves this season. True freshman quarterback JaCobian Morgan has struggled consistently through this season. He’s completed 31 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, but he is going to be facing the biggest challenge of his young career against a top-rated Notre Dame secondary. If he’s unavailable due to a lingering injury, redshirt-senior Rex Culpepper may continue filling in, but his numbers aren’t much more impressive (eight touchdowns, seven interceptions, 47.2% completion). The Irish have the edge in this one.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Syracuse Rushing

At this point, it doesn’t seem to matter who the Irish face in opposing backfields. They’ve yet to give up more than 70 yards to a single back, and they’ve only given up more than 100 yards rushing twice (vs. South Florida and Florida State). Freshman running back Sean Tucker is averaging 4.6 yards per carry — but he averages 14.25 carries per game. Notre Dame’s lethal run defense should be more than up to the challenge.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Syracuse Offensive Coaching

With 17.5 points per game, Syracuse ranks 118th out of 127 teams in points per game. Offensive Coordinator Sterlin Gilbert has utilized three struggling quarterbacks, with none averaging more than 6.2 yards per pass attempt. Add in an inability to get the run game going, and Gilbert presents a pretty one-dimensional attack. Against defensive guru Clark Lea, who just shut down one of the most lethal offenses in football, this one is a true mismatch. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Syracuse Offensive Special Teams

The Orange’s most reliable option for putting points on the board, fittingly enough, seems to be their kicker. Redshirt junior Andre Szmyt, an All-American in 2018, is 9-11 on the year with power to boot (no pun intended). Although he’s 0-1 from 50 or more yards this year, he boasts four career makes from that range, and this season was the first time he missed from that distance. He’s Syracuse’s all-time leader in field goal percentage at 86.2%, and he makes up for what the Orange may not be getting from their return game — 14.2 yards returning punts and 23.4 yards on kickoffs. The only question is whether or not the offense (or defense) will get Szmyt into range.

EDGE: Syracuse