Behind Enemy Lines: Notre Dame v. Syracuse ’14

Notre Dame vs. Syracuse 2014
(Photo: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

For this week’s edition of Behind Enemy Lines, we have exchanged questions with John Cassillo of the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician.  You can also follow John on Twitter @JohnCassillo.   Our responses to John’s questions can be found here.

Editor’s note: the views expressed below are not that of but rather the guest author of this post.

1. Two of the last three Notre Dame – Syracuse games are seen as the low points of each of the last to coaching regimes for Notre Dame (2003 for Tyrone Willingham and 2008 for Charlie Weis), but this year’s Syracuse team is much stronger.  What have the last two coaching staffs at Syracuse did to restore order to Syracuse football. 

Well, Doug Marrone — a Syracuse football alum himself — cleaned house, brought back the program’s sense of pride and success, and started bringing in more talented players. He also found himself a solid coaching staff, which included former SU defensive coordinator and now head coach Scott Shafer. Basically, not being Greg Robinson was enough to make both of these coaches better than he was. And the program’s in a whole lot better shape, too (obviously).

2. Notre Dame has opened up as an almost two touchdown favorite this weekend, what does Syracuse have to do to pull off the upset? 

Full disclosure: I don’t find an upset to be highly likely. HOWEVER, if Syracuse can actually generate pressure on Everett Golson and keep Notre Dame’s offense out of sync, they’ll have some chance here. The Orange run a high-paced offense (aim is 80 plays per game).  So, given the fact that the Irish run things a bit slower, some quick points by SU might be enough to completely disrupt ND’s game plan. There’s no guarantees that happens, mind you. But for an offense that put up 589 offensive yards last week, it’s also not as farfetched as some might assume.

3. How do Syracuse fans feel about this game being played in MetLife Stadium where there is likely going to be a very large contingent of Notre Dame fans for a Syracuse “home” game. 
Syracuse fans (and students) in the Central New York area get pretty peeved about these MetLife games since it’s a good three or four hours away from the Carrier Dome and it’s not included in their season ticket packages. For a fan/alum that lives nowhere near campus, however, it’s not nearly as aggravating for me. The MetLife games make us a pretty nice chunk of change (some rough figures say each season it’s more than every other home game combined, actually), so I really have nothing to argue with. Penn State fans outdrew us last year and USC fans looked about even a few years ago, which is a bummer. But the bigger bummer is losing. Winning these games would cheer a lot of folks up.

4. Who is one offensive and one defensive player on the Syracuse roster that Notre Dame fans don’t know much about but should before kick-off on Saturday. 

Offensively, you might not know much about Brisly Estime, but you’re going to hear his name pretty often in the passing (and punt return) game. With Ashton Broyld out for the next couple weeks, Estime should take over as his role as the top screen pass option. Brisly came on strong late last year and is one of the fastest players on the team — so chances are he’s a focus of Notre Dame’s defensive game plan.For the Orange defense, MLB Marqez Hodge might be the most unheralded player worth keeping an eye on. Despite all the focus (rightfully so) being on fellow linebackers Cam Lynch and Dyshawn Davis, Hodge’s ability to generate pressure from the middle of the defense was a big part of what Syracuse did right against Central Michigan, and if you find him in your backfield, it’s not a good sign for you as a passer. His speed and play-making ability is just in its infancy right now, so we’re still kind of waiting to see the ceiling of his skill set.

5.  What are your thoughts on Notre Dame’s inclusion in the ACC for all sports except football?  How do you feel about the Irish playing 5 games a year against ACC opponents each year?

We’ve been through this with you guys before, and it didn’t go too well. Obviously things are a bit different this time around, but the point stands: I’d prefer an all-or-nothing membership from any school in the conference. I get the history of independence that Notre Dame prides itself on, really, I do. The Orange were an independent themselves until the early 1990’s — obviously not with the same success as the Fighting Irish. I just don’t think any school deserves special treatment in today’s college sports landscape. I mean, ND’s already complaining about the five-game arrangement and we’re not even a full year in. Would simply prefer a full membership for the sake of the conference’s (football) well-being.

6.  Notre Dame has been shuffling around its offensive line a lot during the bye week.  Can the Syracuse pass rush take advantage of the struggling Irish OL and can they keep the Irish running game grounded as Purdue did?

That depends on what the reshuffling yields, obviously. If the line’s in disarray, it’s going to be to Syracuse’s advantage, but regardless of changes, the Orange were still going to blitz the hell out of Notre Dame throughout the game. They can certainly take advantage, but all that means is that Golson will have less time to throw — not that he’ll necessarily get hit or turn it over. Golson’s good enough to read the various blitz combinations thrown at him, so SU’s success really depends on the Notre Dame supporting cast. If there are options to throw to, then the Irish are alright. If not, then maybe they’re in trouble.

Editor’s note: the views expressed above are not that of but rather the guest author of this post.

Thanks to John and the team at Troy Nunes is a Magician and be sure to give John a follow on Twitter @JohnCassillo.

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