Duranko’s Digest: What Did We See Against Syracuse?

Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 15
Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly prepares to lead his players onto the field before the game against the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was a display of genius, it was a display of foolishness- for Everett Golson. (Apologies to Dickens)

Four touchdown passes, 25 consecutive completion, spreading the passes to 8 different receivers? Wonderful! Four turnovers? Who is this guy?

The fumble at the end of the fist half, on the botched attempt to “clock” the ball was arguably the worst play by a Notre Dame quarterback since “All Ball” Davie’s use of Jarious Jackson to get a safety against LSU in 1998, leading to Jackson’s injury, and Eric Chappell’s one unshining moment quarterbacking the Irish to a miserable 10-0 loss to USC. Golson’s pick 6 was astounding, and completely out of character, a frosh mistake made by a senior.

All right, that’s done, behind us. Time to take it out to the trash bin and move on! Don’t look back! Something might be gainin’ on ya!

4-0 Each win by 16 or more points for the first time since 1972. 30 or more points scored for the first time since ’43, Leahy and Bertelli.

Notre Dame vs. Syracuse Highlights

THE RECEIVERS

Two seniors, Davaris Daniels and Amir Carlisle, out for the game. One receiver playing in his first game, Torii Hunter Jr. TWo relatively inexperienced sophomores, William Fuller and Corey Robinson, and a converted safety, C.J. Prosise as part of the lead pack. So what?? This Irish receiving corps, which will at least add Carlisle back for Stanford, is growing before our eyes. Elite speed in Fuller and Chris Brown, near-elite speed in C.J.Prosise, they all can catch, they all can run and they all can block. Hunter’s size was shocking. He’s got his poppa’s guns and he does not play in a shy way.

THE DEFENSE

This game showed both sides of the coin of Brian Van Gorder’s defense. Syracuse had entered the game with 250 yards a game rushing, and would have been held to less than 100 but for the fake punt run of 42 yards by Riley Dixon. The Irish did give up some long passing plays of 25, 33 38 and 46. Perfect! that is the exact tradeoff of the Irish defense. Big plays will occur from time to time, but we will stop your primary offensive weapon.

The Notre Dame defense had an approach to the Syracuse offense. Cut off the head of the snake and the snake dies. Syracuse’s offensive brain trust and quarterback Terrell Hunt, he of the erstwhile 7.2 yards per carry average, soon realized that they were not playing Villanova, Central Michigan or Maryland. A run first offense will just not work against this Irish bunch. Simply, that scruffy, mangy Orange dog could not hunt.

PERSISTENCY AWARD

Torii Hunter Jr., Austin Collinsworth, something old, something new. Each shares the award for having had a serious injury that cost them a year and then another different injury. We may be very strong at “Rehab.”

THE PERFECT PRELUDE FOR STANFORD

Let’s see.

  • 4-0 record
  • some embarrassments by the quarterback leader
  • fumbles by Folston and Bryant
  • still some way to go on the OL (but they were much improved and opened some holes against Syracuse D that was undersized but is designed to stop the run, which is Shaffer’s first priority)
  • the embarrassing fake punt run
  • a few defensive mistakes leading to the four big passes

It’s A Goldilocks situation, not too down, not too up, just right. Confident, but concerned. Expect a great week of practice.

WHAT DID WE LEARN ON SATURDAY?

We learned that the Irish are not automatically mistake-free but have to work at it. And we learned that even with a -4 turnover differential, we have enough to pound teams like Syracuse. We merely had confirmed the truism that the Irish are pretty good at shutting down second-tier teams. We have yet to learn how they will do against very good teams and how they will play on the road.

WHAT WILL WE SEE AGAINST STANFORD?

(1) A rough, tough team with the size on their defensive front seven that matched Notre Dame’s prototype under Diaco. But do they have the playmakers like Ben Gardner, Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov? They did, however, hold the robust Washington offense to under 200 yards.

(2) Perhaps an answer to this question:

REGARDING STANFORD QUARTERBACKS, WHICH IS MOST UNLIKE LTHE OTHERS:
(A) John Brodie
(B) Jim Plunkett
(C) John Elway
(D) Andrew Luck
(E) Kevin Hogan

(3) Three stress tests for the Notre Dame Defense:
(A) Stanford will pound the ball for 60 minutes. Will our defensive line depth hold out or will we wear out in the fourth quarter?
(B) Will the new, lighter, linebacking corps hold up against the Stanford rushing game (Remember, Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy and Josh Garnett are juniors now)
(C) Will the first legitimate passing attack we face this year be too much for our Russelless secondary?

(4) Three stress tests for the Notre Dame offense:
(A) Can Notre Dame’s large, mature OL open up some holes for the run game and still protect Golson from being sacked by the myriad pressures form the Stanford front 7?
(B) CAn ND’s wide receivers get separation against a surprisingly athletic Stanford secondary?
(C) Will Golson stay calm if adversity arises, and keep the Irish offense moving the ball?

(5) A litmus test for the Notre Dame team and “program.”
Our only victory over Stanford was the 2012 nail-biter in OT with the goal line stand. But if want to be deemed to have climbed the next rung on the ladder, we will have to have functional control of this game, with a working margin for most of it. A big loss, a loss, or even a tight win would mean that we’re just about even with 2012, not better. But if you’re not on the edge of your chair, at home or in the stadium, but sitting back a bit from the second quarter on, relaxed, then we have advanced a bit. We shall see.

(6) The calendar will turn a page to October.

October is a special time in South Bend. The heat has departed, and a crispness fills the air. Sweaters are more necessary than decorative. The Indiana trees, maples, oaks, elms and sycamores, have begun to turn, and leaves begin falling. You hear the rustle of fallen leaves as you walk in grassy areas. Summer is surely gone and it’s Football Time at Notre Dame. And young men shall see visions and old men dream dreams. October dreams and the glory of Notre Dame football.

It was October in the East, on a ground originally used for Polo, right above Coogan’s Bluff on the Harlem River in New York. It was the 18th day of October when the Irish went to the Polo Grounds to play Army. Rockne didn’t come alone. He brought sleepy Jim Crowley, Elmer Layden, Don Miller and Harry Stuhldreher to that game in 1924.

The Irish were magnificent, and up there in the pressbox was Grantland Rice. He always understood that the romance with college football was becasue of its poetry not its prose. And CLICK-CLACKING away on an old manual typewriter for the New York Herald Tribune, Granny Rice wrote the most memorable paragraph in the rich history of American sports writing, a poem masquerading as journalism:

“Outlined against the blue gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”

Dreaming October dreams was Frank Leahy, and he took his Irish up to play Fritz Crisler and the mighty Wolverines in Ann Arbor in 1943. Leahy’s Irish were led by Angelo Bertelli on that October 9th, and the irish demolished the Wolverines 35-12, sending the Wolverines into hibernation for 35 years.

And a young football player in Akron, a non-Catholic from an Armenian family, dreamed dreams. Ara Raoul Parseghian would not listen to the elders who told him to quit seeing visions of Notre Dame.
The sky was not blue gray on that October day in `1973. An Autumn rain drenched Michiana, and the irish sought to beat USC for the first time since 1966. Heck it was already ’73. On that October 27th, the Irish fans grimly set their jaw and trudged through the pelting rain to the stadium. The first half was tense. But on the first play of the third quarter, Eric Penick got the ball on one of Tom Pagna’s beloved misdirection plays, headed around left end, behind the crushing blocks of two kids from Long Island, Pomarico and Dinardo, for 85 yards and the touchdown that propelled the Irish to a 23-14 win and the eventual National Championship. On that run, it seemed as if Penick was propelled by a tsunami that started on Angela Avenue and carried Penick into the end zone where it crashed in a crescendo of foam, noise and deliverance.

Dan Devine watched from afar and this tiny leprechaun of a man dreamed his October dreams. In 1977, the normally taciturn Devine turned motivator-in-chief, and after the Irish returned from pre-game warmups on this overcast October 22d, they found green jerseys on their chairs in the locker room. Now the rules tell you that a game can not be won before the opening whistle has blown. But that game was over when the Irish doffed the sacred blue and donned the green before charging, stampeding, marauding through the tunnel to destroy USC 49-19 on the way to another National Championship.

The rookie coach at Arkansas, Lou Holtz, watched from afar and dreamed his own October dreams. It was bright and sunny, no clouds, no rain in 1988 when the Irish “entertained” the fearsome, tempestuous Hurricanes of Miami, winners of 16 games in a row. It was the Ides of October, the 15th, and in a game for the ages, Notre Dame vanquished the Hurricanes 31-30 in a thrilling game only decided with Pat Terrell’s heroic breakup of a two point conversion. The Irish then went on to win the National Championship.

It is our time. October. Notre Dame time.

You know the anthem:

Well I remember the leaves a fallin’
And far off music like pipes a callin’
And I remember the golden morning
I saw the long ranks as they were forming
And there’s a magic in the sound of their name
Here come the Irish of Notre Dame
The pilgrims follow by the sacred waters
And arm in arm go the sons and daughters
The drums are rolling and forward bound
They’re calling spirits up from the ground
And there’s a magic in the sound of their name
Here come the Irish of Notre Dame

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59 Comments

  1. The film is clearer than Abe Zapruder’s that Eric waved to patrickm’s
    mom, and now we have an Archangel for a witness.

    This is indeed the stuff that dreams, and memories, are made of.

  2. duranko

    Another excellent post. But two things particluarly stood out for me:
    1)” But if you’re not on the edge of your chair . . . but sitting back a bit from the second quarter on, relaxed, then we have advanced a bit. We shall see.” That’s what I expect to see.
    2) ” Grantland Rice. . . understood that the romance with college football was becasue of its poetry not its prose.”
    As was your conclusion to this recent post of yours, continuing that tradition of college football commentary.

  3. Woody, buddy, I am chastened and ashamed that I blocked out Crist’s play.

    But I thought he played for the flatulent fraud. That was the “Vichy
    government” of ND football. But great catch Woody!!

    1. I wish I could forget it, Duranko. It sucked really, really bad….prime time tv with tons of key recruits in the stadium. It literally lost the game for us. It was a gift to Lane Kiffen. I almost got sick.

      Cheers,
      Woody

  4. Line play both ways really a concern against Stanford. Do think it will be
    a 4th quarter game like the last 2 years.

    1. Stanford is always very physical, smart and well-coached. However, this Stanford team has its fair share of problems. Neither line is particularly good and their QB is very inconsistent. He is driving Stanford fans crazy. Also, I think their “#1 defense” in points allowed is misleading. They have 2 shutouts that have brought the average down to 6.5 PPG. Those shutouts were against Army and UC Davis. Their defensive secondary is a mess.

      I think man for man, ND is a much more talented team in 2014.

  5. In 1973 Ara went to the Univesity of Delaware to consult with Tubby Raymond on how to install the Wing T. That run by Erick Pennick was a 49 sweep out of the Wing T. My parents’ seats were behind the endzone where he scored. My mother always clamed that Pennick waved to her when he scored. When she was dying of cancer several years ago I brought that play up on youtube and it brouht a smile to her face.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YaMautxH5M

    1. I was there that day in that end zone, too. I think he did wave to your mother after that play that day from what I saw and remembered.

      Thanks for rekindling one of the great moments in our fabled history. It brought a smile to my face, too.

  6. Bruce it is on the kids to understand the calls. They go to Notre Dame they should be smart enough to learn a play book. You can huddle and still audible at the line of scrimmage. The huddle is not the problem it’s the constant adjustment to what the defense does to get into the right play. Also BK can be late with his play calls. I see the huddle as being archaic and not giving offenses time to adjust. Defenses watch more film now and can guess a play right that is why the offense adjusts.

      1. Shaz,

        Another thing I forgot that most people that like the huddle forget, you can watch every offensive play ND has run this year out of any set on an ipad. The kids can sit in their dorm room and watch film for hours. This allows the defense to key on tendencies. That is why there is so much pre-snap adjustments.

        Also, look a Saban, he has issues with up tempo teams. Why does he, it’s because he can’t match personnel groupings. If you catch his defense with the wrong personnel you can abuse it. If EG was able to have run the up tempo in the NC game the ND offense would have had success.

      2. Jack,

        Huddle, no huddle, there’s a place and a time for both.

        It’s the whole “signaling in the plays” that I don’t like.

        There are people out there that have made an art of stealing signs.

        Believe it.

  7. THE REASON I LIKED THE HUDDLE OFFENSE IS BECAUSE ITS CLEAR EVERYONE UNDERSTANDS, GETS THE SIGNALS. WHY ARE WE HAVING SO MANY PENALTIES? (8)

    1. BJ,
      The warden called and said you forgot to schedule your lethal injection. Please get on that.

      **Isn’t it interesting that ever since I called out SadWarrior and eviscerated his fantasy world, he’s not been back since? Too busy killing turrurists I guess (via Call of Duty). Or finding another ND football blog where he can be hero-worshiped.

      1. SW is with Seal Team 6 deep behind enemy lines on a covert mission. He’ll be back just in time for the Stanford.

      2. With SW as team leader, they always manage to kill or capture high value targets, but make it back to the combat outpost JUST in time to see Moyock’s tie choice.

        Sua Sponte

      3. You all don’t seem to want to accept the fact you’re dealing with an expert…

        in guerrilla warfare…

        with a man who’s the best…

        with guns, with knives, with his bare hands.

        A man who’s been trained to ignore pain, ignore weather, to live off the land, to eat things that would make a billy goat puke.

      4. Nothing is over! Nothing!

        You just don’t turn it off!

        You asked him, he didn’t ask you.

        For him civilian life is nothing!

        In the field there’s a code of honor, you watch my back, I watch yours.

        Back here there’s nothing!

        Don’t you know he can fly a gunship, drive a tank, is in charge of million dollar equipment, back here…
        can’t even hold a job parking cars!

  8. The O Line as a whole played better but still soft and no where close to what I expected from this unit heading into this season. I know Nick Martin is a Captain and he has earned that by right now he is the weak link because of his hand in a cast. BK had to move him from C because he kept getting physically knocked backwards and its still happening. Hegarty played ok but Stanley had the best game of his career on Saturday.

    I am also worried about our pass rush because we can’t get pressure unless we blitz and so far teams have not been able to burn us but we are stepping up in competetion this week with a physical Stanford team with a dynamite WR in Montgomery who at 220 lb will be a first rd pick next spring in the draft.

    More important this is another huge recruiting week for Notre Dame for both 2015 and 2016. A win on Saturday against a physical smash mouth Cardinal team will validate our top 10 ranking.

  9. IMO, the worst QB play evah was Dayne Crist’s botched snap and kicking the ball with his heel….scooped up by USC and returned 95 yds. 14 point swing on one play. Ball game over!

    That 10-0 loss at USC did suck, too.

    I really like Golson. He is dynamic! I remember last season, practically every team had a better QB than us. This year, I think it is the opposite.

    Great article, Duranko! Thanks.

    Woodrow

  10. All I’m gonna say is……we wouldn’t have had 5 turnovers if Brian Kelly had worn a visor. What’s the deal with no visor?!?!?!?

  11. westcoastirish fan, I disagree, with extreme prejudice, about the non-improvement in play of the offensive line. Some will be brainwashed by career knucklehead Kirk Herbstreit, but he’s not even the best commentator from OSU.

    Go back and look at the tape. Holes were there. Folston’s fumble and Bryant’s fumble hurt, and Bryant needs soon to quit auditioning for Dancing with the Stars (particularly on kickoffs).

    You saw what you saw, I saw what I saw.

    And, don’t ya know, Simon and Garfunkel covered that very subject:

    A man hears (or sees) what he wants to hear
    and disregards the rest.
    doo, doo, doo, doo

    As far as your disdain for Kelly, well, guess what. He’s going to be here for a long time. So, apparently will be your whining. This will give you some time to polish your whining skills.

    30 points per game for the first time since 1943. Without Daniels.
    If that be the patch of failure, then please, please throw me into that 30 point a game briar patch.

    1. You always see everything through a rose colored lens, so I’m not surprised to see your response. I take solace in the fact I’m not the only one questioning the the play of the OL. The OL is getting little to no push on runs and is allowing rushers to go around them. If Golson wasn’t agile, he’d be getting killed.

      As for Kelly, true, I’m not a fan. With a few exceptions, I’ve never seen any of his ND teams truly look the part. They’ve been unable to dominate many teams they should and have struggled with its peers.

      Kelly’s typical response is to blame execution. Well, at some point in time, Kelly has to wonder why execution is so poor. It ain’t always the players’ faults.

    2. I agree there were holes. I see them continuing to improve. There are not too many teams who would comfortably win with so many turnovers. Our QB on his worst day almost set an NCAA record and he’s got a cannon and is plenty mobile. Let’s stay positive. Go Irish!

  12. quarterback confidence is key rice, buerlein, montana, quinn, theisman all had that confidence and transmitted it glowingly

    1. The kind of confidence that allows you to go 14-1 as a starter, go to a National Championship as as a freshman; in 2014 have 1142 yards of production, a 70% completion rate, 8.5 yards per attempt, and 11 TDs in 4 games for example? With a 165 QB rating?

      That kind of confidence?

  13. In the later part of the Purdue game there was a play(and a player / coach exchange on the sideline)that caught my attention that involved Golson and Kelly.
    With the game pretty well in hand, clock winding down, and ND well inside Purdue territory, Golson took the snap, dropped back to pass, and, under pressure, scrambled out of the pocket.

    I don’t recall whether Golson ran the ball out of bounds or threw it away, but I do remember the drive ended and then reading the lips of Kelly as his QB approached him on the sidelines…

    (Kelly)… “Why didn’t you throw the ball… you had him for six” (Looking at the replay there was a ND receiver briefly open in the end zone)

    I couldn’t help but think.. here you have your starting QB who has thus far this season thrown for 11 TD’s and zero Interceptions, who is completing almost 70% of his passes , is on the brink of
    leading the team to a 3-0 start, and is ranked in the top 20 in the nation in QB Rating.

    Why wouldn’t Kelly would be happy with his QB’s good decision making,( especially after 4 years of forcing the ball, and red zone interceptions), why wouldn’t Kelly pat the kid on the back, and complement him for a smart, safe, play?

    Why?

    Here’s why…
    In Golson’s next game he has 32 Completions out of 39 attempts for 362 yards, 4TD’s, and with a streak of 25 completions in a row.

    Kelly wants his QB to recognize each and every opportunity and jump on it. (And that’s pretty much happed in this game)

    It’s also natural that when a QB has a day like that going he gets so confident that he just starts winging it all over the field believing everything he puts up, no matter the coverage, will be caught.
    (And most all of it was)

    While a game like this is great for his, and his teams’ confidence, sends a message, and makes a statement, the 2 INT’s will help bring him back down to earth and keep him focused.

    I would normally say who could ask for more, but with Kelly, you never know.

    1. Shaz,
      I agree with everything you just wrote except for the last sentence. Great coaches ALWAYS ask for more because you know they demand “near perfection”. While true perfection is impossible, demanding it produces excellence.

      I totally agree though that EG will learn from his mistakes against ‘Cuse. He had the “yips” when it came to securing the ball, but is so talented otherwise that he’d just bail himself out.

      1. JDH,

        Speaking of great coaches,
        I believe I detect a bit of “Vince Lombardi” in your perfection / excellence statement…

        well done!

        Brian Kelly, in roughly 4 1/2 years has completly turned the ND program around.

        Charlie Weis…. he was last heard telling Toto “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore”

  14. Really well done. Damn, I had to go jog around my law office this morning to settle down after reading this article. The Goldilocks’ analogy is apropos: confident but cautious. I see the same thing in this very young team. Still very mistake prone, a bit reckless (even foolish) at times, but mighty fast; and, in the end, oozing with confidence.

    1. Thanks for letting us know you are a lawyer. Are we supposed to be impressed? Is jogging around the “office” not cool enough?

      I jogged around my rocket ship this morning.

      1. “Since Burgy jogs to stay fit… you must acquit”

        Ron Burgundy Oozes Sex Panther by Odeon!

        With confidence!

  15. Let’s look at the first four games.

    They were against inferior opponents.
    ND scored over 30 points in each of these games
    None of the games were in jeopardy in the 4th quarter
    QB has played well in 3-4 games
    It seems to me that teams are forcing the Irish to beat them in the air. The Irish are beating them in the air.
    EG had his first bad game on Saturday night

    This weekend they play Stanford a quality opponent, but Stanford has issues on their team. This Stanford team reminds me of the 2013 Irish. They can move the ball up and down the field but can’t punch it into the endzone. Awesome yardage stats but low scores.

    This will be the test to give us an idea of what ND is capable of doing, however if they win this game it will be just one more win, if they lose the media will deem the season over.

    College football can be best described by the Forrest Gump “Life is like a box of chocolates, you don’t know what your going to get” From week to week I am amazed at how teams perform or don’t perform. I wonder what ND team will show up, the one against Syracuse on the one against Michigan. We shall see at 3:30 eastern time on Saturday

  16. Despite the nice 4 and 0 record against a slate of competition not too dissimilar from Syracuse’s, the continued poor performance of the OL is cause for worry. Similar to 2010, I’m actually wanting the defense on the field in crunch time. While that is the mark of a true championship team, no one expected the defense to be the strength of this year’s team.

    Kelly has been the one offensive constant in his tenure. Any objective observer of ND during his time has to question why his scheme, play calling and focus go relatively unquestioned. As you have even pointed out, there is way too much talent on the OL for it not to be able to impose its will against the likes of Purdue, Syracuse and Michigan. This week’s game will be a huge measuring stick for Kelly and probably determine if ND is classified as a contender or pretender.

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