Notre Dame limps into this weekend’s contest with Syracuse at
the Meadowlands Met Life Stadium with a 1-3 record and a brand new interim defensive coordinator following the dismissal of Brian Vangorder following another poor defensive performance. The Irish look to right what could be a sinking ship if they don’t start picking up wins. Can they get it done this weekend?
How’d I Do Last Week
One thing I’ve learned this year is that I’m not bad at predicting Notre Dame’s point total each week. I, like everyone else this year trying to predict what the Notre Dame will do each week, haven’t been close to predicting how many points the Irish will surrender each week.
Last week I predicted 24 points for Duke which was just three points fewer than they COMBINED to score against Wake Forest and Northwestern. So of course they scored 35 points on the beleaguered Irish defense. The outburst and lost ended up being the final straw that cost Brian Vangorder his job.
I was worried about a slow start last week, but the Irish actually jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Other than that, what concerned me last week ended up costing the Irish.
What Concerns Me this Week
- A New DC mid-season – Having a new DC – especially one the players aren’t overly familiar with in mid-season usually isn’t the recipe for success. The argument can be made that a new voice might be what the defense needs. At the same time, how much can a new DC really pull off in a week?
- Syracuse’s uptempo offense – Notre Dame has struggled against uptempo offenses and has usually looked really bad in the process. Syracuse is one of the fastest offenses in the country and Notre Dame has a new DC this week. That is not a recipe for success this weekend.
- Syracuse WR Amba Etta-Tawo – The Irish secondary has been roasted this year and Etta-Tawo has been putting up ridiculous stats this year. Last week the graduate transfer had 270 yards receiving. In a single game. Only Equanimeous St. Brown has more yards than that for Notre Dame on the entire season. Etta-Tawo has 706 yards through four games and five touchdowns.
- Too much change and turmoil in one week – Brian Kelly wants to simplify the defense, he wants to play more players and make personnel changes, and he is essentially taking over the defense. All in the same week. As much as I want to believe all of that will work, it just seems like too much change in a week.
- Syracuse smelling blood in the water – I know it’s a lot of change for Notre Dame. You know it’s a lot of change for Notre Dame. Syracuse most definitely knows it too. Syracuse is definitely smelling blood in the water this weekend and will be in attack mode.
- Special teams – Special teams should have been a strength this year. Instead, a missed field goal and poor kick coverage led to last week’s loss. Two weeks ago Notre Dame opened the Michigan State game with a kick return for a touchdown that was called back because of penalty and lost a fumble on a punt return that turned the game around.
- This game being a shoot out – If this one turns into a shoot out. All bets are off.
What Doesn’t Concern Me this Week
- The running game – This one might sound crazy but a week after Notre Dame couldn’t run on mighty Duke, I think the Irish will make an effort to run the ball and be successful doing so. In order to win this weekend Notre Dame has to play some ball control and keep that fast pace offense on the sidelines.
- Deshone Kizer “bouncing back” – Kizer didn’t have his best game last week but he still had 381 yards and accounted for three touchdowns. If that’s a bad game for Kizer sign me up. I think we’ll see a more focused Deshone Kizer this weekend.
- The “road environment” – There should be more Notre Dame fans in the stands than Syracuse fans at this “road game”. Given Notre Dame’s struggles though, the Irish fans may be tougher on them than a crowd full of Orange fans would be.
- The early start time – This one is more for me. The early start time should prevent the outcome of this one leading to too many drinks to fuel the post game 6-pack this week..
Players to Watch
- Jay Hayes – Brian Kelly swears he will be activated this week. I’ve been waiting all season to play him after seeing #98 be a non-factor each week.
- Deshone Kizer – Kid has handled himself like a pro off the field all week. Look for him to respond like a team leader this weekend.
- Donte Vaughn – He’s young and green but he made one of the best plays any Notre Dame defensive back has made all season. We should see him more this weekend.
- Asmar Bilal – Another player Kelly singled out as needing to see the field more this weekend. Against an uptempo, passing offense, this weekend is a good time to deploy Bilal.
- Dexter Williams – The only player Kelly said played with fire and grit last weekend. Williams deserves more carries this weekend and needs to be involved in the passing game as well.
- Chase Claypool – Got open and made plays against Michigan State. Sat on the sidelines last weekend against Duke. Get the Canuck back on the field this weekend.
- Kevin Stepherson – The frosh showed that he is capable of getting behind a defense last week. Last time Notre Dame faced Syracuse Will Fuller torched the Orange – could Stepherson play that role this time?
- Khalid Kareem – We haven’t really seen him since that roughing the passer penalty against Nevada. Could he be one of the players Kelly looks to get more time this weekend?
- Torii Hunter – Two years ago Hunter made his collegiate debut and scored a second half touchdown. Wouldn’t it be nice if the senior had his breakout game of the season on the same field?
The last time I felt this badly about an opponent like this was 2007 during that disastrous 3-9 campaign. This game will really set the tone for the rest of the season in that a win and maybe, just maybe the Irish turn this thing around. A loss though? I really don’t want to think about a loss because if Notre Dame loses back to back games to Duke and Syracuse and is sitting a 1-4, that 2007 season could very well have a run for its money.
I do think we’ll see some marginal improvements in the defense this weekend, but I do mean marginal. Notre Dame isn’t going to suddenly come out and shut down Syracuse no matter how many changes Brian Kelly made this week. Offensively, Notre Dame has to have its best game of the season and close in on 50 points to head back to South Bend at 2-3.
My first prediction of the week came over on the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes is An Absolute Magician and I’ll stick with it, but the closer we get to kick-off here the worse I feel and if I am somewhat inclined to increase my prediction for Syracuse point total north of 40.
Prediction: Notre Dame 49, Syracuse 38.