Notre Dame is back in action today with two games standing between it and the College Football Playoffs. If you had told anyone in August Notre Dame would be 10-0 on November 17 and one of their two opponents would be ranked #12, 99 out of 100 people would have guessed that ranked foe was USC. As we all know, it’s not and the Irish are set to square off with the 12th ranked Syracuse Orange this afternoon in Yankee Stadium. The Organe have upset on their minds while the Irish have the playoffs in their sights. Who will come out on top? Let’s dive in.
What Worries Me This Week
Turnovers. Syracuse is one of the best defenses in the country at forcing turnovers. They are very much a boom or bust defense and if you let them create turnovers they become a major problem. Lately, Notre Dame has been turning the ball over much more than they should be and it has nearly cost the Irish early on in games versus Navy and Northwestern. In both cases the Irish defense held and the opposing offense obliged the Irish by missing field goals. They might not be so lucky this week if they turn it over early again.
Ian Book‘s interceptions have increased in recent weeks as opposing teams have some more film on him. He is going to have to do a better job protecting the football this week than he has in his previous two starts before missing last week. The Irish were sloppy with the ball last week too though those interceptions came off the hand of Brandon Wimbush who will be back in his backup role.
Notre Dame has had great sudden change defense this year, but Syracuse’s offense does not need any more opportunities with the ball today. The Irish must protect the football to win the game.
Negative plays. Like turnovers, Syracuse excels at generating negative plays and is on pace to set the Cuse school record for sacks in a season. Again, this is a boom or bust type of defense. They take a lot of chances and end up creating a lot of havoc plays. At the same time, those chances backfire. A lot. They have given up 40 points three times already this season.
One of Ian Book’s greatest assets is his ability to get the ball out quick and accurate so that should help mitigate the Syracuse pass rush somewhat. It is still something to watch this week though since we saw how effective Pitt was at bringing relentless pressure. It forced Book into a bad sack early on in the game and then harassed him into bad decisions all game long.
This type of defense makes two players to watch for today for the Irish – Jafar Armstrong and Chase Claypool. One of the best ways to slow down a blitz is still to run screens and with Armstrong back to 100%, he could have a huge game today. For Claypool, we’ve seen how effective he can be on the slant route in recent weeks. That throw should be there again most of today.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
Syracuse moving the ball between the 20’s. Syracuse is going to move the ball between the 20’s. There is no way around that this week. Much like the Wake Forest game, expect Clark Lea to play conservative early and keep everything in front of his defense. Syracuse has one of the best offenses in the country at moving the ball into the redzone and one of the worst in the country at converting into touchdowns. Expect Lea to force Syracuse to go on long, methodical drives to score similar to that marathon 17 play drive the Irish surrendered to Northwestern.
Offenses like Syracuse’s aren’t built to go on 17 play drives, they are built to get a defense off balance and rack up chunk plays. If they are moving the ball between the 20’s Notre Dame fans shouldn’t be too concerned as long as the Irish are holding to field goals or 4th down attempts. The Notre Dame offense is going to score a lot of points this week so if the Irish can trade touchdowns for field goals, they will be just fine.
What should worry every Notre Dame fan is if Syracuse is ripping off big chunk plays or converting their trips to the redzone into touchdowns.
Notre Dame moving the ball passing. Syracuse’s defense might force a lot of turnovers and negative plays, but they also give up a ton of yards and points. Ian Book and the Notre Dame offense are going to be able to move the ball and put up some points today. I don’t think we will see a ton of vertical passing because of that pass rush but Ian Book is one of the best quarterbacks in the country on passes that only travel 0-5 yards from the line of scrimmage.
The wide receiver screen will probably be used more than we are used to today as well because of that pass rush. Book’s been great at getting that ball out quick and on target to give the wide receiver a chance to make some plays. This is another area in which to watch Chase Claypool today.
Distractions. Notre Dame is playing in a baseball stadium in questionable uniforms with the playoffs on the line today. There is a lot to distract this team, but unlike last year, this team seems to be well equipped to block out the distractions. They spent an entire off-season preparing for November and after the first two games of the month, the results look very promising.
The conventional wisdom here says that all of the pressure in the world is on Notre Dame and none is on Syracuse, but at the same time, Notre Dame isn’t the program in this one that has been dreadful for an entire decade and is aching for a big statement win. Syracuse is and with that comes some pressure as well.
Players to Watch This Week
- Chase Claypool – Think we see him go over 100 yards for the second time this season
- Dexter Williams – Didn’t mention him above but I will be shocked if he does not top 100 yards again this week and inch closer to 1,000 on the season. Last time Dexter Williams faced Syracuse he made a video game style run. I think we see more fireworks today.
- Ian Book – All Notre Dame fans will be holding their breath every time he gets hit. Don’t be surprised, however, to see a designed Book run early in the game to force Syracuse to respect him in the run game.
- Julian Okwara – Notre Dame needs to make Eric Dungey feel uncomfortable out there today and need Okwara to do so.
- Tommy Kraemer / Trevor Ruhland – The Irish need the offensive line to give Book time to throw today so it will be interesting to see which guard gets more time today. Kraemer has been the best we’ve him all year the last two weeks, but run blocking has always been his strength.
I have grown increasingly confident about this one as the week as progressed which usually terrifies me. I like to have a healthy level of paranoia on game day each week. Still I look at the matchup here and think that the Irish are set u well to handle Syracuse. Everyone likes to point to the Clemson game, but let’s be honest, if Trevor Lawrencce doesn’t get hurt that game isn’t as close as it was. They are a good football team, but I think they’ve risen higher in the rankings than perhaps their level of play has warranted.
I do expect Syracuse to come out early and have success moving the football as mentioned above. Clark Lea is going to force them to go 10-12 plays each time they want to score. They’ll settle for some field goals early while the Irish will respond with some touchdowns. Once they do get a lead and are able to release the pass rush, the Irish will pull away.
Notre Dame 42, Syracuse 23