Notre Dame completed their second perfect regular season in three years on Saturday with a 45-21 win over Syracuse. The Irish struggled for much of the first half before pulling away from the overmatched Orange on a unique Senior Day in Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame didn’t play their best, but they were good enough to have a 31 point fourth-quarter lead and good enough to cap off another perfect regular season. Still, the game was frustrating in that the Irish didn’t play to their potential and made some uncharacteristic mistakes.
The game as whole was almost equal parts annoying and frustrating. Notre Dame is capable of playing better, but at the end of the day, a 24 point win is hard to get too upset about – even if there were aspects that had most of us sending out some tweets that didn’t age well.
That was an absolutely brutal start
For about 27 minutes, Notre Dame looked like a team that knew it was already in the ACC Championship Game and were playing a 1-9 opponent. For one of the few times this season, Notre Dame came out flat and uninspired. Chalk it up to Senior Day, chalk it up to knowing they are already headed to Charlotte, chalk it up to whatever you want, but Notre Dame did not look good for most of the first half.
Luckily for the Irish, things turned around right before half-time, but for most of the first half, it looked like Notre Dame might sleepwalk through this game, similar to what they did against Louisville.
It’s crazy how much the game swung on a roughing the pass penalty on Syracuse
Things finally turned around for the Irish on a rough the passer penalty with just over 4:00 remaining in the half. Syracuse had Notre Dame stopped on a 3rd and 10, but the penalty on Kingsley Jonathan kept the drive alive. What happened after that was pretty incredible. After looking lifeless for the entire first half, here’s a quick of the final 4:00:
- 3 plays later, after back-to-back completions of 18 and 11 yards, Ian Book scrambled 28 yards for Notre Dame’s first TD of the game. 10-7 Notre Dame.
- After Syracuse converted a 3rd and 5 when Notre Dame was flagged for too many men on the field after not being allowed to substitute, Notre Dame forced a fumble on the next play to get the ball back with 1:30
- On Notre Dame’s first play following the turnover, Book hit Javon McKinley for his first TD of the season. 17-7 Notre Dame.
- Syracuse goes three and out, only using 0:44 of the clock to give Notre Dame the ball back with 0:38 remaining.
- Notre Dame went 68 yards on six plays in just 0:32 for a 3rd touchdown in three minutes. 24-7 Notre Dame.
If Syracuse doesn’t commit that penalty, who knows how the rest of the half plays out.
It was good to see Javon McKinley get on the scoreboard three times
Speaking of Javon McKinley’s second-quarter heroics, it was great to see the 5th year senior finally reach the endzone. McKinley has emerged as Notre Dame’s go-to receiver over the last few weeks, but he failed to score a touchdown despite three 100-yard games before today. That all changed today.
Not only did McKinley record his fourth 100-yard outing of the season, but he also scored his first, second, and third touchdowns of the season on Senior Day.
McKinley’s transformation this year has been one of the more remarkable storylines of the year. He only had 11 receptions for 268 yards over his first four years at Notre Dame before this season. After today, McKinley has 37 receptions for 660 yards this year along through 10 games.
Notre Dame’s offense was too hot and cold today
Today was not the most efficient effort by the Notre Dame offense. Their first drive of the game stalled in the redzone with the Irish settling for a field goal. The offense went cold after that before the roughing the passer penalty sparked them at the end of the first half.
To start the second half, the Irish offense turned the ball over on both of their first two drives – a botched center exchange and a rare Ian Book interception (just his second on the season).
Notre Dame ended up scoring 45 points on the day, but they were as consistent as we’ve become accustomed to.
The obligatory Ian Book appreciation mention
Ian Book had himself a day despite the struggles and ups and downs of the offense as a whole. He’s officially the winningest quarterback in program history and he recorded the win by throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for another two.
Not much more needs to be said about Book at this point other than he’s exceeded all expectations anyone ever had for him when he enrolled at Notre Dame five years ago.
Notre Dame needs to solidify the center position
Zeke Correll dressed but didn’t play today because of an ankle injury. Joh Lugg started in his place, and like Correll last week, he had problems snapping the ball directly, leading to a Notre Dame turnover.
Correll’s injury is believed to be minor, so he should be available in two weeks for the ACCCG, but even in his lone appearance as the starting center for the Irish, he too had troubles with his snaps. That’s fine against Syracuse and North Carolina, but it won’t be presumably against Clemson.
Losing Correll after just one game as Jarrett Patterson’s replacement was far from ideal, but Notre Dame has two weeks between now and the ACCCG to solidify the center position before that contest.
Notre Dame’s rush defense statistics look much worse than they were
On paper, it looks like Syracuse ran the ball much better than anyone else has against the Irish all season long. They had 229 yards on 35 attempts. However, a large portion of that damage came on one garbage time run – an 80 yard Cooper Lutz touchdown run once the backups entered the game for the Irish defense. On the play, the entire secondary, it seemed, took horrible angles allowing the run – Tariq Bracy and Houston Griffith specifically won’t have fun in film review for that play.
Without that run, Syracuse had 149 yards on 34 carries. That’s still off the pace that we’ve come to expect of the Irish rush defense, but it’s not nearly as bad as it looks.
In the end, we didn’t learn much new about Notre Dame today
We didn’t learn too much about Notre Dame today other than the fact that they aren’t phased when things go wrong. The Irish didn’t panic when they were down 7-3 late in the second quarter. That is good, obviously. Outside of that, the questions we had coming in are still questions we have heading into the bye week the Irish have courtesy of Dabo Swiney.
There are still some questions about the reshuffled offensive line. Tommy Kraemer played in the 2nd quarter even though Kelly said he would only play in emergencies. Josh Lugg had the struggles above snapping. After being the model of consistency for his squad for eight weeks, the offensive line had sprung some leaks that Jeff Quinn needs to plug.
Notre Dame got Braden Lenzy more involved in the offense but was unsuccessful each time they tried to get him the ball. That’s fine, though. The important thing was he was able to play and got some real reps.
We saw the Irish win their 24th straight home game and their 16th game in a row. They didn’t look great, but they were good enough for this one to never really be in doubt. They also showed that they still have a lot of work to do between now and their trip to Charlotte in two weeks for the ACC Championship.