Yesterday did not go quite as planned for Notre Dame as a 34-point favorite over one-win Syracuse, but the Irish ultimately pulled away and made the second half mostly uninteresting in a good way. That came on the heels of a first half that had Irish fans pulling their hair out for much of the time. In the end, Notre Dame finished another perfect regular season and topped ten wins for the fourth year in a row – a first in the program’s history. Let’s dig into what there was to like in the outing.
Javon McKinley scoring a TD seconds after Tony Dungy said, “Syracuse isn’t going to give up a touchdown”
Tony Dungy has been a great addition to the NBC crew this year, but he had a rough outing yesterday. Hey, who didn’t? After talking about how an early drop from Javon McKinley was the result of a great play by Syracuse for a couple of minutes when it was clear it was just a drop, Dungry set up McKinley’s second TD of the game beautifully.
With just 0:12 left in the first half, I texted two friends, “do you just try for like 10 yards here for an easier field goal or throw one up to McKinley and hope he grabs it?” As I was texting that, Dungy talked about the look Syracuse defense was giving and said, “Syracuse isn’t going to give up a touchdown here.”
Narrator voice: Syracuse did, in fact, give up a touchdown here.
McKinley made a hell of a catch on another 50/50 ball for his second touchdown of the game. He added a third later after coming into the game without a single score on the season. If that was his last game in Notre Dame Stadium, he certainly went out with a bang.
Chris Tyree getting into the clear and showing off his jets
We’ve been waiting to see Chris Tyree get in the clear and use his speed for a while now. We saw it against Florida State all the way back in the beginning of the season but hadn’t seen it much from the frosh in recent weeks. Yesterday, Tyree reminded us all that he has speed to burn.
Tyree’s 94-yard touchdown run gave him 109 on six carries for the day. He had been corralled before it, but much like Dexter Williams or Josh Adams, he showed us all that if you give him a lane, he’s gone.
His 109-yard outing gives him 568 yards on the season, with hopefully three more games to add to his totals. Tyree’s had the kind of freshman season most expected – flashes of big-play ability mixed in with stretches of inconsistency.
Kyren Williams ankle-breaking run to get 1,000 on the season
Speaking of running backs, I loved seeing Kyren Williams top 1,000 yards yesterday to be the first running back for the Irish to do so since Josh Adams in 2017. How he broke the barrier was very fitting for Williams – he broke some poor defender’s ankles.
Williams doesn’t have the same top-end speed as Tyree, but he does have a unique ability to make cuts like the one above without losing speed. He did the same against Clemson when he used just a little juke to get into the clear to race for the game’s opening touchdown.
Williams needed 99 yards to reach 1,000 on the season. He finished with 110 on 20 carries.
3 TDs in 3:06 for Notre Dame at the end of the 1st half
Notre Dame’s offense looked lifeless for much of the first half until a Syracuse roughing the passer penalty gave it new life. Following the penalty, Notre Dame’s offense erupted in the final minutes of the first half to score three touchdowns in a span of just 3:06 of game clock.
Ian Book’s 28-yard scramble got the party started. The Irish defense forced a fumble on Syracuse’s ensuing drive leading to Javon McKinley’s first touchdown of the game (and season) on the very next play. After a quick three and out, Book marched the Irish nearly 70 yards in just over 30 seconds, setting up McKinley’s second touchdown and one that Dungry said the Orange weren’t about to allow.
For how dead the offense was for 26 minutes, the 21 point outburst was a much-needed, welcomed sign in what was otherwise a very frustrating first half.
Turnovers from the Irish defense!
Notre Dame’s defense wasn’t as stingy as it is typically yesterday when it came to yards allowed, but the one area where the defense hadn’t been excelling this year – turnovers – changed for the better against Syracuse. Notre Dame didn’t force a single turnover against North Carolina last weekend, but yesterday the Irish defense registered four – three fumble recoveries and one interception.
Two of the fumble recoveries came at perfect times too. One set up McKinley’s end of half-heroics, and another came shortly after an Ian Book-Josh Lugg botched snap.
The interception was pretty sweet for the Irish because it came from an unlikely recipient – 5th-year senior defensive end Daelin Hayes. Clark Lewa dialed up a great call to confuse Syracuse quarterback Rex Culpepper with Hayes dropping into coverage. Culpepper never saw him and ended up throwing the ball right to him. It was the first of Hayes’s career.
If the Notre Dame defense forces turnovers like they did yesterday, this team is very, very dangerous in the post-season. The Irish offense didn’t play their best yesterday, but the defense picked them up and pitched in with those turnovers. Turnovers were huge for the defense the last time they played Clemson, and they will be again in two weeks.
Bonus: Ian Book being Ian Book
In his final home game in Notre Dame Stadium, Ian Book set the Notre Dame record for wins by a quarterback in a 5-touchdown performance. He tossed three scores, all to Javon McKinley, and ran for another two. His rushing scores were vintage Ian Book and sparked the offense when it was needed most. The first was a 28-yard scramble with the Irish trailing. The second came on a third-down when it looked like Syracuse had Book trapped in the pocket only for him not just to escape but find the endzone.
Book’s passing stats might have been down this year, but he was a much more efficient quarterback in 2020.