’22 Notre Dame Game Rankings #10: Irish Battle Orangemen in Rare Trip to Syracuse

Notre Dame faces a Syracuse team hoping for brighter days after losing records in seven of their last eight seasons

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will close out the month of October (full 2022 Notre Dame football schedule) with a road matchup against the Syracuse Orangemen. This year’s clash will mark only the third time ever, and first since 2003, that the game has actually been played in Syracuse. The past three Irish road trips to face the Orangemen have either taken place at the Meadowlands or Yankee Stadium.

Syracuse head coach Dino Babers is in his seventh year at the school and is coming off his third 5-7 season in the past four campaigns. Babers made some adjustments on his staff, adding a pair of new offensive coaches who hope to fashion an upgrade on that side of the ball and get out of the current rut.

Syracuse Offense: Up-Front Concerns Remain

One of the key performers of the Orangemen offense is quarterback Garrett Shaffer, who threw for 1,445 yards and nine touchdowns last season after transferring from Mississippi State. If he goes down or struggles, either Florida transfer Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, Justin Lamson or Michigan transfer Dan Villari could take over.

The top performer on the Syracuse offense is running back Sean Tucker, who rushed for 1,496 yards and 12 touchdowns and also caught 20 passes. Another year like that and he could be NFL-bound, but he’ll need help from fullback Chris Elmore or reserve runners Juwaun Price and LaQuint Allen.

Courtney Jackson is a possession receiver who’s the top returning wideout for Syracuse after catching 37 passes last season. Damien Alford offers the Orangemen a deep threat option, though he only had 13 receptions in 2021, two less than Anthony Queeley. Also, Michigan State transfer C.J. Hayes didn’t get much action with the Spartans but does offer a big target.

How well the offensive line performs over the course of the season could ultimately serve as the real litmus test for the offense. This area has struggled to give Syracuse signal-callers enough time to throw in recent years, with left tackle Matthew Bergeron the only lineman who can confidently enter camp as a starter, Dakota Davis is expected to share the left side with Bergeron, while Carlos Vettorello is poised to handle things at center. Rounding out the likely starting group on the right side are guard Christopher Bleich and tackle Darius Tisdale

Syracuse Defense: Strength at Linebacker

The front three of the Orangemen’s 3-3-5 defense don’t possess a great deal of experience, with end Caleb Okechukwu putting up modest numbers last year to lead the way. The other end position should see Steve Linton, while Terry Lockett will be in the middle. The problem for Syracuse is that those three players lack size, which may be a major concern against major schools.

That situation puts more pressure on the linebacking trio of Mikel Jones, Stefon Thompson and Marlowe Wax at linebacker. That threesome led the Orangemen in tackles last year and figure to again supply a great deal of the pass rush this season. Last year, they racked up over 30 percent of those particular stops in 2021.

In the secondary, the cornerback positions will be in the capable hands of Garrett Williams and Darian Chestnut. Both players combined for 17 pass deflections last year, while Chestnut led Syracuse with three picks on the year. At safety, Ja’Had Carter is the only returning starter, with a pair of transfers on their way to help him out: Bralyn Oliver from Louisville and Alijah Clark from Rutgers.

Syracuse Special Teams: Kicking Improvement Needed

Kicker Andre Szmyt is back for his fifth season and is hoping to bounce back after missing a pair of extra points and connecting just 64 percent of his three-point attempts. The punting duties are likely to once again be shared by James Williams and Ian Hawkins, while Trebor Pena will contribute to both the kick and punt return units. In the latter category, he’ll be aided by Jackson, who closed out a win over Boston College last year with a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown.

The Last Time Notre Dame Played Syracuse

On December 5, 2020, the Irish closed out a spotless 10-0 regular-season record with a 45-21 home victory over the Orangemen. Notre Dame fell behind 7-3 early in the second quarter before then outscoring their opponents 42-7, giving them what turned out to be their last win of that season. Wide receiver Javon McKinley starred by scoring on three of his seven catches and gaining a game-high 111 receiving yards.

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