The Notre Dame Fighting Irish put together their most impressive performance of the season with a 41-24 road victory over the 16th-ranked Syracuse Orangemen. The win gives the Irish their second victory in a row and again showed off the potential of the team’s running game.
Notre Dame scored in every quarter and managed to do most of their damage in the second and fourth periods. They also cleaned up some sloppy first-quarter play that led to five penalties totaling 51 yards early on. Whether or not this win helps maintain momentum for the regular season’s final month remains to be seen.
Below are some of the key aspects of the victory:
Delivering the Opening Punch.
One of Notre Dame’s issues this season has been the team’s struggles to get going from the outset. There was no danger of that happening against Syracuse when the Irish managed to deliver a pick-six on the first play from scrimmage. That gave them a quick 7-0 lead and left fans of the Orangemen in stunned silence.
Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph grabbed Garrett Shrader’s pass and fought his way to a 29-yard score just seven seconds into the contest. Syracuse quickly answered with a touchdown of their own but was then kept off the scoreboard until the latter half of the third quarter.
Run With the Irish
For the fourth time in the last five games and the second game in a row, Notre Dame managed to collect over 200 yards on the ground. The tandem of Audric Estime and Logan Diggs combined for 208 of the Irish’s 246 rushing yards. Estime scor3e twice and Diggs got into the end zone once.
Having a strong running game is something that seems to translate into good things for Notre Dame this season. The Irish have won each time they’ve broken that 200-yard threshold and have a forgettable 1-3 mark when they’ve come up short. Given the possibility of weather issues during the final month of the regular season, sticking with the run might be the best route to take.
Second Quarter Shutdown
Entering the second period, Notre Dame and Syracuse were still deadlocked in a 7-7 tie. However, by the time the two teams headed into intermission, the Irish held a 21-7 advantage and never lost that lead. A major reason for that shift in momentum was the performance of the Irish defense during those 15 minutes of action.
Syracuse was only able to complete one of their seven pass attempts and that lost a yard. Their running game was also stuck in neutral by gaining just 14 yards on seven carries. One of those carries was technically a sack by Isaiah Foskey, who looks more and more like his 2021 self and keeps enhancing his 2023 NFL draft status.
The Answer is Ball Control
One of the positive byproducts of a Notre Dame running game which averaged 4.4 yards per carry was that it allowed the Irish to eat up plenty of clock along the way. By the time the game had ended, Notre Dame had held onto the ball for more than 37 minutes, helping keep the Orangemen offense on the sidelines.
Much like their running threshold, having the Irish maintain possession as much as possible this season has paid dividends when it comes to the win column. In each of their three defeats, Notre Dame has been on the lower end of this number and higher in their four wins. Even though it’s a simple gauge offering a window into a team’s performance, achieving it on a regular basis remains an uneven science.
Change Behind Center
All week long, Notre Dame’s defense had prepared for Shrader at quarterback and largely held him in check during the first half. Shrader completed just five of 14 passes for 35 yards and one touchdown. His pickoff to start the game was his only mistake though the mobile signal-caller only managed two yards of rushing.
When the Syracuse offense came out for their first drive of the second half, reserve quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson had replaced an injured Shrader. After slicing the 24-10 Irish lead in half, Del Rio-Wilson then gained 15 yards on a pair of runs but then watched the comeback effectively die when Marist Liufau picked off his pass on the next play. Notre Dame followed with two touchdowns over the next five minutes to make it a 38-17 contest.
Any momentum derived from this win will be badly needed next week when Notre Dame hosts the undefeated Clemson Tigers under the lights. Unlike the Irish, the Tigers had this weekend off, a welcome respite for them after they needed a fourth-quarter comeback to defeat these same Orangemen. Two years ago, Clemson came to Notre Dame with a spotless record at 7-0. When the double overtime shootout had finally ended, the Irish emerged with a 47-40 victory. That win proved to be a pyrrhic victory as Clemson got their revenge in the ACC title game six weeks later.