Notre Dame passed the largest test it had standing between it and the playoffs yesterday with flying colors. The Irish shut down the high flying Syracuse offense and nearly recorded their first shutout since blanking Michigan 31(7)- 0 in 2014. It was an odd game for the Irish in that they dominated from start to finish but were actually not particularly sharp throughout the game. Still, anytime you can beat the #12 team in the country 36-3, there is going to be a lot to like so let’s jump in.
1. Kurt Hinish’s 1st sack of the game
With Notre Dame up just 13-0 in the second quarter, Syracuse drove to the Notre Dame 40 yards facing a 3rd and 6. It was almost certainly four down territory for the Orange who hadn’t shown any signs of life offensively up until that point. On third down though, Kurt Hinish collapsed the pocket and sacked Tommy DeVito for a nine yard loss setting up 4th and 16 right around midfield. Syracuse had no choice but to punt and the Orange wouldn’t seriously threaten to score again until the fourth quarter.
Had Syracuse scored on that drive, who knows how the rest plays out. Maybe it would have given them the confidence they needed following the benching of Eric Dungey. We’ll never know because Hinish took down DeVito.
Notre Dame’s pass rush was on top of its game yesterday with the Irish racking up 6 sacks on the game including 1.5 from Hinish, 2.0 from Drue Tranquill, 1.0 a piece from Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes, and 0.5 from Tevon Coney. Notre Dame now has 29 sacks on the season.
2. More early turnovers again this week
Notre Dame eliminated any chance Florida State had at making last weekend’s game a contest by forcing turnovers on two of the Seminoles first three drives of the game. The Irish defense was back at it forcing turnovers again this week with three first half interceptions. Jalen Elliott, who is the most improved player on the Irish roster this year, started things off by picking off Eric Dungey on Syracuse’s second drive of the game to set up a Notre Dame field goal to make it a 10-0 Irish lead.
Then Alohi Gilman got into the action by picking off two passes in the 2nd quarter. The first came on a heave from DeVito when he did not see the safety help. Notre Dame couldn’t convert that one into points. Gilman added his second pick of the game later on in the 2nd though after Gilman forced an incompletion and then hauled in the pick after the ball popped up and into his hands. This time Gilman turned into a running back and set the Irish up at the Syracuse 9 yard line. Jafar Armstrong took the next play into the endzone for a 20-0 lead for the Irish.
Considering the safety position produced no interceptions last year, seeing Gilman and Elliott haul in three in one half of football speaks volumes of the improvement the Irish have had at this position this year.
3. Notre Dame’s coverage from start to finish
Gilman and Elliott weren’t the only defensive backs to have good games for Notre Dame though, the Irish had excellent coverage all game long and didn’t give Dungey or DeVito any real windows to get the ball. Julian Love was a blanket all afternoon and several Syracuse downfield passes that looked like they would turn into nice gains were broken up at the last second by the Irish secondary.
Drue Tranquill was a monster in coverage too. Syracuse had a couple opportunities where Tranquill was isolated in coverage and the 5th year senior inside linebacker held up. His old safety skills came in handy this week with Syracuse’s passing attack.
The Notre Dame secondary, combined with the pressure it gets with just four rushers, is why this defense is so good. The four man rush is good enough to get pressure without blitzing and the secondary is good enough to hold up long enough for them to get home. That combination was on display yesterday to the fullest.
4. Brandon Wimbush’s late run that almost went for 6
If you are not rooting for Brandon Wimbush any time he gets a chance to play, you do not have a heart. The kid embodies everything that it means to be a Notre Dame student athlete. So when he broke free down the left sidelines towards the endzone in the 4th quarter yesterday I don’t think I’ve ever cheered as loud when the Irish were already up almost 30 points. I really wanted Wimbush to find the endozne on that one.
Unfortunately Wimbush just barely got pushed out of bounds and he had to settled for a 35 yard gain to help pad the Notre Dame rushing stats that up to that point left a lot to be desired. Dexter Williams capped that drive off a couple plays later to make it 36-0.
We also got a glimpse of Brandon Wimbush being on the field at the same time as Ian Book in the second quarter. Not gonna lie here, I wasn’t the biggest fan of that alignment at the time just because it looked really disjointed. Conceptually, I like the idea though. I hope Notre Dame works on this alignment in preparation for the bowl/playoff season – especially if they reach the playoffs.
5. NO. MORE. DOUG. FLUTIE. THIS. SEASON.
The only thing nicer than waking up 11-0 today was the knowledge that we will not have to be subjected to Doug Flutie’s horrific commentary any more this season. Of all of the commentators that NBC has given us over the years, Flutie is hands down the worst and is it not even close. Yesterday Mike Tirico went on a nice little glowing rant on the Notre Dame defense at one point. Flutie didn’t even acknowledge it and instead went right into heaping praise on Syracuse’s offense.
I can’t wait to not have to see him throwing a football at the cross bar during a walk through or hearing his voice at least until next fall. Hopefully Notre Dame’s run this year helps wake up NBC to the overall lack of production value they are putting into these games. Yesterday there wasn’t even any sort of pre-game done by NBC on either NBCSN or the NBC Notre Dame app. Please get it together this off-season NBC and get Flutie out of the booth.