Currently ranked third and needing two more victories to clinch a spot in the college football playoffs, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish head to the new Yankee Stadium to take on the Syracuse Orangemen. Unlike recent years, where Syracuse has had their struggles, the Orangemen enter this clash ranked 12th and with an 8-2 mark.
The Irish are hoping to keep their momentum as they come off a solid 42-13 win over Florida State in which they did most of their damage in the first half. They were able to put up 32 first half points with reserve quarterback Brandon Wimbush at the controls, but the Notre Dame defense also once again made their mark throughout the contest.
Below are some of the main matchups that will be under scrutiny for this clash:
QB Ian Book vs. Syracuse Defense
After sitting out against Florida State to give his tender ribs a chance to get better, Book is expected back behind center. He’s been a key reason why the Irish offense has largely thrived over the past seven games. He’s managed to throw for 15 scores while only offering up four interceptions. Against Syracuse’s average defense, he could have a big afternoon.
The Orangemen have only held two of their 10 opponents under 20 points in a game, with their Top 10 offense helping lead the way. They enter this contest riding the crest of a four-game winning streak, but have allowed just over 31 points per game during that stretch and are giving up an average of 430 yards per game for the season. Those numbers will definitely get Book’s attention.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Eric Dungey
The Irish are allowing just under 19 points per game, ranking them in the Top 20 in that category. Offering a consistent pass rush and forcing multiple turnovers in six of their contests this season, Notre Dame has the talent to keep the pressure on an offense that’s averaging 44 points per game. They need to be up to the challenge of facing this potent attack.
One way they can effectively neutralize the Orangemen is by limiting the damage that Dungey can deliver. Of the 4,861 yards that Syracuse has accumulated, he’s has had a hand in nearly 60 percent of that total. He’s thrown for 14 touchdowns and only has five interceptions, so he’s not prone to throwing the ball up for grabs. Plus, he’s run for nearly 700 yards.
T Liam Eichenberg vs. DE Alton Robinson
In his first season as a starter, Eichenberg has largely been able to handle this vital area. While he’s opened plenty of holes for the Notre Dame running game, his ability to protect Book’s blind side has been a key facet of the production that the quarterback has been able to deliver.
Eichenberg will again have a challenge in front of him with Robinson, who leads Syracuse with nine sacks on the year. Robinson’s also found his way into the backfield on six other occasions, so keeping him in check will pay huge dividends, It’s possible that Robert Hainsey will have to deal with a player who’s stripped and recovered a pair of fumbles along the way.
ILB Tevon Coney vs. RB Moe Neal
After a pair of huge games against Navy and Northwestern, Coney delivered a still-solid seven stops against Florida State. He’s had at least that many tackles in eight games this season and currently is far and away the team’s leading stopper by bringing down 87 ballcarriers in 2018. He’s also second among Irish defenders when it comes to stops behind the line.
Though Dungey leads the Orangemen in carries on the year, Neal has collected the most yards and averaged 6.1 each time he’s toted the ball. After spending two seasons between running back and wide receiver, he’s now stays in the backfield, though he has 10 catches on the year. He’s coming off his biggest game of the year after gaining 159 yards on just eight carries in Syracuse’s blowout win over Louisville. Stopping Dungey is important, but Notre Dame can’t ignore Neal.
CB Troy Pride vs. WR Sean Riley
Julian Love’s status is something to watch this week as he got dinged up at the end of the Florida State. Kelly said he could have gone back in but still something to watch this week. That means that Pride’s effort becomes one to watch. After 10 games, he has only two interceptions, but his coverage has played a part in keeping the opposing passing attack under 200 yards per game. That coverage is reflected by his nine pass deflections, which is notable. The problem is that Love at the other corner has 14 on the year, stealing whatever accolades should be headed in Pride’s direction.
Riley leads the Orangemen with 54 catches, though most of his grabs are in the intermediate area, At just 5-feet-8, he doesn’t present a large target, but Dungey has had no problem finding him due to his speed and explosiveness. The Irish pass defense in general figures to be tested since Riley is just one of four Syracuse players who have at least 25 catches on the season.