NEW YORK (AP) There is only so much a coach can do to change a defense in a few practices. Game plans can be adjusted. Schemes can be tweaked. Lineups can be shuffled. Some different players can be given more opportunities to contribute.
Notre Dame plans to do all those things when it play its first game Saturday since coach Brian Kelly fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, facing Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Kelly put former Purdue defensive coordinator Greg Hudson in charge and said he has been more involved with that side of the ball this week, too.
Ultimately, though, what the Fighting Irish (1-3) are hoping will improve a defense that is on pace to be one of the worst in school history is less about Xs and Os and more about mind-set and attitude.
''I think a lot of guys were out there tense, tightened up and weren't playing loose,'' safety Drue Tranquil said. ''I think we've seen a lot of guys let loose this week and it's been a real positive attitude.''
Considering Notre Dame allowed 38 points in a loss to Duke last week after the Blue Devils scored 38 points in their two previous games, it is safe to assume just about any offense would pose a challenge to the Irish right now. Syracuse (2-2) presents in some ways a familiar test for the Irish.
First-year Syracuse coach Dino Babers, a former Baylor assistant coach under Art Briles, runs a version of the spread offense used in Waco, Texas. In their opening game, Notre Dame lost to Texas in overtime as the Longhorns debuted their Baylor-style, up-tempo offense under new coordinator and former Briles assistant Sterlin Gilbert. The Orange run a lot of plays (345, fourth-most in FBS), but they haven't had much of a running game and overall their 5.76 yards per play ranks a so-so 68th in the nation.
''Need to work on being consistent,'' running back Dontae Strickland said. ''We can go from scoring in 20 seconds to a three-and-out.''
The Orange have had their own issues stopping opponents. The Orange rank 113th in the country in yards per play allowed at 6.39, nine spots behind Notre Dame (6.18) on the list.
What else to watch for when the Fighting Irish play Syracuse for the eighth time, a second straight at the home of the NFL's Giants and Jets:
CALLING OUT KIZER
Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country, ranking 14th in in efficiency rating (167.55) and yards per attempt (9.4) and running for a team-best five touchdowns. He also threw an interception late against Duke that set up the winning field goal and had a fumble earlier in the game.
Kelly said this week Kizer's ''standard of play is not where we want it to be for him,'' which sounds a lot like a coach who knows he needs his star quarterback to play like a star quarterback to overcome a shaky defense.
Maryland graduate transfer Amba Etta-Tawo leads the nation with 706 yards receiving on 40 catches after setting a school record with 270 yards receiving in a victory against Connecticut last week. He is just the third player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to have multiple 200-yard receiving games in the same season, joining Torry Holt (NC State, 1998) and Craphonso Thorpe (Florida State).
''If they double team me it opens up doors for other guys so that would be good news,'' Etta-Tawo said.
In three seasons at Maryland, Etta-Tawo 61 passes for 938 yards and three touchdowns.
NEW YORK'S COLLEGE TEAM
This is the last of a series of games at MetLife that former Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross signed up as part of branding the Orange New York's college team. Yes, the stadium is in New Jersey, but it's just across the river from Manhattan and the home of the New York Jets and Giants.
The strategy made sense from a marketing perspective. Syracuse has a large alumni base all over the New York metropolitan area, but it took marquee games against Southern California, Penn State and Notre Dame out of the Carrier Dome. The Orange have lost all three of the previous games at MetLife.