Syracuse faces reeling Notre Dame; chance for a big win

Syracuse failed its biggest early season challenge, which in retrospect shouldn't have been a big surprise. Louisville apparently is that good.

Now the Orange (2-2) have a chance to make some amends for that 62-28 home loss to the rising Cardinals in early September when they meet Notre Dame (1-3) on Saturday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The game gives Syracuse an opportunity on a national stage in an NFL stadium to show that first-year coach Dino Babers has the Orange pointed in the right direction. They're coming off a 31-24 road win over UConn that snapped a two-game skid.

''It felt good,'' said Orange wideout Amba Etta-Tawo, who had 12 catches for a school-record 270 yards and two touchdowns against the Huskies and leads the nation in receiving with 40 catches for 706 yards. ''A lot of people can breathe now. We just have to keep building upon that.''

Playing at this particular neutral site might not be the place. Since former athletic director Daryl Gross decided to schedule a series of games against top-flight teams at MetLife Stadium instead of the Carrier Dome in an effort to spread the Syracuse brand in metropolitan New York City, the Orange have lost the first three games at the home of the Giants and Jets - to Southern Cal (42-29 in 2012), Penn State (23-17 in 2013), and Notre Dame (31-15 two years ago).

This Notre Dame team was ranked 10th in the preseason and quickly fell flat. The Irish have allowed more points through four games (134) than any other team in program history. The defensive slide prompted Irish coach Brian Kelly to fire defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder after last week's 38-35 home loss to Duke.

''I always like to play teams when they're at their best because I don't want to win on Saturday and have people say, `Oh, you guys beat Notre Dame, but that's when they were going through X, Y, and Z,'' Syracuse linebacker Zaire Franklin said. ''I would like to play the Notre Dame that's fifth in the nation and headed for a playoff.''

The Syracuse offense has leaned hard on Etta-Tawo, a graduate transfer from Maryland in his last season of eligibility, and he has responded in a remarkable way. After a summer of working closely together, it's no surprise he's become the favorite of quarterback Eric Dungey.

Seemingly lost in the dizzying array of balls thrown by Dungey - he's 117 for 179 for 1,367 yards - is last season's go-to guy. Steve Ishmael, who started all 12 games and led the Orange with 39 receptions for 570 yards and seven touchdowns, is fourth on the team this season with 17 catches for 171 yards and zero TDs in the Orange's new up-tempo offense.

So far, Ishmael is taking it all in stride.

''He (Babers) has told me my time is going to come,'' Ishmael said. ''I'm really going with the flow of things. I'm so glad Amba's been making a lot of plays. When other teams see that, when they do double him, it's going to open up everything for everybody.

''The offense should be a lot more exciting when that happens because it's going to leave a lot of vulnerable spots.''

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Freelance writer Mark Frank in Syracuse contributed.

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AP College Football Website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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Follow Kekis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Greek1947

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