Notre Dame is undefeated and ranked second in the nation, while Syracuse is suffering through an abysmal 1-9 campaign. This really isn’t a game where we should be discussing whether or not Notre Dame will win. Rather, the focus will be on keys to calling this game a success, which means seeing the Irish building on the momentum it has built in recent weeks as it heads into the ACC title game.
If Notre Dame performs well in the areas below it will be considered a success.
1. Be aggressive and attack successfully with the pass game — Notre Dame needs to come out with a bit of a killer instinct, jump all over Syracuse and put this game away in a hurry. Yes, Notre Dame could come out and run all over a bad Syracuse defense, but it’s the pass game that needs continued improvement and enhancement.
If offensive coordinator Tommy Rees can get quarterback Ian Book rolling early, attack down the field, attack the middle of the field and expand the pass game weapons I’ll feel really good about the offense being able to move the ball against a Clemson defense that will be much healthier the second time the teams square off.
This is also the best way to get the game over with early enough to sit the starters for a big chunk of the game.
2. Establish continuity with the offensive line — The ideal scenario for Notre Dame is that sophomore center Zeke Correll is healthy enough to play after suffering an ankle injury against North Carolina. It would be good for Notre Dame to get some continuity along the offensive line, and it starts at center. The unit showed promise in the second half against the Tar Heels, but having to once again shuffle things around, especially at center, could be a step back for the unit.
If Correll plays, and plays well, it will give the Irish line a boost heading into the off week.
If Correll can’t go that means senior Joshua Lugg will start at center. Lugg is a talented player, but he hasn’t been healthy for much of this season either, and I am not a fan of having a 6-7 blocker at center when you have a 6-0 quarterback, even in a shotgun based offense. Lugg having to move to center also means Notre Dame loses its tackle/guard swing man.
No matter whose number gets called on Saturday, Notre Dame needs strong play from the center position. Combined with the return of Tommy Kraemer, it would give me a lot of confidence that this line will thrive in the rematch against Clemson.
3. Get young players a lot of work — Notre Dame needs to get its young players a lot of work on Saturday against the Orange. That only happens if the Irish offense starts fast and puts Syracuse away early.
Extra action by the young players means the veterans are off the field and no longer at risk for injury, which is another bonus. You never know, perhaps a young skill player could play well enough to finally earn some playing time. I know it’s unlikely, but you never know. Of course, that would mean when the young players get in the game the staff needs to let them play and run the offense, not just hand the ball off until the clock runs out.
1. Do what you’re supposed to do — Syracuse is a really, really bad offense that is awful at running the ball and not much better at throwing it. Notre Dame needs to come out early and absolutely dominate the Orange offense. Three-and-outs, big plays, turnovers, get the ball back to the Irish offense as quickly as possible with the best possible field position.
There is no reason for Syracuse to have success throwing the ball against Notre Dame. Yes, they have some talent at receiver, but nothing close to what Notre Dame faced against Clemson, Boston College and North Carolina. When you consider the extremely poor line play, lack of a run game and uncertainty at quarterback this is a game where Notre Dame should put up monster numbers on defense.
2. Find clarity at the Buck linebacker spot — For me this one should have been over awhile ago. Junior Shayne Simon has started in the last seven games, and with one exception (Clemson) his play has been average to below average. We’ve seen Jack Kiser, Jack Lamb and Marist Liufau all outplay Simon despite playing far fewer snaps.
Simon has made 12 tackles (1 TFL) in 251 snaps (according to Pro Football Focus). Kiser has 18 tackles (3 TFL) in just 104 snaps while Liufau has 10 tackles in just 108 snaps.
If Simon doesn’t step up and play well against Syracuse then it’s well past time for Notre Dame to make a move at the Buck position. Either start one of the other players or go with a Kiser/Liufau combination.
3. No second half issues — My biggest concern in a game like this is that in the second half you see an injury to a starter with the Irish up big, or that a starter gets called for targeting in the third quarter before he gets pulled, which would put him out of the Clemson game.
If the offense and defense handles its business the way it could and should, the coaches can choose to limit the veterans action in the second half, or even not play them at all in the second half, and get the young players some work.
That would seem like a great success for me.
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