Midweek Musings - Notre Dame vs. Syracuse Edition

Thoughts on Notre Dame vs Syracuse and Notre Dame's recruiting efforts
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Thoughts on Notre Dame vs Syracuse and Notre Dame's recruiting efforts

MUST SEE MATCHUP - OFFENSE

WR Javon McKinley vs. CB Ifeatu Melifonwu — McKinley is Notre Dame’s top wideout, and when he’s on his game the offense is at its best. He’s been able to use his size and one-on-one skills to win contested throws, but Melifonwu is the biggest corner he’ll be matched up against this season. The 6-3, 213-pound junior corner is a talented big cover man, and if McKinley can beat him in this game it will bode well for his ability to continue playing at such a high level.

BIGGEST CONCERN - OFFENSE

There isn’t anything that I’m concerned about in regards to Notre Dame losing this game. Honestly, Syracuse is such a mess right now that Notre Dame could play poorly and still win.

The concern is Notre Dame not being locked in on offense, not building on its recent success and not gaining momentum heading into the ACC title game. Just grinding out the clock and out-talenting Syracuse won’t accomplish that.

Coming out aggressive, attacking Syracuse, getting the offensive line working well together, executing at a high level and putting the Orange away early is very important.

STATS THAT MATTER - OFFENSE

Syracuse has a scrappy defense, but it’s not an overly talented group at most positions. While the Orange rank near the bottom of the conference ranks in yards per play and yards, it has only allowed over 6.0 yards per play three times this season, and Liberty is the only team to go above 7.0 yards per play.

I’d like to see Notre Dame gash the Orange defense and average over 7.0 yards per play, at least when the first team offense is on the field.

I’d also like to see Notre Dame go over 200 yards rushing for at least 5.0 yards per carry, and go over 250 yards passing and get to at least 8.5 yards per attempt.

STEP UP TIME - OFFENSE

According to head coach Brian Kelly, Notre Dame will be getting a healthy Braden Lenzy back this weekend. Imagine the offense, as well as it has been playing the last month, adding the version of Lenzy we saw during the second half of the 2019 season.

Lenzy has been a non-factor this season due to injury. If he can get back to form it could give the offense a huge shot in the arm. It’s time for him to make his presence felt, and it’s up to offensive coordinator Tommy Rees to give Lenzy a chance to get into a rhythm in this game.

If Rees dials up some plays for Lenzy - and I’m thinking screens, crossing routes, reverses and vertical shots - and the junior wideout steps up and makes plays it will make me feel a lot better about Lenzy being a factor against Clemson and in the College Football Playoff.

MUST SEE MATCHUP - DEFENSE

CB Nick McCloud vs. WR Taj Harris — There’s another cornerback/receiver battle that I’ll be keying on. Harris is coming off a 13-catch, 146-yard performance against NC State, and the boundary wideout has good length and speed to challenge McCloud.

The last two opponents have stayed away from McCloud, but I doubt that is true against Syracuse, assuming the Orange coaches keep him in the boundary. McCloud winning this battle would help the Irish completely shut down the Syracuse offense.

I would not be overly surprised to see Syracuse move Harris around more than it normally does to avoid this matchup, and if that happens the burden falls on Clarence Lewis and TaRiq Bracy.

BIGGEST CONCERN - DEFENSE

My biggest concern her is the same as the one I have with the offense. Notre Dame is not going to lose this game, but looking ahead it wouldn’t be ideal if the defense plays sloppy football and goes into the bye week without building on the momentum it gained against North Carolina.

Syracuse will get the ball in space a great deal, and poor tackling is one of the few concerns I have in those scenarios.

STATS THAT MATTER - DEFENSE

Notre Dame has been brilliant on defense this season, and Syracuse has arguably the worst offense this unit will face all season. With a dominant performance, the Irish defense will have a great shot at finishing in the Top 10 in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense in the same season for the first time in Brian Kelly’s tenure.

I want to see Syracuse below 10 points, below 90 yards rushing and with a passer rating of under 100.00.

STEP UP TIME - DEFENSE

The Buck linebacker needs to get settled before the Irish play Clemson and head into the playoff. Either junior Shayne Simon needs to prove he deserves to start, something he’s only done once this season, or someone like Marist Liufau or Jack Kiser - or both - need to play well enough to finally convince defensive coordinator Clark Lea to play the other Bucks more frequently.

RECRUITING THOUGHTS

Notre Dame made a hard push to land Highland Springs (Va.) High School defensive end Kelvin Gilliam Jr., who is currently committed to Oklahoma. For awhile it seemed like the Irish would be able to flip the Top 100 defender, but right now that is looking less and less likely.

The Irish recently offered another 2021 defensive end, Oxnard (Calif.) Pacifica edge rusher Devin Aupiu. A consensus three-star, Aupiu is very typical of the kind of end Notre Dame has landed in recent seasons. Long, athletic, rangy, but also raw and needing time to develop.

Aupiu, a UCLA commit, needs a lot of weight room work and a lot of technical coaching, but he has impressive tools. When his technique is right he shows an impressive burst off the edge, top-notch block destruction skills and the ability to close on the quarterback. At 6-5 and 220 pounds with long arms, Aupiu has a frame that reminds me a great deal of former Irish star Julian Okwara when he was a prep player. Aupiu isn’t quite as explosive as Okwara with his first step, but he’s bigger and stronger than Okwara was at the same age.

Should Notre Dame be able to flip Aupiu, it would give the Irish another high-ceiling end in the class to go with Jason Onye and Will Schweitzer.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

I can't help myself, but this is hilarious. Yes, Brian Kelly has made it to a conference title game in his first season in the ACC, something Jim Harbaugh has failed to do in six seasons.

FILM TO WATCH

Here is film of Aupiu.

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