No. 2 Notre Dame (9-0) wraps up its 2020 regular season this weekend against the Syracuse Orange (1-9). The Fighting Irish should dominate this matchup, at least they should based on the on paper matchup.
We continue our coverage of the Notre Dame vs. Syracuse matchup by breaking down how the Fighting Irish offense stacks up on paper against the Orange defense.
Notre Dame Scoring Offense vs Syracuse Scoring Defense
Advantage: Notre Dame
Notre Dame has seen its offensive rankings go up the last month. The offense has averaged 494.8 yards per game and 6.7 yards per play in its last four games, up from 439.4 yards and 6.2 yards per play in the first five games.
The Irish relied on big plays against North Carolina, but it has been an efficient offense for much of the 2020 season. Notre Dame has been deadly on third-down, ranking 10th in the country in conversion rate. The Irish offense has gone below 50% on third-down just three times this season, including last weekend's matchup against North Carolina.
If the Irish red zone offense was better the offense would be much closer to 40 points per game. It looked. good against Boston College, but the Irish failed to get touchdowns on two of its six red zone trips against the Tar Heels.
Syracuse has an active defense that competes, but the Orange have been depleted from a personnel standpoint. Syracuse starts five freshmen or redshirt freshmen, and it has a total of 11 freshmen or redshirt freshmen in its two-deep on offense.
The Orange are one of the nation's best units at forcing turnovers, ranking second in the country with 22 turnovers gained. Syracuse has forced at least two turnovers in seven of its 10 games. The Orange also have a quality red zone defense, which makes this an intriguing matchup, at least in that regard.
Syracuse also gives up a lot of yards and is one of the nation's worst third-down defensive units.
Notre Dame Rush Offense vs Syracuse Rush Defense
Advantage: Notre Dame
On paper this should be a rout, but Syracuse has been playing better rush defense of late.
Notre Dame has been a strong rushing offense in eight of nine games this season, rushing for at least 199 yards in seven of nine contests, and at least 178 yards in all but one game. Notre Dame averaged 227.0 yards per game and 5.4 yards per rush in its last four contests.
The Irish racked up 199 yards on the ground against North Carolina despite playing without a pair of starters along the offensive line. Much of the yardage came late in the game as the Irish wore down the Tar Heel defense.
Sophomore Kyren Williams leads the offense with 901 yards and 12 touchdowns and freshman Chris Tyree has chipped in with 350 yards, including a backfield leading 5.7 yards per carry. Quarterback Ian Book has rushed for 412 yards (5.0 YPC) and six scores.
If you look at the total numbers this is a pure mismatch, as Syracuse ranks as one of the nation's worst rush defenses. Syracuse is giving up 201 yards per game and has allowed at least 190 yards in four different games.
If you dig deeper you'll see that Syracuse has been playing much better run defense in the second half of the season. Syracuse has given up just 150.8 yards per game on the ground in its last five games, and allowed opponents to rush for just 3.4 yards per attempt.
Syracuse allowed just 114.5 rushing yards in its last two contests. That success was fueled by the a vast improvement in disruptive plays, with Syracuse registered 23 tackles for loss in its last two games, including 13 run down stops.
Notre Dame Pass Offense vs Syracuse Pass Defense
Advantage: Notre Dame
While the Syracuse run defense has improved a great deal, the pass defense has been worse.
After giving up 232.0 yards per game and 7.2 yards per pass attempt through the first five games, Syracuse has given up 271.6 yards and 7.8 yards per attempt in its last five games. NC State passed for 313 yards and four scores in its 36-29 win over the Orange this past Saturday.
Losing standout safety Andre Cisco and top corner Trill Williams during the first half of the season was devastating to the Orange defense.
The positive from the last two games is that while giving up a lot of yards, the Orange defense has racked up 10 sacks.
Over the last three games the Notre Dame pass game has been better than it's been all season. Book averaged just 206.2 passing yards per game and 8.0 yards per attempt in the first six games of the season, but in the last three games he's averaged 290.7 passing yards per game and 8.7 yards per attempt.
Fifth-year senior Javon McKinley (30 catches, 549 yards) and freshman tight end Michael Mayer (25-301-2) have been Book's top weapons this season.
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