Notre Dame went on the road Saturday and made just its second trek to Syracuse’s JMA Wireless Dome in program history and entered as a slight underdog. Things began going the way of the Irish immediately as Brandon Joseph returned an interception for a touchdown on the first play of the game.
Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that as Syracuse marched right down the field to tie things up and despite owning the box score most of the afternoon, Notre Dame took its sweet time in putting the Orange away for good.
It was a big step in the right direction for a Notre Dame squad that has been frustrating and inconsistent much of the year. Here are five instant takeaways from the 41-24 victory.
Effect doesn't need to be sexy
Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Have you ever played Madden and just ran HB Dive out of different formations for 6-8 yards seemingly every carry? That’s what it felt like Notre Dame was doing at times Saturday as they totaled a hair shy of 250 rushing yards on the day while pounding the ball 56 times. It might not be flashy or sexy by modern college football offensive guidelines but it was impactful and in fact, should have been done even more.
Audric Estime (20-123) and Logan Diggs (20-85) carried the majority of the workload on a day when no rushing attempt number would be high enough.
4th down stop before halftime
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
The moment this game felt like there was no way Notre Dame was losing to me came late in the second quarter when after Drew Pyne’s interception, the Irish defense forced a three-and-out. Facing a 4th and 7 from the Notre Dame 39-yard line though, Syracuse opted to go for it, and when the pressure came from up front, the Irish took over in great field position.
Pyne bounced back on the following drive to march Notre Dame right down the field and to put the Irish ahead 21-7 just seconds before halftime. With Notre Dame set to receive the second-half kickoff, it felt like the floodgates were about to open…
But They Didn't
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Up 21-7 and having the ball to start the second half, it felt like Notre Dame was about to blow things open as I mentioned above. But, surprise-surprise, they didn’t.
Punt, field goal, punt, punt.
That’s how the second half started for Notre Dame offensively and wouldn’t you know it, Syracuse was able to crawl back within seven and had the ball with a chance to tie things up before the biggest play of the turned the tides for good.
Thank you, Howard Cross
Howard Cross earlier this year against Cal. USA TODAY Sports
Syracuse had the ball with a chance to tie things up and was moving toward midfield when the most important batted ball of the season occurred and Notre Dame took full advantage.
Howard Cross III was able to get his big paw on a Carlos Del Rio-Wilson pass and Marist Liufau dove to bring in the interception which immediately put an end to Syracuse’s comeback bid.
After a heavy dose of Chris Tyree to start the drive, Estime capped things off with an 11-yard dash to stretch the Notre Dame lead back to 14.
Fair Catch U is now Punt Block U
A week after Isaiah Foskey blocked a pair of punts in the first quarter alone, the Irish special teams were at it again as Clarence Lewis blocked a fourth-quarter punt attempt by Syracuse that set the Irish up for another score which increased the lead to 38-17.
Remember when Notre Dame would hardly pressure punts and then sit back and call fair catches seemingly 97.4% of the time? Feels like a lot longer ago than just a season ago.
I don’t know what kind of paycheck special teams coordinator Brian Mason brings home but he deserves a raise as the special team’s units continue to impress for Notre Dame.
Odds and Ends
The [autotag]Brandon Joseph[/autotag] pick-six was an electric way to start the game as it felt long overdue for Notre Dame to find the endzone by way of something other than an offensive player. It would have been nice to follow it up by not allowing Syracuse to immediately march down the field and tie things back up but hey, progress!
Remember at the start of the year when the offensive line was a mess? Well, veteran o-line coach Harry Hiestand appears to have not lost his touch as the offensive line was fantastic Saturday. Drew Pyne had clean pockets much of the afternoon and as well as the running backs played, Notre Dame was winning up front regularly, something they didn’t do most of September. Props to Hiestand and his unit!
Primed for Clemson
Let’s not get confused and think just because Notre Dame beat UNLV and Syracuse on consecutive weekends that the Irish are suddenly firing on all cylinders but there has been visible evidence of growth for a couple of weeks in a row.
Nobody is going to give Notre Dame a chance next week against unbeaten Clemson and with how the Irish have played at home, that’s deserved, but they have to feel a lot better about their own chances coming off a rather dominating performance against the 16th ranked team in the country than they have at probably any other point this year.