The scene was set: a sold-out top-15 matchup in a huge venue four hours away from the Syracuse campus with the opportunity to spoil Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff hopes in the most important college football game of the week. It was probably the biggest Syracuse football game in the 21st century. But on the big stage, the Orange struggled mightily in a 36-3 loss to the Fighting Irish.
Pretty much nothing went right for Syracuse in this game and that included losing Eric Dungey to an undisclosed upper body injury in the first quarter when the Orange were already down 10-0. Even before that, Dungey threw a really ugly interception that ended in a Notre Dame field goal and a two-score lead.
The offense didn’t get any better when Tommy DeVito came into the game. The redshirt freshman finished the day 14-31 for 105 yards and threw two interceptions along the way. It didn’t help that Syracuse’s typically reliable receiving corps dropped a bunch of passes, including two beautiful long balls from DeVito right near the goal line.
A big portion of SU’s offensive problems came from the Orange’s inability to stop the Irish’s ferocious pass rush. The Irish had six sacks on the night to go along with four quarterback hurries. There wasn’t a single drive or throw where Dungey or DeVito looked at all comfortable in the pocket. Constantly having to escape the grasp of some of the best defensive linemen in the country will do that to you.
And it wasn’t just the offense where the pass rush was the problem. Defensively, Syracuse had just two sacks and three QB hurries. Notre Dame QB Ian Book had all the time in the world to do whatever he wanted, and he absolutely picked the Orange apart and for huge chunks at a time. The Irish had 12 plays of at least 10 yards on the afternoon, including four of at least 30. Book finished the day 23-37 for 292 yards and 2 TDs.
Heck, even Andre Szmyt missed a 23-yard field goal in this game. He’s been one of the most automatic kickers in the country this season, so when’s he’s missing chip shots, you know things are going wrong.
But with all the bad that happened in this game, there were a few bright spots to take away for Syracuse. First and foremost, the red zone defense was absolutely outstanding for the Orange. On two of Notre Dame’s first three drives, SU stonewalled a pretty potent offense at the goal line and held them to field goals in situations that could have easily resulted in seven points. When you add in a goal-line pick against a top-40 red zone offense, it becomes even more impressive. If it wasn’t for the D stepping up in the red zone, this could have been a 40- or 50-point game rather than just 33. Quite honestly, the 36 points that SU gave up did no justice to just how well the defense played considering the circumstances.
“I wouldn’t say the defense went wrong,” Dino Babers said, “The offense really didn’t help those guys. They beat us with 33 [sic] points. That’s not a lot of points to us. They were out there on the field so much and they were so tired, it really wasn’t fair to them to try to get after that jackrabbit [Ian Book] like that.”
Andre Cisco was a big part of the defense’s success as he continues to impress in his true freshman season. Cisco ended the night with 9 tackles, including one for a loss, an interception and a pass breakup. Perhaps his most impressive play of the day was on a jet sweep to Notre Dame speedster Chris Finke. He stayed in front of him, squared him up and made a fantastic open-field tackle against one of the quickest and shiftiest players in the country. It’s almost become a weekly tradition to be impressed with what Cisco does game in and game out.
On the offensive end, the standout was Moe Neal. In a game that saw the starting quarterback go down early in the first quarter and the backup QB under constant duress, Neal was a calming and consistent presence for SU. His 18 carries for 74 yards were really the only offense Syracuse was able to muster for most of the game so kudos to him for being effective against a top-15 defense in the country.
Despite missing the field goal, Andre Szmyt was also a bright spot because of what the one field goal he did make meant. First and foremost, it insured that SU wouldn’t get shut out and could leave Yankee Stadium with a least a little bit of pride left in the tank. Secondly, the make was Szymt’s 28th of the season which now stands alone as the most field goals made by an ACC kicker in a single season. The walk-on turned superstar now sits just three field goals away from tying Georgia’s Billy Bennett (2003) for the most field goals in a single season. That’s something really special that came from an otherwise uninspiring game.
All things considered, it was a disappointing day for Syracuse. This matchup had so much hype and so much potential to be something incredibly special for the Orange, not only for this year’s team, but for the program in general. Unfortunately for SU, it ran into an absolute buzzsaw in #3 Notre Dame. The Irish proved that they are one of the best teams in the country and that they deserve (for now) to be in the College Football Playoff.
But there’s still one more regular season game to be played for Syracuse. SU travels to Boston College for a matchup with a whole host of bowl implications. The Eagles will be coming in on a two-game losing streak after losses to Clemson and Florida State in each of the last two weeks. The game starts at 12 next Saturday and we’ll have you covered on gameday and throughout the week right here on OrangeFizz.net and on Twitter @OrangeFizz.