Marvin Graves remaining in the game after starting a bench-clearing brawl was certainly unfathomable, but Syracuse’s second best road win of all time came at the most trying of times.
Greg Robinson was already on the way out. After the Orange endured a 39-14 beatdown at the hands of UConn, Athletic Director Daryl Gross announced that SU would be moving on from Robinson, who had only won three Big East games in his four years as head coach. However, the former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator was allowed to coach the last two games of the 2008 season, at Notre Dame and home against Cincinnati.
Notre Dame’s coach was also on the hot seat. Charlie Weis had not impressed in his tenure as head man of the Fighting Irish. While ND did have Jimmy Clausen, one of the most highly regarded quarterbacks in college football, the team was not performing to the high expectations of the fanbase. The Irish came into the Syracuse game with a 6-4 record, and after SU, had to travel to Memorial Coliseum and face fifth-ranked USC.
The contest began as a back-and-forth affair. Both teams kicked field goals in the first quarter. In the second, Syracuse’s Curtis Brinkley found paydirt from a yard away for the game’s first score, but Notre Dame took over the rest of the first half. The Irish made another field goal, then Clausen connected with Golden Tate for a 35-yard touchdown with two seconds left.
Notre Dame dominated the third quarter as well. Clausen found Tate for another score, and a Brinkley fumble led to another Brandon Walker field goal. ND led 23-10 at the end of the third.
Finally, Syracuse woke up in the fourth quarter. Antwon Bailey carried the ball six times in SU’s first possession of the fourth, and ran it in from 26 to make it a one-possession game. Both teams traded punts, and then after a long Irish drive, Walker missed from 49 yards out. A pass interference call on the next series saved the Orange from a fourth-and-one, and on third-and-eight at the ND 11-yard line, Cameron Dantley (son of Irish basketball legend Adrian Dantley) hit Donte Davis for the score. Syracuse led 24-23, but with 42 ticks left, the Irish still had a chance.
Clausen and Tate connected one more time for a 40 yard gain, and set ND up for a game-winning field goal.
Winning inside Notre Dame Stadium is never easy. And with a coach on the way out and nothing to play for besides pride, Syracuse was behind the eight ball. But whether it was ND’s failures or SU’s grit, the Orange pulling out an improbable win in South Bend has to be the second best road win of all time.