No. 16 Syracuse dropped its second consecutive game yesterday. Notre Dame took down the Orange 41-24 inside the Dome for SU’s biggest defeat since last year’s season finale. Let’s take a look at the numbers that factored into ‘Cuse’s demise on Halloween weekend.
Syracuse accomplished something rare yesterday by losing on a day in which it played such stout pass defense. SU held Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne to just nine completions on 19 attempts, 116 yards, and intercepted him once. However, Syracuse’s defeat marks the first time in 3,303 days that an Orange defense held an opposing passer to fewer than 10 completions and 120 or fewer yards in a losing effort. Syracuse had won the last four instances.
The last time a ‘Cuse defense met those conditions and still fell was back on October 13th, 2013 at Georgia Tech. In an eventual bowl-victory season for the Orange, the triple-option Yellow Jackets bludgeoned SU 56-0 down in Atlanta. GT quarterback Vad Lee completed all three passes he threw on the day for 88 yards – one of them to future Raider Darren Waller – and ran for 72 more as the Yellow Jackets stung SU for 394 rushing yards and seven scores on the ground.
Notre Dame’s passing attack didn’t have to scorch the turf because its running game picked up the slack. Head coach Marcus Freeman ran his offense right at SU’s defense the same way Clemson did a week ago and had great success. Power back Audric Estime was particularly hard for SU to deal with; he finished the game with 20 carries for 123 yards and two scores. Estime’s banner day marks the latest notch in a rough trend for Dino Babers-led squads against good running backs and the 14th time since Babers took over that an opposing back ran the ball 20 or more times in a game and averaged 6.0 or more yards-per-carry.
The list below Estime is littered with NFL talent, from Lamar Jackson (2016) to Dalvin Cook (2016) to Cam Akers (twice, 2017 and 2019) to AJ Dillon (twice, 2017 and 2019). You don’t have to look to the pros or very far back to find the last back to meet that criteria, though – Clemson’s Will Shipley turned the trick just last week (27 carries, 172 yards). The only player to have such a good day in a losing effort against SU was Virginia Tech’s Malachi Thomas last season (21 carries, 151 yards). Syracuse usually doesn’t win when it lets an opposing back run through it so thoroughly, and didn’t yesterday.
Notre Dame’s control of the ground game and beating of SU’s defense into submission helped it establish an unyielding tempo. Syracuse’s defense eventually tired, but it’s difficult to blame them. The Orange were on the field much more than usual, even for a team that runs a fairly up-tempo offense. Notre Dame held the football for 37:40 (2,260 seconds) of game clock. Without the football, neither Garrett Shrader nor Carlos Del Rio-Wilson ever got into a good rhythm under center.
We’ve written before about how Dino Babers’ offenses seem to perform well when they don’t win the time of possession battle, but those trends usually come through when the difference is only by a few minutes. Notre Dame’s 37:40 of control is the most an opponent has held the ball against Syracuse since Louisville’s 41:46 back in 2020. During that miserable 30-0 loss, Orange quarterback Jacobian Morgan threw for 40 yards and SU dropped to 1-8. Times have changed and Syracuse is a better team now, but it’s still hard to win when you can’t control the football.
Finally, the lingering question as Syracuse heads down to Pittsburgh this coming Saturday is who starts at quarterback. After yesterday’s game, Dino Babers left no doubt that Shrader is his starter when healthy, but that health is still in question. If Shrader’s ailing ankle bothers him and he can’t go this Saturday, it could force redshirt-freshman Carlos Del Rio-Wilson into his first start in Orange.
As for this Saturday, neither Shrader nor Del Rio-Wilson set the world alight through the air. Shrader looked jittery and indecisive from the get-go and worsened after he threw a first-play pick-six to ND safety Brandon Joseph. After a 5-14, 35-yard first half, Shrader hit the bench for Del Rio-Wilson to go 11-22 for 190 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in the final 30 minutes. Both passers threw over 10 times and completed less than 50% of their attempts. It’s the first time SU saw two players do that in the same game in 1,107 days.
That may sound like a large number, but Syracuse’s current senior class had the chance to see the last occurrence in person. On October 18th, 2019, Tommy DeVito started for SU against none other than Pitt inside the Dome and went 11-23 for 101 yards before a re-aggravated shoulder injury pushed him to the bench. Redshirt-senior Clayton Welch then entered to complete 8 of 20 passes with two scores – including a 94-yarder to wideout Taj Harris – but finished up on the losing end of a 27-20 final.