The sequencing as of late has been quite similar for both the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Syracuse Orange: win going into the bye week and come out of the bye with a victory over a ranked opponent before losing a one-possession game to a rival.
Now, No. 16 Syracuse will look to bounce back from that loss — its first of the 2022 college football season — when it hosts Notre Dame inside the JMA Wireless Dome (formerly the Carrier Dome) to bring the month of October to a close.
Notre Dame (4-3) bounced back from that Week 7 home loss to Stanford with a 44-21 win — also at home — over UNLV, fueled by easily the Fighting Irish's best start to a game all season. There was plenty of talk after that loss about Notre Dame needing a fast start to revitalize the success it had on offense during its three-game winning streak, and the Irish did just that — on both sides of the ball — with three 20-yard plays (after just one in the first six games) and a pair of blocked punts.
Syracuse (6-1 overall) hopes to have a similar level of success after losing 27-21 to Clemson, a game they were in control of after building a 21-10 halftime lead. But a scoreless second half amid 17 unanswered fourth-quarter points by the Tigers helped the hosts storm back and remain undefeated going into their own bye… after which they'll head to Notre Dame Stadium for the second time in three years.
Speaking of recent sequences, Saturday will mark the 11th meeting between Notre Dame and Syracuse. The Fighting Irish lead the series 7-3 on the heels of wins in each of the last four matchups and five of the last six. Those five victories also came by an average of nearly 23 points per game, something both fan bases are probably well aware of.
Notre Dame at No. 16 Syracuse
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
A hot start against UNLV wasn't a return to normal production for the Notre Dame offense — it was a clear departure from previous weeks. The Fighting Irish had scored just six first-quarter points all season on a pair of field goals, one against Ohio State in Week 1 and another against BYU in Week 6. Fast forward to last week when ND collected 23 points in the first 15 minutes, including the team's first two first-quarter touchdowns of the season. Add to that the offense's big-play breakthroughs against the Rebels — the Irish tallied three plays of 20-plus after posting just one in the first six games — and the offense clearly found a rhythm largely concealed in the first half of the season.
The 44 points — their second-highest output of the season, trailing only the 45-point showing in Week 4 at North Carolina — came from a fairly balanced attack, with its versatile array of options on the ground quite apparent once again. Logan Diggs led the way with 130 yards on 28 carries, but it was Chris Tyree (10 att., 43 yds.) and Audric Estime (3, 17) who found the end zone. Diggs reached personal-best totals in both attempts and yards and he has gained 280 yards on the ground over the last three games.
Drew Pyne completed 14 of his 28 passes for 205 yards and a pair of touchdowns to supplement the running game. Pyne's first score went to tight end Michael Mayer, while his second came on a jet sweep shovel pass to Braden Lenzy.
Mayer's touchdown catch tied him with Ken MacAfee for the most (15) by a Notre Dame tight end. Mayer's 115 yards (on just six receptions) brought his career total to 1,816, meaning he very well could pass Tyler Eifert (1,840) in the record book on Saturday.
But Mayer and the rest of the Irish's passing attack will face a stiff test against Syracuse. The Orange lead the ACC and come in at 10th nationally in pass defense at 173 yards allowed per game. Cuse also boasts a conference-leading and top-20 defense overall at 296.3 yards per game.
Given those numbers, it should not come as a surprise that the Orange have not been squeezed on the scoreboard often this season. They are giving up just 15.1 points per game, which ranks sixth in FBS entering this matchup. Clemson's 27 points last week were the most surrendered by Syracuse all season. The only other team to surpass 21 was Purdue back on Sept. 17, a 32-29 Orange win.
When Syracuse Has the Ball
The Orange's offense may not appear as high on the ACC or FBS leaderboards as the defense, but it's still been able to get the job done. Syracuse is ninth in the conference in total yards per game (412.6) but fifth in scoring at 34 points per contest. A big reason for that is the unit's efficiency in the red zone. The Orange have scored on 28 of 30 trips (19 TDs, 9 FGs) inside the 20-yard line this season, and one of the "failed" ones came when the team kneeled three times while inside the red zone to close the 59-0 win over FCS Wagner in Week 5.
The driver of Syracuse's offense is Garrett Shrader, who is second in the ACC in completion rate entering this game, trailing North Carolina's Drake Maye by less than half a percentage point. Shrader is completing 69.7 percent of his pass attempts, an impressive number that's boosted by his perfect 17-for-17 day against Wagner. That marked the first time in school history that a quarterback attempted more than 10 passes and completed every one.
Shrader also contributes to the Cuse's running game as he's scored six times on the ground and is the team's leading rusher behind Sean Tucker. After leading the ACC with 1,496 yards last season, Tucker is averaging 100 yards per game this season, a mark he has hit in three separate games. He has a total of 15 100-yard games in his career, which ties him with Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Csonka for second in school history.
Last week against Clemson, Tucker averaged an impressive 10.8 yards per carry, but he only got five attempts as Shrader led the way with 71 rushing yards (on 21 carries). It was just the second time this season that Tucker didn't lead the way on the ground, and you can be assured that head coach Dino Babers will make sure the All-ACC performer will get the ball early and often against Notre Dame.
Tucker also can be a factor as a receiver out of the backfield. He's second on the team in receptions (28), and he's caught two touchdown passes as well, one of them last week against Clemson. Shrader's top target has been Oronde Gadsden II, who is second in the ACC in receiving yards (593), and third in both receptions (37) and touchdowns (five).
The Orange have done well to limit turnovers with just seven — four interceptions, three fumbles — this season, while generating takeaways continues to be a struggle for Notre Dame's defense. The Irish's four are tied with New Mexico State and Fresno State for the fewest among FBS teams. They also are the only team with just a single interception entering the final weekend of October. Despite this, Notre Dame ranks among the top 30 units in both total (341.4 ypg) and scoring (21.9 ppg) defenses. A pass rush that has generated 20 sacks (tied for 23rd) has helped make up for the lack of turnovers.
But one spot where the Irish found a surge against the Rebels last week came on special teams when Isaiah Foskey blocked punts on back-to-back first-quarter drives deep within UNLV territory. Those brought the team's total to four for the season, tied with Central Michigan and Rutgers for second in FBS (South Carolina has five). That'll be tough to replicate, however, against a Syracuse team yet to allow a kick or punt to be blocked this season.
Notre Dame has done quite well against Syracuse throughout the course of their matchups, especially lately, but a fast start will be critical in determining the outcome on Saturday. The Irish need to put together another opening frame similar to the UNLV game when they scored 23 points. On the flip side, the Orange have surrendered a total of 23 points in the first quarter all season. Notre Dame comes into this game with some momentum and will need to carry that over if it wants to post a second straight win over a ranked opponent (defeated then-No. 16 BYU 28-20 in Las Vegas on Oct. 8). It will be close and probably come down to the wire, but look for the Irish to lean on precedent and leave the Dome with another win over Syracuse.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Syracuse 26
Podcast: Complete Week 9 Preview, Predictions, and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the editor-in-chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
*Price as of publication.