For the second time in less than two calendar years, Notre Dame has lost five games over a six-game stretch. This time around, the Irish dropped their first four to high-quality competition: Stanford, Ohio State, Texas and Michigan State.
But Saturday’s loss to Duke was much different. The Blue Devils scored more points against Notre Dame than they had in their previous 10 quarters againstNorthwestern, Wake Forest, and North Carolina Wesleyan. That performance led to the ouster of ND defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
Now the Irish head to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., to square off against the 2-2 Syracuse Orange. After two blowouts at the hands of Louisville and South Florida, Syracuse held off Connecticut and former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.
Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (East Rutherford, N.J.)
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Notre Dame -11
Three Things to Watch
1. Notre Dame Overcoming Adversity
The Irish actually came out guns blazing versus Duke. But they allowed a Duke kickoff return for a touchdown that cut their lead to 14-7, things fell apart for the Irish. The week before, with the Irish up 7-0, a miscue on a punt return led to a turnover, and Michigan State immediately assumed control of the game. Notre Dame will make mistakes in this game; it’s inevitable. How they respond will be telling.
2. Syracuse Receivers vs. Notre Dame Secondary
The members of the Irish defensive backfield are either young, not playing well, or both. This week, they will have to contend with an elite Syracuse pass-catching group. Amba Etta-Tawo is making the most of his final season after transferring in from Maryland. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder leads the nation with 706 receiving yards, and his 40 catches rank fourth. He is joined by Ervin Philips and his 36 catches. Steve Ishmael was the Cuse's leading returning receiver and is now a reliable third option. The Irish have generated virtually no pass rush this season, and if Orange quarterback Eric Dungey is comfortable in the pocket, it could be a long afternoon for the Notre Dame secondary.
3. Syracuse Defense
It’s not like the Syracuse defense is a Rembrandt, either, as it actually is statistically worse than the Notre Dame defense. UConn, who ranks 102nd in total offense, amassed 425 yards against the Orange D last week. Syracuse would love to slow down a struggling Irish ground game and force Notre Dame to become one dimensional. But DeShone Kizer and the talented ND offense will be a big challenge for the Orange defense.
The Notre Dame defense under Brian VanGorder had difficulties with teams that played up tempo. So it’s interesting that in their first game following his departure, the Irish face a Dino Babers-coached offense that likes to move quickly. Syracuse has some major weapons on offense, but the Orange defense is not good at all. For the second week in a row, it’s the Irish psyche that is the most important factor in the game. Notre Dame is a much more skilled team than Syracuse, but will the Irish be focused for 60 minutes on both sides of the ball? I have my doubts. The Irish will win, but it will not be easy.
Prediction: Notre Dame 42, Syracuse 35
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.