All the makings for a special season at Notre Dame

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — This has all the makings of a special year.

The Notre Dame football team started its season cloaked in distraction and minus some significant talent.

No worry. Just focus and keep winning.

Fall behind against Purdue.

Keep grinding.

Three first-half turnovers, five overall, Saturday against Syracuse.

Buckle the chinstrap, fight through a 31-15 victory.

Now, for what was supposed to be a meat grinder.

Five weeks into the college football season, the next three games on Notre Dame’s schedule seem to be much less daunting than they did on Aug. 30.

Stanford is hardly the smash-mouth powerhouse that dominated the Pac-12 in recent years. Everybody thought North Carolina was going to be tough until East Carolina pinned 70 on the Tar Heels eight days ago, and Clemson followed Saturday with 50. Then, the last few weeks, Florida State has shown it can be mortal.

Hmmmm…. If Notre Dame is 7-0 going into Navy, it will be ranked No. 1, occupying the pole position for a playoff berth.

It could happen. Really.

It’s nowhere near as far-fetched as it seemed before the Rice game. Whether the competition has failed to live up to its early billing (consider Michigan, Carolina and Arizona State, which gave up 62 points to UCLA Thursday night) or the Irish (especially their defense) have exceeded projections, circumstances are falling into place in Notre Dame’s favor.

Who ever dreamed it would be the fourth game when the Irish finally yielded their first rushing touchdown?

Saturday night, Notre Dame overcame quarterback Everett Golson’s first major mistakes of the season – two fumbles and an interception – and never panicked. Those turnovers cost the Irish at least 10 points, but they still led 14-3 at the break.

The best thing Irish head coach/offensive play-caller Brian Kelly did Saturday night was let his athletes be athletes. Notre Dame’s offense attacked the Syracuse perimeter. Lots of quick passes. Give guys like Corey Robinson and Will Fuller the opportunity to break a big play with a block or two.

Fuller scored both touchdowns on passes of 23 and 72 yards.

The best play Fulller made all night wasn’t a reception. Actually, it was a flinch. Fuller was flagged for a false start, killing a play that ended in running back Tarean Folston fumbling at the end. Three plays and a pass interference penalty later, Fuller caught a screen and found a seam for six points.

Notre Dame had two pretty big boo-boos. Durell Eskridge came up with a pick-six with about five minutes to play. It didn’t affect the outcome, but made the score closer than it should be. Also, midway through the third quarter, the Irish allowed a very unathletic-looking Syracuse punter Riley Dixon to run 42 yards on a fake punt to the Irish 31.

The defense, led by safety Max Redfield, got the special teams off the hook by stoning the Orange on a fourth-and-one situation four plays later.

Matthias Farley, who has settled in well to his new role as a cornerback, had a big hit in the open field and also came up with a nifty interception that led to a Notre Dame touchdown.

Freshman defensive end Andrew Trumbetti made an impact. He sacked Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt in the first half, then showed his speed when he chased Syracuse running back Adonis Ameen-Moore from the hash marks to the sideline and kept him from turning the corner.

So many question marks five weeks ago have played themselves into exclamation points.

That’s the formula for a winning team. Career years. Stepping up to play above and beyond. Special in the red zone. Experiencing five turnovers and living to tell about it. Having what appears to be a formidable schedule that hardly measures up to expectations.

That’s what makes a special year.


Notre Dame's Will Fuller scores during the first half of Notre Dame's 31-15 win over Syracuse. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)