Notre Dame finds a weird way to win

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There seemed something fitting about Syracuse punter Riley Dixon not only recording the longest run of the night, but that fact he ended up as his team’s leading rusher.

And that Groupons helped pad the attendance at MetLife Stadium to produce the largest college crowd in the history of the 5-year-old structure (76,802.)

Eighth-ranked Notre Dame’s 31-15 takedown of Syracuse was as confounding as it was satisfying, launching Notre Dame into a defining October with a 4-0 record but still very much lacking an identity.

Unless you count a defense that was supposed to be the lead weight that the Irish offense was going to have to carry.

That side of the ball, loaded with as much inexperience as ambition, continues to drive the dream that the Irish will evolve into something complete, something shocking, something that invited comparisons to 2012 without the unhappy ending.

It’s not that the ND offense didn’t show up and at times bedazzle against an Orange defense that was at least in its run defense and ability to pressure the quarterback statistically the best the Irish had faced to date.

But five turnovers, four by quarterback Everett Golson, made it a kind of love/hate night for Irish head coach Brian Kelly. And one for history.

With Kyle Brindza’s 37-yard field goal with 1:57 left, this became the first Irish team to score 30-plus points in its first four games of the season since the 1943 national champs roared out of the gates with six such games.

“You could tell in the locker room there was not the normal chatter, excitement,” Kelly said. “They knew they did not play the kind of football necessary each and every week.

“This game will get you beat week in and out. Made enough big plays to overcome them. It just so happened our turnovers were in plus (Syracuse) territory.

“I am a much better teacher when we win. Our quarterback did a lot of good things, but that's a good learning tool.”

In between Golson’s first four miscues of the season, he was beyond brilliant, completing an FBS-tying 26 consecutive completions within a single game, a mark he may or may not share with former East Carolina QB Dominique Davis.

Syracuse’s stat crew, commissioned to compile the official numbers from the game for the NCAA, insisted it was 26. The ABC-TV crew, broadcasting the game, insisted it was 25. For Saturday night, at least, Golson goes into the record books, subject to further review on Sunday.

The (supposed?) record-tying throw was a 13-yard TD pass to sophomore Torii Hunter Jr., who made his collegiate debut on Saturday night. It was Hunter’s first career catch, but not his first statistic. On the play before Hunter had a six-yard run.

What everyone could agree on from a numbers standpoint was Golson going 32-of-39 for 362 yards and four TDs against the Orange (2-2). All but the attempts stand as new career-highs. He also obliterated the old school record for consecutive passes (14), held by three players.

But Golson threw two interceptions, one a pick six, and fumbled three times, losing two. Running back Greg Bryant accounted for the other turnover on a fumble.

Bryant’s lost fumble was the first the an Irish running back this year, the third since the start of the 2013 season and just the 11th of the five-year Kelly Era.

The Irish came into the game with one turnover combined in their first three games.

“I have to be on my game all the time,” Golson said. “I kind of me reverted back a bit to my younger days. I expect more of me. I've got to be better.”

Golson had a streak of 120 attempts without a pick, dating back to the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, although he did not play last season because of an academic suspension. That’s 12 short of the second-longest streak in school history. Brady Quinn holds the school record with 226.

Syracuse cornerback Brandon Reddish got the first Golson interception and also recovered the first Golson fumble.

Golson fumbled once in each of ND’s first two possessions, the first truncated an impressive drive than ended at the Syracuse 16. Golson had scrambled for 22 yards and originally was ruled down before he lost the ball, but replay overturned that.

On ND’s next possession, Golson was sacked on third down with the ball coming lose, but Irish guard Steve Elmer kept it from becoming ND’s second turnover of the game.

The scoreless tie was finally broken on a 95-yard, 12-play drive by the Irish. Will Fuller took a swing pass on the left side of the field, cut back across the field and picked up blockers and covered the finally 23 yards for his fourth touchdown of the season.

On the next possession, Golson found Fuller again, this time behind the defense for a 72-yard TD pass on the first and only play of the drive.

The Irish squandered a chance to score again just before the half. Golson worked Notre Dame down to the Syracuse 15-yard line. After a 23-yard pass play to Chris Brown, Golson tried to spike the ball to stop the clock.

But the ball slipped out of his hand and he went to spike it and he batted it down to make it look like a spike. The officials initially ruled it an incomplete pass and ND was in the red zone with 11 seconds left and one timeout.

But replay reversed the decision and the spike was ruled a fumble with Syracuse recovering.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

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Notre Dame's Everett Golson threw four touchdown passes but also committed four turnovers in ND's 31-15 win over Syracuse Saturday night. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)