Lesar: Keys to the game for Notre Dame-Syracuse

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune


The Notre Dame football program has been in turmoil since last Saturday’s loss to Duke. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s firing can either shake the Irish out of their malaise or send them into a deep spiral for the remainder of the season. Saturday’s matinee performance might go a long way toward mapping out the path Notre Dame will travel going forward. How will the shake-up translate to the football field?


This won’t be an easy offense to try to get healthy against. New coach Dino Babers, who had success at Bowling Green as an audition for this gig, has installed a high-octane attack focused on throwing the ball vertically. Amba Etta-Tawo, a 6-foot-2, 202-pound graduate transfer from Maryland, has been the dynamic piece to the puzzle. With sophomore Eric Dungey doing most of the slinging, Etta-Tawo has 40 receptions and leads the country with 706 yards. He also has five touchdowns. Syracuse is averaging 372 passing yards.


The Syracuse defense has been the wild card in the equation. Syracuse has yielded an average yield of 467 yards and 34.5 points. And that’s with teams like Colgate, South Florida and Connecticut (OK, Louisville is legit) on the schedule. Give Notre Dame’s offense an opportunity to operate against that defense and the Irish should be able to put up some big numbers of their own.


Notre Dame’s running game will be a primary area of concern this week. According to head coach Brian Kelly, quarterback DeShone Kizer has been too involved in the rushing offense. He’s being exposed to too many hits. After the way Dexter Williams stood out (breaking a couple tackles in a 13-yard touchdown run) in the loss to Duke, look for him to carry more of the load along with Josh Adams and Tarean Folston.


ESPN probably ordered an extra camera for this game. And it will be trained on Kelly the entire time. Kelly said earlier in the week he is done trying to bottle his emotions on the sidelines, a similar emotion that he’s trying to get from his players on the field. Of course, watching an untethered Kelly could make for more entertaining TV than what’s happening inside the lines.

Syracuse's Amba Etta-Tawo (7) catches a touchdown over the defense of Connecticut's Jamar Summers (21) during the first half of an NCAA football game at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in East Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)