5 keys for Notre Dame against Syracuse: Limit turnovers, win third down

Staff reports
ND Insider

Here are five keys for No. 3 Notre Dame when it clashes with Syracuse in Yankee Stadium on Saturday.

TURNOVER BATTLE

Notre Dame has generated just three turnovers in the last four games, with two of them coming against Florida State last week. Syracuse does not turn it over often, but ND can still take advantage of quarterback Eric Dungey’s occasional errant throws. The Orange’s opportunistic defense ties for third in turnovers gained, averaging 2.5 per contest. The Irish don’t necessarily have to win the turnover battle, but they cannot convincingly lose it.

WIN THIRD DOWN

SU shines in a few offensive categories — it is No. 14 in total offense, No. 7 in scoring offense and No. 27 in rushing offense. Where the Orange can struggle is in pass efficiency (No. 68), third down efficiency (No. 61) and yards per play (No. 60). SU capitalizes on forcing turnovers, field position and its solid special teams by methodically marching down the field. With senior Nick Coleman the starting nickel back again, he will be pivotal in keeping SU off the field. Most times the Irish have been burned is at nickel on third down.

OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY

The SU defensive line is not quite as talented as that of Florida State, but quarterback Ian Book will run into trouble if he is not careful. Along with forcing turnovers at a high rate, the Orange are No. 10 in sacks and No. 26 in tackles for loss. Book has not faced a pass efficiency defense this good (No. 49) all season, so he will need quality protection up front and an established running game. Offensive linemen Liam Eichenberg, Robert Hainsey and Tommy Kraemer must provide consistency, while Aaron Banks will need to continue progressing.

KEEP FOOT ON THE GAS

Taking risks comes at a cost for SU, which ranks No. 97 in total defense and ties for No. 71 in scoring defense. Book will face a banged up secondary that allowed 44 to Pittsburgh, 37 to North Carolina and 41 to N.C. State. With the Orange’s elite ability to score points, there might not be a time for the Irish to play not to lose. Book must continue to take shots like he did in the third quarter against Northwestern.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Orange present the best special teams unit the Irish will face all season. SU ranks No. 4 in kickoff return defense, No. 16 in net punting, ties for No. 11 in punt returns and has a field goal kicker in freshman Andre Szmyt who is 27-of-29 with three kicks of 50-plus yards. Meanwhile, ND has struggled with kicking inbounds, punting inside the 20, committing penalties and other miscellaneous mistakes. The Irish special teams has not cost them much yet, but it could in a close game.

Syracuse freshman field goal kicker Andre Szmyt is 27-of-29 this season, with three kicks of 50-plus yards.
The Notre Dame offensive line will need to take care of quarterback Ian Book (12) as Syracuse ranks No. 10 in the country in sacks.

SYRACUSE (8-2) vs. NOTRE DAME (10-0)

At Yankee Stadium (54,251), Bronx, N.Y.

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.

TV: NBC

Series history: Notre Dame leads series, 5-3

Betting line: Notre Dame by 10½