Chat transcript: What must happen for Notre Dame to beat Syracuse? And other burning questions.

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — As he does each Tuesday, starting at 11 a.m., Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino answered reader questions in a live chat format. A transcript, edited for length and clarity, appears below.

Jake, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: Hello, do you think ND is considering Steve Angeli at QB because I think we’ve seen Pyne’s ceiling and it appears to be pretty low.

Mike Berardino: Saratoga Jake, good morning. When you say "considering," that could mean one of two things. If we're talking consideration of a QB change, no, we're not even close to that. Drew Pyne is a "warrior," per Marcus Freeman's description this week, and he has been a pleasant surprise, on balance, since taking over for Tyler Buchner. For instance, I didn't think he'd be this much of a scrambling threat when the pocket breaks down. He's also been more successful throwing down field (20-plus yards) than expected, but his accuracy in the range of 10-19 yards hasn't been as good. The biggest factor for Pyne, it seems, is a successful running game. Per Pro Football Focus' data base, Pyne is a 73% passer on play-action attempts (5 TD/0 INT) but that drops to 61% and 7/3 when play action isn't used.

Notre Dame football's depth chart for Saturday's game at No. 16 Syracuse

Fumble-itis is wearing on Audric Estime and Notre Dame football

Now, if "considering" Angeli means making sure he gets enough work in practice and that he has a significant-enough slice of the playbook with which to work should he enter the game, it sounds as if that's happening. Freeman on Monday said he spends "a lot of time" discussing the Angeli contingencies with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees: "What is our package (that) we have for Steve Angeli? We're not going to ask him to do everything we ask Drew Pyne to do, but we have to give him enough that he has a chance to be successful but also make sure it's small enough that we're not asking him to be confused and do things that he's not capable of doing." That all makes sense to me, especially in light of the shot Pyne took last Saturday against UNLV.

Frank from Royse City, Texas: Can ND run against Syracuse? I don’t think they can pass against them because Mayer will be tripled teamed.

Mike Berardino: Texas Frank, would you take an average rush of 5.9 yards on Saturday for the Irish? That's what Clemson's top two running backs (former ND recruit Will Shipley and 230-pound sidekick Phil Mafah) put on the Orange last weekend on 45 combined attempts. Of course, N.C. State could only muster 2.5 yards per attempt in the previous game, and that was with QB Jack Chambers as the Wolfpack's leading rusher. Syracuse's run defense ranks 76th in national efficiency, per, but Notre Dame's run game efficiency is just 93rd. As for Mayer, he'll draw tons of attention, as always. Call it "cloud" or being doubled, but there is no triple coverage at this level. He'll do his share of damage, especially on third down, no matter what the Orange and third-year DC Tony White throw at him.

Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Audric Estime is too good a running back to continue fumbling as he has. How does the coaching staff correct his issue and how much of the fumbling is now mental for Estime?

Mike Berardino: Hi Alan, thanks for stopping by. I agree with you that Estime is far too, well, estimable to toss him aside after three lost fumbles in the past four games. After writing a feature story during August training camp about Deland McCullough and his big bag of ball-security toys, I have a hard time imagining any other program, college or pro, placing a greater emphasis on the concept. What could be happening, along with a mental block, is that opposing defenses are now circling No. 7 in their film study and taking extra rips at the ball any time Estime has it tucked under his massive forearm. I'm sure McCullough and Estime are spending extra time making sure everything is in order in terms of technique and the way the Bulldozer is holding the ball, but in the meantime game opportunities figure to be slanted a little more toward Logan Diggs and Chris Tyree. You can't bury Estime, but for the moment he's an option best used between the 30s.

Ken - Pensacola, Fla.: If ND wins both games against Syracuse & Clemson does it reduce the sting of losing to Marshall & Stanford and what would it do for the team's morale?

Mike Berardino: That's a bold question you pose and a dangerous one as well. If the home losses to Marshall and Stanford taught us anything about Marcus Freeman's first team, it's that Notre Dame must take things one series, if not one play, at a time. Looking ahead and playing the "what-if game" has already blown up in their faces. That said, recency bias is a powerful thing, and even going 2-1 against the three remaining opponents ranked in this week's top 16 of the AP poll would cancel out some of the most cringeworthy moments from this fall.

Frank, Lakeside Park, Ky.: What’s up with Jack Kiser? Did not see his name in any of the defensive stats vs UNLV. It seemed like he had really started to elevate his game of late.

Mike Berardino: Hello, Colonel Frank. Notre Dame's second-leading tackler was limited to just five defensive snaps against UNLV due to some combination of an ankle sprain (originally suffered against Stanford, I'm told) and a deep thigh bruise (per Freeman on Monday). Kiser is expected back at practice on Tuesday, which is good news for a defense that must contend with a mobile QB in Garrett Schrader and a power back in Sean Tucker. Sixty-eight percent of the sack-adjusted rushing yardage for UNLV came on two long gashes (74 and 47 yards) by Courtney Reese. A healthy Kiser would help seal up those holes in the nation's 67th-ranked run defense (4.0 average yards allowed).

Michael from Elkview, W.Va.: I was wondering on the Mitchell Evans touchdown tight end sneak #6 was on offense for us. Was that Clarence Lewis?

Mike Berardino: Hey Michael, thanks for joining us. Deion Colzie switched from No. 16 to No. 6 on Saturday, most likely because there was a chance he'd be used on the same special teams unit as Brandon Joseph (also No. 16 and used on punt return and PAT/FG defense). I remember Kevin Bauman telling me Clarence Lewis was quite a running back in high school back in North Jersey, but for now C-Lew is a DB and special teamer only.

Shane from White Deer, Texas: Do you think Syracuse may be a bit let down at the first of the game after their loss to Clemson, and if so, do you think we will be able to take advantage of that situation? 

Mike Berardino: I see where you're going with that. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't be surprised if Syracuse came out flat this week for a noon kickoff at home against an unranked opponent. But when that unranked opponent wears shiny gold helmets and has its own network TV deal, normal circumstances don't apply.

Dave from Livonia, Mich.: I was wondering about what was going on with Rocco Spindler.  He came in as a highly rated recruit but hasn't been able to crack the starting lineup.  Are the guys ahead of him that much better or is he still learning the system?  I think he has played but on a limited basis.

Mike Berardino: I asked Freeman about his second-string offensive line as a group and the fact that since Jarrett Patterson came back after missing the opener, it's been wire-to-wire outings for the No. 1s. Andrew Kristofic is listed as the backup at both guard spots, but Freeman said Spindler "has done well" in his practice opportunities and noted that the second unit has been "almost on a different plan in terms of getting extra work in the weight room."

When it comes to the practice field, Freeman said the staff has "been really intentional about having more meaningful reps with those second-team guys in practice. ... We're doing extra stuff on the field with those guys. They're still finding ways to develop. When we do some team periods, we'll do more reps with the twos at times at the end of practice just to continue to get them those reps that they need."  

That said, if the Navy and/or Boston College games go as they have in the recent past, I'd look for Spindler and Co. (Pat Coogan at center, Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody at the tackles) to get some offensive snaps once the scoreboard dictates that move. Spindler has appeared in all seven games so far (31 total snaps) on the field goal/PAT unit. His future remains bright.

Sean, Greensboro, N.C.: Is it time to replace Tommy Rees as QB coach? The continued misfires by our QB are hard to watch. He misses too many open receivers, and it’s costing us. I just do not see much improvement from him. Thanks and Happy Halloween.

Mike Berardino: I refer you to Freeman's final answer from Monday's news conference. It included the following: "A lot of different factors go into a completion percentage — a lot of different things. We're always going to look at the quarterback. It's what we do. Same thing, we'll look at the coordinator. That's what we do. But I think we in our building have to understand that there's a lot of different individual jobs that have to be done for us to have success." Also, what part of "Mitchell Evans on the sneak" doesn't bring a smile to your face?

Bert from Windermere, Fla.: I would like your comments on the following. Looking at this week’s poll I notice that the top ten all have elite quarterbacks. It has been ages since we have had an elite qb. Is it poor recruiting or poor coaching. The better ones we have had after showing some promise have either not improved or got worse. Except for PJ at BC all that have transfered have been a bust.

Mike Berardino: Hi Bert, what do you make then of Stetson Bennett IV? Georgia's self-made QB — and Snapchat pal of Drew Pyne — is a former three-star recruit who walked on in Athens, made a one-year stopover at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss., and had to scratch and claw for everything he's achieved. He just might pilot back-to-back national championship offenses for a program that hadn't won it all in four-plus decades. I know what you're saying. He's the exception. Might never happen again. Yet there's a difference between signing an "elite quarterback" on the recruiting trail and coaxing "elite quarterback play" from those at your disposal. (See Book, Ian.) Notre Dame has CJ Carr on the way (for now part of the 2024 recruiting class), and it's still on the hunt for a another potential game-changer. The transfer portal should be interesting as well this offseason. Have to think the Irish bring in a transfer QB candidate of some significance in this cycle.

M.Kraus costa mesa: Has FOSKEY been hurt ? It sure looks like he has been SANDBAGGING it for the NFL ?Mike Berardino: MK from CM, thanks for stopping by. I sense some hostility in your question, but would ask you to remember the way Foskey performed in Week 3 vs. Cal through an apparent shoulder issue and the fact he's been a consistent part of Irish special teams on both punt and kick block units all season (52 total snaps). If that's "sandbagging," the projected first-round draft pick sure has an unusual way of going about it.

Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Rylie Mills seems to be hitting his stride in the last couple of weeks. He has position flexibility along the defensive line. In your opinion, is Mills a better player at Defensive End or Defensive Tackle?

Mike Berardino: Hey Alan, good follow-up. It's hard to say where Mills is more effective because his usage seems to change week to week, depending on the matchup. For instance, according to, his defensive tackle/end snap distribution has been as follows this season: 4/20 (Ohio State), 27/4 (Marshall), 1/16 (Cal), 20/4 (UNC), 5/10 (BYU), 13/6 (Stanford) and 7/17 (UNLV). Here's what defensive line coach Al Washington said about Mills' versatility when asked about it during BYU week: "It definitely helps. You can exploit mismatches. The challenge is trying to put all the pieces together. But Rylie is one that has the physical traits to be inside and out. It definitely helps you be more creative." And far less predictable, week to week.

Ryan, Mars, Pa.: Mike good win on Saturday what did you think about the play of foskey and diggs vs unlv i think they looked good what is the key to beating Syracuse?

Mike Berardino: Mars Man, thanks for checking in. Hope you had a good gameday experience. I'd say the fact Foskey and Diggs split Freeman's three player of the game designations (Foskey taking special teams honors as well as those for defense) are a pretty good indicator of their contributions. Key to beating Syracuse will be a second straight fast start and a run game that wears down the Orange in the second half. As loud as it got indoors with a pro-Irish crowd against BYU in Vegas, it will be vitally important to take the "Orange-out" crowd out of Saturday's game at the 50,000-seat dome in Upstate New York.

All right. In the words of Barry Manilow, looks like we made it ... through this week's questions. Thanks as always for your interest. See you right back here on Tuesday Nov. 1 at 11 a.m. as we preview Clemson-ND.

Follow Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.