Four to watch when Notre Dame visits Syracuse

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Notre Dame could use another all-everything game like the one senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey offered against UNLV.

NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (4-3)

(7) ISAIAH FOSKEY

Vyper defensive end

The senior captain hasn’t exactly had a season that has him splashed across the side of a milk carton, though it’s been too long since he went this long without turning a game the way Foskey did against UNLV. 

He blocked two punts. He had three sacks. He tallied five tackles. He earned team player of the game honors on defense and special teams. Games like Foskey had against UNLV would be good for some guys’ seasons, but not him. This was the type of stuff we expected every week from the 6-foot-5, 265-pounder from Antioch, California, who came into the season with designs on leaving as the school’s all-time sack leader. He may not make it there, but he and the Irish could use a few more dominant efforts like the one against UNLV. 

Saturday’s game is tailor-made for a senior captain like Foskey to turn with a big hit, a sack or even another blocked punt. The Irish simply need more from him. Saturday would be a good time to pick up where he left off the previous week. 

(10) DREW PYNE

Quarterback

Has anyone had more of a roller-coaster open to his collegiate career than Pyne? Against California in his first career start, he certainly didn’t look the part. His stay at quarterback might be really short after that one game. Then against North Carolina and Brigham Young, you looked at the 5-11 1/2 (maybe), 198-pounder from New Canaan, Connecticut and thought, OK, there might be something to build off there. Good game manager. Makes the right throws at the right time. Competes. Wins. It looked like the Pyne era at the game’s most scrutinized position would be a relatively successful one. 

Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne has muddled through a pair of average efforts the last two games. He and the Irish could use a better one Saturday at Syracuse.

Then Stanford happened. Then UNLV happened. The Irish won that game, but Pyne didn’t really win the day. He again missed on throws that should’ve been touchdowns. The offense failed to consistently produce points when points were there to produce. Instead of touchdowns, the Irish finished with field goals. Notre Dame won, but Pyne was just kind of … there. 

He can’t be Saturday. The Orange defense is coming after him. The JMA Wireless Dome is going to rock. Pyne needs to get back to his steady self to keep the offense — and the Irish — from taking a step back. 

No. 16 SYRACUSE ORANGE (6-1)

(34) SEAN TUCKER

Running back

Tucker’s bio on the Orange football page touts him as “one of the top players in the nation,” though in one of the most important football games that Syracuse has played in decades, the 5-10, 210-pound sophomore from Owings, Mills, Maryland barely played. 

Syracuse running back Sean Tucker is too good to only carry five times like he did against Clemson.

Tucker finished Saturday’s loss at No. 5 Clemson with 54 yards on five carries. That’s it. Two games earlier, he ran wild. And crazy. And seemingly forever, gaining 232 yards on 23 carries with three touchdowns against Wagner. The next two games, Tucker’s carries and yards decreased — 14 for 98 and a score against North Carolina State before that too light of a load against Clemson. Even Irish head coach Marcus Freeman wondered Monday why Tucker had played so little. Yeah, Freeman said, that was … odd. 

Orange head coach Dino Babers deemed it “inexcusable” that Tucker had so few chances. 

All of that means he’s overdue for a bust out. Feed him. Early. Often. Tucker has rushed for 698 yards (average 5.4) with six touchdowns in seven games. He also leads the Orange in all-purpose yards (914). He can run it. He can catch it. He can score it. He just needs the chance. 

(8) GARRETT WILLIAMS

Cornerback

A redshirt sophomore in his fourth season of participation, the 6-foot, 189-pound Williams has garnered a reputation as that proverbial “shutdown” corner. Put him on the other team’s top receiver, and watch him make the guy have a miserable day. Shut him down. Tune him out. That’s not good news for the Irish, who continue to have wide receiver issues. 

Syracuse cornerback Garrett Williams might be a problem for a group of struggling wide receivers at Notre Dame.

Williams is more than just a shut-down/silencer coverage guy. He does a little of everything. Seven games in, he’s third on the Orange in solo (24) and total tackles (32). He has 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two interceptions and three pass breakups. He’s also forced and recovered a fumble. 

Williams earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and All-American recognition last season, when he led all Syracuse defensive backs with 52 tackles. He’s good enough to play on Sundays. He’ll be a problem on Saturday for an Irish offense that still doesn’t really know what it has with its wideouts.

Williams was in uniform for the Clemson game but didn't play because of a thigh bruise. He's listed this week on the Orange depth chart as a starting corner.