How can Notre Dame upset No. 16 Syracuse Saturday? Here are 5 things that need to happen

Justin Frommer
South Bend Tribune
Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader (6) passes in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Clemson on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Notre Dame (4-3) tries to take another step toward bowl eligibility Saturday against No. 16 Syracuse (6-1) in upstate New York. Kickoff is set for noon ET at the JMA Wireless Dome and ABC will televise.

Pressure Syracuse quarterback Garrett Schrader

Syracuse was well on its way to a seventh straight to win with a 21-10 halftime lead at No. 5 Clemson. The Tigers flipped the script in the second half, though, upping their defensive intensity for a 27-21 victory.

Clemson's comeback was no accident, holding the Orange to 119 yards and no points in the second half as the Tigers' pass rush got after Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader. The Tigers sacked Shrader four times in the half, leading to Syracuse's worst pass blocking Pro Football Focus grade this season.

Notre Dame's defensive line has battled its fair share of injuries this season, but the group has the talent and rotational depth to make life tough for Shrader.

Contain Syracuse's best offensive weapon, Sean Tucker

Clemson took one of college football's best running backs out of the game, holding Sean Tucker to 54 yards on 18 carries.

Oct 15, 2022; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange running back Sean Tucker (34) runs for a touchdown against the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the fourth quarter at JMA Wireless Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Tucker, a sophomore, has 698 yards and six touchdowns in seven games and the Tigers made a point to know where he was.

Though Tucker did catch a touchdown pass, Clemson's defense forced the Orange to other targets.

Notre Dame's run defense has to be better

Notre Dame's defense must be better stopping the run than it was last week if it's to keep Tucker in check.

All three of UNLV's touchdowns in the 44-21 Irish victory Saturday came on the ground as the Rebels finished with 146 yards on 28 carries. The 5.2 yards per carry was the second-highest Notre Dame has allowed this season behind BYU, leading to the unit's worst PFF run defense grade since the season-opening loss to Ohio State.

UNLV quarterback Cameron Friel (7) is sacked by Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey (7) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Marc Lebryk)

Isaiah Foskey, who made a big impact on special teams and rushing the passer, was one of Notre Dame's two-worst graded defensive starters against the run last week, as was safety Brandon Joseph. Although Foskey did add three sacks to his career total of 21.5, second all-time in program history.

While the flash is there, Notre Dame needs more consistency from Foskey and Joseph.

Build on what Drew Pyne did with his arm against UNLV

After Stanford, any step forward from Drew Pyne and Notre Dame's passing attack was welcomed. The Irish offense ended up with its top passing grade of the season, per PFF.

Pyne finished 14-of-28 for 205 yards, two touchdowns and interception, breathing some life into the Irish passing attack that has struggled all season.

Notre Dame wide receiver Braden Lenzy (0) looks to run past UNLV defensive back Nohl Williams (2) to the end zone during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Marc Lebryk)

Take out All American tight end Michael Mayer's six receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown, and Notre Dame's receivers — Jayden Thomas, Braden Lenzy and Lorenzo Styles — combined for eight catches, 90 yards and Lenzy's first touchdown of the year.

Granted, those are modest stats that somehow feel like a breakthrough. That performance came against a UNLV defense allowing the 45th-most passing yards in college football this season.

Syracuse's secondary has been excellent this year, allowing just 1,200 passing yards and five scores in seven games. Pyne and the Irish will have to take another step in the passing game to challenge the Orange.

Notre Dame's secondary will be challenged and must respond

Notre Dame's secondary, which has been subpar, is coming off its best performance of the season.

The Irish allowed UNLV to complete 17-of-33 passes for 153 yards and no touchdowns. Clarence Lewis, Tariq Bracy and Cam Hart (all cornerbacks) graded as Notre Dame's best defensive players last week, per PFF and the secondary as a whole recorded its best coverage grade of the season.

Notre Dame defensive back TaRiq Bracy (28) breaks up a pass intended for UNLV wide receiver Ricky White (11) Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.
(Photo: Michael Caterina, South Bend Tribune)

It is worth mentioning that UNLV was playing with two backup quarterbacks in the game.

Syracuse's Shrader is one of the ACC's best quarterbacks, completing 69.7% of his passes for 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns. He doesn't spread the ball around two much. Orande Gadsden II's 37 receptions more than twice the count of Syracuse's next-highest receiver, Devaughn Cooper. Tucker is also big in the Orange passing game.

If Notre Dame can take away Gadsden II it could leave Shrader to force throws to unfamiliar targets.

Notre Dame (4-3) vs. No. 16 Syracuse (6-1) 

  • When: Saturday at noon ET 
  • Where: JMA Wireless Dome (49,057), Syracuse, N.Y. 
  • TV/Radio: ABC, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM) 
  • Line: Syracuse opens as a one-point favorite  
  • Series: Notre Dame leads 7-3 
  • Last meeting: Notre Dame won 45-21 in 2020 at Notre Dame Stadium