Notre Dame football: This one wasn't that close, until it was and then, it wasn't again
Three quick thoughts and other news and notes and anecdotes following Saturday’s game between Notre Dame (5-3) and No. 16 Syracuse (6-2), won by Notre Dame, 41-24, at the JMA Wireless Dome in Central New York.
∎ Head coach Marcus Freeman has been asked about it, and doesn’t know what to make of it. Same goes for his players. Ditto for everyone who covers this program.
There’s something entirely different about these Irish away from home that’s downright baffling. We saw it to start the season at Ohio State. Then at North Carolina. Then out in Las Vegas against previously-ranked Brigham Young. We saw it again Saturday against No. 16 Syracuse.
Notre Dame is a better team away from home (3-1) than at home (2-2). Individually. Collectively. The Irish play more confidently, play loose, play with a swagger that doesn’t always happen at home. We didn’t see that swagger the previous Saturday against overmatched UNLV. We saw it Saturday against what was supposed to be a really good Syracuse team.
Flush the rest of the home games this season. If you want Notre Dame to keep winning, play them on the road. Speaking of which, where’s the game against USC this season? Los Angeles? Nice.
How the points were scored:Notre Dame defeats No. 16 Syracuse 41-24
∎ Talk about a tale of two halves. It certainly was that for the Notre Dame defense. Which looked downright dominant in the first half (after the second Syracuse drive). Second half, new quarterback for the Orange, different story for the Irish defense, which seemingly forgot how to stop the run, forgot how to get to the quarterback, forgot how to prevent the big play. Forgot how to get off the field when it needed to get off the field.
What had been a 24-7 Irish lead, a lead that felt more like 34-7, suddenly became a game (24-17) heading into the fourth quarter. Thank the Irish defense for setting the stage for that drama, albeit short-lived. They have to finish better. They have to tackle better. They have to play better. They're better than what they showed there in the third quarter.
∎ Whoever served as Saturday’s director on ABC loved themselves some Tommy Rees, the Irish offensive coordinator who was featured in isolation-camera cutaway in the Irish coaches’ booth about as much as the aerial shots of downtown Syracuse.
Cameras caught Rees earlier in the third quarter by putting his hands to his face, and then his head atop the table in the booth, following a pair of Drew Pyne incompletions, the second being a skipped screen to Lorenzo Styles.
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The Irish had no business throwing the football. At all.
All the Irish needed were big helpings of Logan Diggs and Audric Estime early, then Chris Tyree late. The run game (246 yards) ground down Syracuse, kept the Orange on their collective heels, kept the clock moving and kept the home crowd silent. Sometimes, Rees and the Irish outsmarted themselves by going to the pass game. When they went back to the run, too much good stuff happened to not stick with it.
It’s really not that difficult.
Notre Dame continues to absolutely own the Atlantic Coast Conference. Own it. On the road. At home. As a favorite. As an underdog. It doesn’t much matter. Saturday’s win was No. 26 in a row including 13 straight on the road, since Notre Dame last a game against an ACC team (Nov. 11, 2017) against Miami (Fla.).
Good news for the Irish — they have two more games remaining against ACC teams. Bad news for ACC teams, it has two more games remaining against Notre Dame.
ACC football … woof.
“You just can’t under any circumstances throw that pass.”
— ABC color commentator Greg McElroy following Garrett Shrader’s first attempt of the game, which was picked off by Brandon Joseph and returned for a touchdown.
By the numbers
∎ 3-44: Catches-yards for Irish sophomore wide receiver Deion Colzie on Saturday. He came into the contest with zero catches through the first seven games.
∎ 4: Consecutive drives the Irish defense forced the Orange to punt following their only touchdown of the first half.
∎ 5: Number of blocked punts this season for Notre Dame after Clarence Lewis broke free from the outside to smack one down in the fourth quarter. Brian Mason's been a special teams coaching wizard with his group this fall.
∎ 7: Seconds played before the Brandon Joseph pick-six touchdown.
∎10: Unanswered points by Syracuse in the third quarter, which flipped a 24-7 snoozer (and Irish lead) to 24-17 with 15 minutes remaining.
∎ 14: Unanswered points by Notre Dame in the fourth quarter, which flipped a 24-17 intrigue back to a 38-17 snoozer.
∎ 16: Notre Dame played 16 games between noon starts. The last one was last year against Wisconsin in Chicago, which kicked at noon Eastern time. The Syracuse game was the first of two noon starts over the next three weeks. The next comes No. 12 against Navy in Baltimore.
∎ 40: Combined carries (20 each) for Diggs and Estime, who ran for a combined 208 yards. The rest of the team combined for 14 carries for 40 yards.
∎ 53: Total yards gained by the Irish offense in its first four possessions of the second half before a 54-yard drive ended with an Estime touchdown run.
∎ 73: Total yards allowed by the Notre Dame defense in the first half.
∎ 123: Rushing yards for Estime, who had a combined 74 the previous two games.
∎ 1,840: Career receiving yards for former Irish tight end Tyler Eifert, which had been tops in program history before a second-quarter Michael Mayer catch put him at 1,859 career yards. Mayer now has a program-best 1,870 for his career.
∎ 1987: Last time Syracuse played in front of a sellout crowd for a second consecutive home game (North Carolina State). The Notre Dame game was announced/billed as a sellout (49,057), even though there were big sections — and seemingly entire sections — of empty seats seen on TV.
What was supposed to be the marquee matchup of the season for Notre Dame long became just another Saturday game — Saturday night game — when No. 5 Clemson (8-0) brushes off its bye week to visit South Bend for the first time since that 2020 visit. You remember that one, right? Notre Dame Stadium filled to far less than capacity because of COVID-19. Night game. Double overtime game. Irish outlast the No. 1 Tigers, 47-40. Place went crazy, as much as it can with only 11,011.
Feels that happened a lot longer than two seasons ago, doesn’t it? Maybe the old place has some more magic left in it.