These Irish look and feel and play their best far from Indiana

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Keep that blue and gold 18-wheeler that hauls the Notre Dame football gear around the country from game to game and back home again packed up and gassed and ready to roll at a moment’s notice. 

Allow the Irish to return home for a few days during the week to go to class, to practice, to meetings, to watch film and then send them back out. Stay in a hotel somewhere around the Bend. Hop a charter flight out of South Bend International Airport, circle the Northern Indiana countryside, then land back at SBN and convince them that they're at another road game from here until December. 

How the points were scored: Notre Dame defeats No. 16 Syracuse 41-24

Talk to Clemson and then Boston College and lobby hard to see if it’s not too late to flip those two final home games remaining on the Notre Dame schedule and make them road contests. Go play in South Carolina. Go play in New England. If impossible, then convince the Irish that they’re the visiting team — in their home stadium. 

There’s something about this team that’s way different than the one that has played four rather lackluster games at Notre Dame Stadium. This one seems to embrace everything about being away from home. The flight. The hotel. The visiting fans. The challenge. 

Oh, and the wins. 

What the numbers say: Team and individual game stats from Notre Dame vs. Syracuse football

For the third time in four chances this season, Notre Dame ventured from home on a Friday and returned with a Saturday win following a 41-17 victory over No. 16 Syracuse in Central New York. In winning for the fifth time in their last six games, the Irish (5-3) never trailed. 

First-year head coach Marcus Freeman can’t explain why Notre Dame is better away from home (3-1) than it has been at home (2-2). He’s been asked about it. He's wondered about it. His players likely also don’t have an answer for what they’ve often done this season — played a game away from home, and, honestly, won a game that not many outside the Irish inner circle expected them to win. 

Like Saturday. Who gave Notre Dame a chance?


No, really? 

Such was also the case last month when Notre Dame went to North Carolina. If there was any time, any year, any game that North Carolina finally would beat Notre Dame, that was it. Had to be it. North Carolina had cruised. The Irish were bruised. But 35 first downs, 45 points and 576 total yards later, the Irish were winners. North Carolina hasn't lost since.

Notre Dame safety Brandon Joseph (16) returns an interception for a touchdown against Syracuse during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

The following week, Notre Dame beat a ranked team for the first time under Freeman when it bested then-No. 16 Brigham Young in the shadow of the Las Vegas Strip. That effort — like everything else out there — didn't stay in Vegas.

Because we watched it again Saturday. Like North Carolina, if there was any year that Syracuse would surely smack Notre Dame, something it hadn’t done in 19 years, Saturday would be it. The Orange were it. They were ranked and they were rolling, regardless of what had happened the previous week against fellow Atlantic Coast Conference colleague Clemson. 

Yep, Notre Dame didn’t want to be the one that had to go into the JMA Wireless Dome (what a dumb name) and figure out a way to win. And then, win relatively easily. 

“Really, really proud of our guys,” Freeman said. “That’s a big win. It was really good to see this team battle.” 

Quick start, then a coast at the end

And battle from the start. Like the first play when Brandon Joseph stepped in front of a Garrett Shrader pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. Seven seconds in, an Irish jab to the Orange nose and a 7-0 lead.  

“It’s the first of my career,” Joseph said of the pick-six. “I was just doing my job. It’s a big confidence booster for our defense.” 

And for everyone to settle in and focus on playing football. It eventually became a game, before it became a snoozer with the Irish up 24-7. It was a game again (24-17) after the Irish defense kind of/sort of dozed off in the third quarter before two touchdowns from tailback Audric Estime (good luck tackling that guy) again made it a snoozer at 38-17. 

The Notre Dame ground game and its 246 rush yards finished this one. 

“You’re going to have to stop us,” said Estime, who rumbled for 123 yards and two scores. “If you’re not stopping us, we’re going to do it until the game’s over.” 

Oct 29, 2022; Syracuse, New York, USA;  Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Audric Estime (7) runs between Syracuse Orange defensive lineman Steve Linton (17) and linebacker Leon Lowery (16) in the fourth quarter at JMA Wireless Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Freeman said following the UNLV game that his is a good team that doesn’t always play like it. Previous two weeks — both at home — the Irish rarely played like one. Saturday, again on the road, again against a ranked team, in front of a sellout crowd that was supposed to make it difficult to think and hear and operate, Notre Dame again looked and played like a good team. 

Go figure. 

Nobody really can explain why Notre Dame has been so good away from home and so average — sometimes less so — at home. 

Here's one answer that would suffice after Saturday — the ACC as a football conference just stinks. Saturday saw Notre Dame run its win streak to 26 straight over ACC schools. That includes 13 consecutive on the road. It’s hard to win two or three in a row away from home, let alone this many and counting. 

Notre Dame hasn’t lost an ACC game since Nov. 11, 2017 when much of this roster was still in high school or middle school and when Freeman was in his first year as defensive coordinator at Cincinnati. A conference built by basketball that wants to be taken seriously for its football simply isn’t. Not around these parts. Not by the Notre Dame program. 

These Irish will say everything appropriate about the ACC, but when it comes time to play, it’s beyond big brother beating up little brother. It’s been no contest. Nolo contendere. 

It’s also been 1,813 days and counting since Notre Dame last lost an ACC game. That’s ridiculous, but that’s the ACC. All bluster, no bite. Leave it to Clemson to carry the conference. Again. 

Notre Dame still had some issues Saturday — throwing the ball more than it should after it was obvious that even you could run through some of the holes in the ground game, seeing its defense not deliver early in the second half, quarterback Drew Pyne operating near or below average for a third straight week. Still, they delivered. 

Another ACC opponent comes calling next week with No. 5 Clemson coming to town. Sure we can't move that game to Chicago? Indianapolis? How about Atlanta? Anywhere might be better than South Bend, right? At least for this team. At least for this season. 

Just asking for a first-year head coach. Asking for a football program that’s been good everywhere but where it should be. Where it has to be. Just when you thought Notre Dame might not again look like Notre Dame, it did. It does. 

Now come on home and do it here. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.