Notre Dame improved to 4-0 with a sloppy 31-15 win over Syracuse last Saturday night. The Fighting Irish overcame five turnovers and actually won pretty handily despite all of the miscues. The fact that Notre Dame was able to still win by 16 points after committing five turnovers speaks volumes for how much more talent the Irish were and how well they executed their offensive and defensive game plans. If the Irish didn’t turn the ball over multiple times, then this score would have been a much bigger margin of victory.
The obvious negative to the game offensively were the careless mistakes that resulted in the five turnovers. Everett Golson was responsible for four of those turnovers by throwing two interceptions and fumbling twice. Both interceptions were poor decisions and throws, while one fumble was due to carrying the ball too loosely and the other was a botched attempt at spiking the ball. I’ll give Golson a break on the fumble while attempting to spike the ball because it was a fluky play, but the other three turnovers need to be corrected before Stanford comes to South Bend this Saturday. Hopefully, Golson and the Irish got their turnovers out of the way and will be more careful going forward.
Other than the turnovers, the Irish moved the ball tremendously well against the Orange. Notre Dame racked up 523 yards of total offense, with 362 yards passing and 161 yards rushing. The Orange tried to blitz Golson all night, so Brian Kelly called numerous screens and short passes that led to Golson completing 25 consecutive passes at one point, and 32 of 39 passes overall. Golson connected on four touchdowns to Will Fuller (2), Corey Robinson, and Torii Hunter Jr. Both Fuller and Robinson had huge nights with 119 yards and 91 yards respectively, and it was nice to see Torii Hunter Jr. get involved in the offense after returning from an injury. The play of the game was probably a 72-yard touchdown strike from Golson to Fuller on a play action pass. Golson hit Fuller in-stride and gave the Irish a 14-0 lead. The long touchdown was the first play of the drive immediately following an 11-play, 95-yard touchdown drive earlier in the second quarter. After a sluggish start, the Irish would maintain at least a two-score lead throughout the rest of the night. While the passing game was clicking, the rushing attack was just okay. Notre Dame did manage to gain 161 yards on 41 carries, but there weren’t many big holes opened up to result in big gains. Greg Bryant lead the way with 55 yards, but the only rushing attempt to exceed 15 yards was a 22-yard scamper by Golson that resulted in a fumble. I give Brian Kelly credit for committing to the run and having a balanced attack (41 runs, 39 passes), but Notre Dame still needs to work on the running game if they want to win some bigger games later in the year. Overall, it was a good night for the Irish offensively, but there are certainly areas in which they can improve.
Considering that Syracuse had a plus-four turnover margin, it is pretty impressive that Notre Dame only gave up 15 points. Then when you take into account that six of those points came from a pick-six, the Irish defense only allowed nine points despite being put in some bad situations by the Notre Dame offense. I thought Notre Dame did a great job slowing down Syracuse’s running game by holding the Orange to 135 yards on 30 carries. If you take out a 42 yard run by Riley Dixon, then the Orange only averaged 3.2 yards per carry. Notre Dame also did an outstanding job making sure that quarterback Terrel Hunt wouldn’t kill them with his legs. Hunt had just 26 yards on seven carries after coming off of a 156 yard performance the previous week. Notre Dame did allow Hunt to throw for 294 yards on 38 passing attempts, but most of that production was due in large part to Notre Dame having a big lead that forced Syracuse to throw more often than they would like. Once again, Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt led the defense with nine and seven tackles respectively. Sheldon Day also had a good night with two tackles for loss and five total tackles. Matthias Farley added five tackles and came away with the lone turnover for the Irish with an interception in the third quarter that would set up a touchdown drive to give the Irish a commanding 21-3 lead. Notre Dame’s defense played well for the fourth straight week and they have allowed just 11.5 points per game this season. That number is good for the fourth best scoring defense in the nation, which is impressive given how inexperienced the defense is as a whole. However, there is still room for improvement because Notre Dame hasn’t played a great offense yet, so we’ll see how they respond versus tougher opponents as the season progresses.