What's better than one Q&A about your upcoming opponent? TWO Q&As about your upcoming opponent! I varied the questions, I swear, so don't feel as if you're just re-reading the first set with new answers when you peruse the article below.
Frank Vitovitch, from the excellent UHND.com, stops by to tell us everything we need to know about Notre Dame football and Saturday's game. Along with his responses here, you can also check out ours over there to share in the "wonderment" that is Syracuse football as well.
Thoughts on your partial membership in the ACC so far?
From a football standpoint its still very new with this weekend's game being the first ACC matchup since the partial membership kicked in, but I can say that personally as a fan I am really excited about some of the potential road trips on the horizon. Florida State this year and Clemson and UVA next year all offer fans trip to great campuses/environments. The deal with the ACC is going to get Notre Dame into some areas that they haven't had much exposure in recent years and given the downward trend of the Big Ten, I think the ACC partnership is going to be very beneficial for Notre Dame long term. The one unfortunate casualty is the Notre Dame - Michigan series, but given the way it ended earlier this season, the ending of the series left most Notre Dame fans feel great.
Obviously Notre Dame has handled its opponents pretty well to this point in this season, but what's one thing you'd like to see the Irish improve upon against Syracuse?
Running the football. Notre Dame has got a great stable of running backs with Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston, and Cam McDaniel, but the blocking just has not been there at all. Notre Dame might be able to get by another week without a strong running attack as they have thus far, but that isn't going to continue against the likes of Stanford and Florida State - both of whom Notre Dame plays over the next three weeks following the Syracuse game. Notre Dame has run the ball much better the last three years so there is hope that they can figure out all that ails the sputtering rushing attack that's gained just 193 yards the last two weeks after wracking up 281 in week one against Rice.
The Irish play at one of the slower paces (in terms of plays-per-game) in the country, while Syracuse aims to run about 80 offensive plays per game -- do you see that pace discrepancy presenting a problem for Notre Dame's defense at all?
That was actually a surprising stat as I hadn't realize how long the Irish ranked in plays per game. What makes it even more surprising is that Brian Kelly has talked a lot in the past about wanting to play up tempo and run the no huddle as he did at Cincinnati. That said, I don't foresee it being a problems this weekend because while the Irish may not run a lot of plays, they are scoring points at a high rate. Notre Dame is also averaging out at almost a 50/50 split in time of possession through three games despite the lack of plays. In short, Notre Dame might not be running a lot of plays, but they are scoring points and aren't leaving the defense out on the field for extended periods of time.
Who's one Orange player who really concerns ND fans coming into Saturday's game?
I'm going to cheat a bit here and name one offensive and one defensive player. Offensively, obviously Terrel Hunt possess a threat to the Notre Dame defense after rushing for five touchdowns the past two weeks given their trouble with running quarterbacks before. The Irish did make Devin Gardner look pretty bad a couple weeks ago, but they also made him look like a Heisman candidate last year. Brian VanGorder's new Notre Dame defense is the difference between last year and this but any time you face a quarterback that can make things happen when plays break down you have to be concerned. Defensively, Cameron Lynch is a concern as well given his 4.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss already this year.
Any idea how the re-shuffled offensive line is going to handle the Orange's constant blitz?
It's not necessarily the blitz that has me as concerned with the offensive line because the pass blocking has not been nearly as worrisome as the run blocking has been. Notre Dame has been giving up sacks at a higher rate this year but part of that is because Tommy Rees knew his limitations and was decisive in getting the ball out quickly. That doesn't mean he always made the right decision. In fact Golson has shown to be much, much more careful with the football. Golson does tend to hold on to the ball longer though since he does have the ability to escape so that sometimes gets him in trouble. Still, I think the pass blocking will be just fine this weekend and will hold up against the Syracuse blitz. It's in the running game where I have serious questions if the line will hold up.
Notre Dame is favored here, but is there any feeling on your part that Syracuse could find a way to upset the Fighting Irish?
Given that Notre Dame is coming off a bye week this week and have won every game by at least 16 points, I am a bit surprised that the line has dropped as much as it has (down to 9.5 as I type after opening around 14). Notre Dame will also come into this weekend fairly healthy outside of losing starting slot wide receiver Amir Carlisle. All that said, the last Notre Dame game I saw in MetLife Stadium (which wasn't even named MetLife Stadium yet) was the 2010 Navy game in which the Midshipmen embarrassed the Irish so nothing would really shock me. Two weeks ago Purdue had no business hanging around as long as they did either, but they were still in that game well into the second half. Syracuse has been such an up and down team too that I could see them finding a way to make this interesting, but I'll be honest in saying that I would be really surprised if Syracuse found a way to pull off an upset this weekend.