It only took back-to-back completions for Everett Golson to change the course of the game and show that he belongs in pro stadiums.
Golson's two second quarter touchdown passes to William Fuller stifled a Syracuse defense that had shut him out up to that point in the game. His precise passing attack propelled No. 8 Notre Dame (4-0) to a 31-15 win over the Orange (2-2) in MetLife Stadium and allowed the Irish to withstand a five turnover performance. It's the first time the Irish have started the season by scoring at least 30 points in all four games since 1943.
"God I hate losing, but son of a gun, there are lessons to be learned and these kids are going to be stronger from it in the long run," Scott Shafer said. "It's going to be a sour ride home."
Shafer and Syracuse were hoping to get national relevance by pulling an upset in an NFL stadium. Instead, the Orange got a beat down by a team with NFL talent.
"It's a very talented football team," Shafer said on his opponent. "They're going to win a lot of games this year."
Golson's first touchdown, a quick pass to Fuller, went 23 yards and broke a scoreless tie. On his very next throw, the opening play of the next Notre Dame drive, Golson connected with Fuller on a deep post, this time for a 72-yard touchdown. He completed 32-of-39 passes on the night for 362 yards and four touchdowns. Syracuse's defense kept him quiet at the start of the game and intercepted passes in the first and fourth quarter. But between then, Golson stole the show by making quick decisions, zipping the ball into tight windows and rattling off 26 straight completed passes, which tied an FBS record.
"We can't come in and let a quarterback complete 26 straight passes," free safety Durell Eskridge said. "That just makes us look bad, and makes him look even better than he already is."
Golson was able to bounce back from a slow start, but Syracuse's offense did not. Terrel Hunt completed 22-of-38 passes for 294 yards, while scoring his only touchdown on the ground.
Hunt's initial drive was a microcosm for his whole game. He showed flashes of greatness at times, but left you wanting much more at most others. After Syracuse recovered a fumble, Hunt connected with Estime, draped by an Irish defender, for a 38-yard completion down the left sideline. But his next pass, also to Estime, was off the mark. On a 3rd and 8, Hunt badly overthrew Prince-Tyson Gulley who was behind the line of scrimmage.
"We got the ball down the field," Hunt said. "We weren't able to get in the end zone where we wanted to get it. It was frustrating but you have to play on."
The Orange went just 3-15 on third downs and, once again, couldn't capitalize in key moments.
Syracuse's only score in the first half - a 38-yard field goal by Cole Murphy - cut the Irish lead to 14-3. The 13-play drive came to a halt after Michael Lasker committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that backed Syracuse up with a 3rd and 24.
"Really, just penalties," Hunt said on SU's inability to finish drives. "It's just being anxious, but you have to take a step back, take a breather and just relax and realize we're in the red zone and we have to score there."
After Murphy's field goal, Notre Dame marched down the field in the final minute of the half. Following a long completion, Golson tried to spike the ball to stop the clock but, instead, he fumbled the snap and swatted the ball to the ground. JulianWhigham raced in to recover the fumble and scampered to the opposite end zone. The referees ruled that the play was dead when Whigham picked up the ball because the whistle had blown. That meant Whigham's recovery would stand, but his return touchdown was overturned. The ball was spotted at Syracuse's own 25, where Shafer was content to take a knee to end the half.
"We're not going to lose any sleep over it," Shafer said. "I know the fans are upset, saying it was definitely a fumble. Well I don't know, I know those officials tried their butts off, but the luck of the Irish went their way again. That's how it goes sometimes."
Early in the second half, the Irish spoiled any hopes of an Orange comeback by intercepting Hunt on his first drive. They added another Golson touchdown to build the lead to 21-3. Although it's the third season Syracuse has played in MetLife, it was the Irish who looked right at home on Saturday.
"It was pretty tough, but it was nothing that we couldn't handle," Gulley said. "We just didn't show it. We didn't get the job done."