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Syracuse vs. Notre Dame football preview: Q&A with One Foot Down

We ask an Irish fan about their awful uniforms, whether they’ll ever ditch independence, and the game, of course.

Ball State v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The No. 12 Syracuse Orange (8-2, 5-2) have been rolling for a month now, setting up a huge matchup with the No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-0, N/A) on Saturday at Yankee Stadium. If the Orange can pull off the upset here, a New Year’s Six game is pretty much assured.

Since we’re not Notre Dame fans, we went ahead and asked one about what to expect in this game. Patrick, from One Foot Down joins us to talk about the Fighting Irish. We also answer some questions over there.

Please use this space to trash or defend (hopefully not the case) your team’s garbage New York Yankees-inspired uniforms.

As a life-long Boston Red Sox fan, allow me to say that these jerseys are burning-hot garbage, just because they’re associated with the Yankees.

As a human being, allow me to say that these jerseys are somehow worse than the burning-hot garbage they are automatically from being associated with the Yankees.

The jerseys look like shoddy adult softball league uniforms, the helmet design pulled a classic “get rid of the iconic gold ND helmet and instead add a dumb circular ND monogram with pinstripes behind it to a plain blue helmet,” and the pants I guess are completely pinstriped, unlike the jersey, which for some reason isn’t. Which is very logical and makes lots of sense.

Oh, and to top all that off? They had a chance to do something cool with a baseball theme, like stirrups with the socks, and I’ve seen no indication that that is happening. And even if it was, these uniforms are too horrible to redeem, just like almost every other year of the Shamrock Series, and just like the Yankees.

Notre Dame v Syracuse Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

When is Notre Dame joining the league full-time? Would they want Navy also added as a football-only member to make scheduling easier? I know the odds of ND joining are slim, but would potentially missing the College Football Playoff this year push you closer to ditching independence than ever before?

Oh man, hopefully never. The recent “narratives” about the Irish needing to join a conference in order to have a conference championship game that gets them into the Playoff are just incorrect speculation. We’ve already seen Ohio State in 2016 and Alabama in 2017 make it into the CFP without even making their conferences’ respective championship games. Clearly, that 13th data point isn’t necessary for anyone -- especially a team that almost always has a top-25 strength of schedule like Notre Dame usually does (notice I said “usually,” because the Irish’s 2018 schedule has turned out to be pretty weak outside of Michigan, Syracuse, and maybe Northwestern and, somehow, Pitt??? If the Irish pick up a loss, there’s a discussion to be had, for sure -- although they still beat Michigan head-to-head, so not sure what Michigan’s argument could possibly be).

If ND misses with 1 loss, this year or any year, it’s because their schedule turned out to be garbage, not because they weren’t in a conference. Most years, an 11-1 ND team would make it in considering the usual schedule that includes typically-good programs like Stanford, USC, 1-2 top-25 ACC teams, and usually another very good opponent (Michigan, Georgia, etc.). We know this from 2017 and 2015, when the Irish were in contention (2015) or even considered a lock (2017) for the CFP until picking up a second loss.

I don’t think Notre Dame has any current intentions to even consider joining a conference. The program makes too much money (thanks, NBC) and enjoys too much flexibility in who they play and the power they wield in the college football landscape to ever join a conference. Plus, the program became what it is today/was in its heyday thanks to playing a national schedule against teams like USC, Texas, Army, etc. Why throw that away when joining a conference doesn’t necessarily mean any more chance of making the CFP, and definitely doesn’t mean more of what is most important -- money?

I love the other ND sports being in the ACC (specifically basketball), but do not want or predict that the football team will fully join that or any other conference anytime soon.

How concerned were you about getting Ian Book back for this one? How does he better set the Irish up to beat Syracuse?

Very concerned. We all thought ND could get past Florida State with Brandon Wimbush at QB. FSU, although talented, is a bad, poorly-coached team. Syracuse is a different story. They’ve got a hell of an offense that is going to score some points, so it’s critical that the Irish offense is able to move the ball, have more time of possession, and score on more of their drives.

Book enables all of that with his accuracy and consistency. Wimbush has the physical tools, but is so inconsistent on short-to-intermediate throws that it can kill drives (or give the other team points, considering the interceptions he’s prone to tossing). Book’s much more precise in his passing, leads the country in completion percentage (75%), and keeps the chains moving. Combining that with the running game of Dexter Williams, Jafar Armstrong, and Tony Jones Jr. makes me much more confident heading into this one.

Florida State v Notre Dame Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Other than Book, which player or position group would you most attribute this year’s success to?

Definitely the defense, and although there are a bunch of guys I’d want to give praise to (Julian Love, Drue Tranquill, Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, etc.), I think the two most critical guys -- and I doubt any ND fans would argue with me on this -- are DT Jerry Tillery and LB Te’von Coney.

Both of those guys flirted with the NFL Draft last spring, but both decided to return for their senior seasons. It’s been huge for both the team and for them, as they have both become 1st/2nd round draft picks with their performances this season, and they are the heart and soul of the first and second levels of a very stout, but not super deep, defense.

Tillery has been an absolute force in the middle, anchoring both the run stuffing tendencies of the Irish defense and the pass rush, as he’s gotten a surprising amount of pressure on QBs from the middle of the line (7 sacks on the year).

Coney has been a machine in the middle, accumulating countless tackles while also always seeming to be in the right place and making timely plays with his scary combination of power and speed. This defense goes as he goes, and that is almost always a good thing.

Eric Dungey’s not an easy quarterback to slow down. How does Notre Dame plan to do so?

It’ll be a combination of things. The Irish pass rush is pretty damn strong, getting consistent pressure by usually just bringing 4 guys. The junior DE trio of Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara, and Daelin Hayes have been pretty great at harassing QBs enough to take them out of their game, passing-wise, so I think those 3 plus Tillery will really force Dungey out of the pocket a lot, and hopefully force him to make some bad passing decisions that Love, Troy Pride Jr., Jalen Elliott, and Alohi Gilman can capitalize on for turnovers in the secondary.

After all that, it’ll be on LBs Coney and Drue Tranquill and Asmar Bilal to use their speed, which is pretty good for linebackers, to contain Dungey and not allow him to take off for any chunk yardage gains on the ground.

Overall, defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s system (Ed. note: Hey, we know him!) isn’t super fancy. There’s not usually a lot of extra blitzing or weird packages, but instead just a very fundamentally sound, experienced defense that gets good pressure, gives up very few big plays, and typically does their jobs. This will be one of the best offenses and QBs the Irish have seen, though, so it will be intriguing to see how well they hold up, especially considering Syracuse’s tempo.

Louisville v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Who’s one non-Dungey player you’re very concerned about on Saturday?

Sean Riley. You talked a lot about him in your Q&A, and I truly believe one of the best ways to move the ball on this ND defense is to attack the non-Julian Love DBs through the air. If Riley can get matched up on someone who isn’t Love, I think he could make some big plays and really help the Orange score enough points to potentially win this one.

We still take some particular joy in SU’s 24-23 upset over Notre Dame back in 2008. That’s not a question. Just wanted you guys to know.

Fair enough, you do you. I’ll just be over here:

a. Remembering that disaster as the official visit of a recruit named Manti Te’o, who still decided to attend ND and become a legend (fake girlfriend notwithstanding) despite that game

b. Taking joy in the fact that Syracuse managed to be one of the 4 teams ND beat in 2016 -- a game in which that hapless Irish team somehow scored 50 points on the Orange

What does Syracuse have to do well to pull off the upset?

Play a clean game on offense and score touchdowns when in the red zone (can’t squander those opportunities against an ND defense that typically clamps down late in the game), and pressure Ian Book while really pressing ND’s big, fairly slow receivers to minimize separation. All that, plus making sure Dexter Williams gets hit before he gets to the second level (where he will burn almost anyone), and utilizing Syracuse’s top-notch special teams to flip the field, maybe swing momentum at times, etc., and I think Syracuse has a great shot.

Wake Forest v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Name one unsung Fighting Irish player we should probably get a bit more familiar with.

Julian Okwara -- Khalid Kareem gets most of the national pass-rushing love, but Okwara is probably the most unblockable, athletic guy on the ND defensive front, and the pressure he gets on QBs doesn’t always translate into sacks. Instead, his abilities often open up opportunities for his teammates, and I don’t think he gets enough love because of this. There are very few defensive ends in the entire country I’d rather have than Julian Okwara. He’s a freak.

Prediction time: Who wins this one and why?

Notre Dame wins this one, because they will have Ian Book back, meaning a balanced, well-oiled offense, and because the Irish defense will severely slow down Dungey and that Orange offense (not completely stop them, mind you -- Clemson couldn’t even quiiiite do that). The Irish take this one 38-27.

Thanks again to Patrick for taking the time here. Be sure to check out One Foot Down for everything Notre Dame, and follow the site on Twitter, too.