The No. 12 Syracuse Orange head to Yankee Stadium to take on the No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in their Shamrock Series game. Regardless of venue or ranking, Notre Dame is the favorite in this one, and the Orange will need to play a damn near perfect game or weird this game up to have a chance. How can they do it? What should determine the outcome?
Can Eric Dungey pass effectively?
We’ve seen the Dungey “Hero Ball” approach, when the senior tries to fit passes into impossible windows, or seems to forget to make his progressions in favor of his own legs or a deep ball. Notre Dame’s pass defense is eighth in S&P+, and top-10 in most other S&P+ defensive passing metrics. However, they are only 70th in sack rate (6.2%), meaning Dungey should have time in the pocket. Using that time to make decisions that move the ball, however little, will be key.
Can the Orange turn red zone trips into touchdowns?
‘Cuse is really bad at scoring touchdowns in the red zone. They’re converting fewer than half their trips inside the 10-yard line into touchdowns, and do not get better the more you move them out. Andre Szymt has saved the Orange far too many times, ensuring they get something over nothing. Pulling off an upset means taking advantage of any scoring chances, and not just with field goals. The best offense for the Orange has been Dungey running the ball, so maybe it’s time to just give in and let Eric be Eric, at least in the red zone.
Who wins more: Syracuse front four or Notre Dame line?
This is, in my humble opinion, the matchup of the game. Syracuse has been excellent in pressuring the quarterback on passing downs, racking up an 8.6% sack rate, good for 8th in the country. Couple that with the country’s top blitz down success rate (14.1%) and you see the recipe to defensive success. Notre Dame isn’t amazing at stopping pressure, but they're in the top 30 of S&P+ offensive sack rate and blitz down success. Why is this so important? Because...
Will Ian Book have to win this game?
For Syracuse to have a shot at the W, the answer has to be “yes.” Notre Dame wants to run the ball with Dexter Williams, both because ‘Cuse is 76th in S&P+ rushing defense, and Ian Book is coming recovering from injury. Notre Dame’s rushing offense isn't spectacular (68th in S&P+), so there is reasonable hope that the Orange makes stops early, setting up third and mediums/longs. This is where the Orange excel on defense (1st in 3rd and long, 4th in 3rd and medium situations) because of their blitz mentioned above. Give the defense enough tries, and they should break down ND’s offsense enough.
Does special teams do enough?
In a game where Syracuse is going up against the best non-Clemson defense not in the SEC, special teams has a chance to level the playing field. Sterling Hofricter has been excellent at pinning opponents this season, even if Syracuse does not have a great offensive series. Furthermore, an improved game from Sean Riley in the return game (Syracuse is 45th in punt return efficiency according to S&P+) could help set up shorter fields for the offense.