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Syracuse overwhelmed in loss to Notre Dame (GIF recap)

On a national stage, the upstart Orange had the wind knocked out of their sails by the Fighting Irish.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Notre Dame Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of their victory against the Louisville Cardinals, the Syracuse Orange (8-3, 5-2) were set for a clash against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-0) in a contest that would have the nation’s full, undivided attention as major College Football Playoff implications were on the line.

Playing the role of spoiler, the Orange would have positioned themselves for a Top-10 ranking and greatly improved their chances at a New Year’s Six bowl with an upset over Notre Dame. Unfortunately for SU, the clock struck midnight as they were on the receiving end of a 36-3 mauling from the No. 3 team in the nation to wrap up what was a miserable weekend in New York City for SU Athletics.

Since there were few highlights to speak of for the Orange, much of the below talks about what the Irish exploited against Syracuse — and the things SU should be focused on fixing heading into the Boston College game.

1. (10:02 - 1st) 3rd & 16 at Notre Dame’s 40-yard line: Looking to get off of the field and force the Notre Dame offense to punt for the second straight possession, Brian Ward’s defense played it conservative with a soft zone and three man rush. Despite Alton Robinson beating the tackle off of the edge, the nation’s most accurate passer in Ian Book found Tony Jones Jr. out of the backfield for an 18-yard gain up the middle. The Irish would convert this long first down into six points three plays later.

2. (9:09 - 1st) 1st & 10 at Syracuse’s 32-yard line: Looking to make up for the first drive which ended in a three and out, Eric Dungey wishes he had this one back. Off of the fake handoff to Sean Riley, Jalen Elliott jumped Moe Neal’s route to pick off Dungey and return the ball to the Syracuse 15. Eric had Riley open in the flat with room to run as Neal’s wheel route kept the linebacker honest. The Syracuse defense would hold Notre Dame to three on their ensuing drive.

Eric Dungey pass intercepted by Notre Dame safety.

3. (6:07 - 1st) 1st & 10 at Notre Dame’s 46-yard line: When you think of Dungey’s career at Syracuse, you think of the dual-threat quarterback who has shattered the record books in his four years on the Hill. You also think of his injury shortened career and Saturday was another game in which an injury would force him to leave early. On a designed QB keeper, Dungey gained four yards on a short run, but would collapse on the turf after clenching his back before the snap. His exit would prove vital to the gameplan’s for both teams as Notre Dame no longer had to worry about a quarterback who could make plays with his feet.

Eric Dungey injured on run.

4. (5:32 - 1st) 2nd & 6 at Notre Dame’s 42-yard line: Tommy Devito was on deck following Dungey’s exit and in his first play from scrimmage, he almost hit a home run (obligatory baseball reference given the game location) to Nykeim Johnson. Johnson almost maintained possession of the ball despite what could have been called pass interference as the defender made contact with his arms before he came down with the catch. As he did against North Carolina in Week 7, Tommy gave us a glimpse of what could be in 2019 and beyond.

Tommy Devito pass to Nykeim Johnson

5. (6:58 - 2nd) 4th & Goal at Syracuse’s 1-yard line: On this day, there weren’t many positives for the Orange. The defense was often put in precarious positions due to the inability of the offense to drive down the field or sustain a lengthy possession in order for them to catch their breath on the sideline. Despite that, they bent but never totally broke. Facing a 4th and Goal situation, Ward’s defense kept Notre Dame off the board when Andre Cisco grabbed his sixth interception of the season. If this play looks familiar to you its because Dino Babers often employs the tight end slip when on the goal line as well.

Andre Cisco intercepts Ian Book in the end zone.

6. (5:17 - 2nd) 2nd & 12 at Notre Dame’s 47-yard line: Starting at their own 20 on this drive, it finally looked like Syracuse was starting to put it together as a 14-yard run by Dontae Strickland and 17-yard reception by Taj Harris had the Orange on the Notre Dame side of the field. With Harris coming over the middle, DeVito targeted the freshman with a great pass into the receiver’s chest. However, you couldn’t have scripted a worse series of events as Alohi Gilman hit Taj hard enough to jar the ball loose and intercept his second pass of the game. Gilman’s 54-yard return set up the Fighting Irish’s 9-yard touchdown run to decidedly swing the momentum in their favor going into the half with a 20-0 lead.

Tommy Devito’s pass is intercepted

7. (12:48 - 3rd) 1st & 10 at Notre Dame’s 47-yard line: When it is a “home” game, it just feels like some things will go your way. Early in the third quarter, Book managed to slip away from Alton Robinson and Shyheim Cullen. While running to the sideline, Trill Williams broke free from his block and stripped the ball from Book. Oddly enough, the play wasn’t reviewed by the booth. On the next play, Williams would be flagged for a face mask penalty and Notre Dame would put three more on the board after another successful red zone stand. Judge for yourself. Was it a clean strip inbounds?

Trill Williams strips Ian Book
Ian Book is stripped by Trill Williams.

8. (0:15 - 4th) 4th & Goal at Notre Dame’s 11-yard line: Much to the chagrin of Brian Kelly, Dino Babers opted to go for a field goal instead of trying to score on their last play of the game. There are a number of reasons for doing this: 1. You avoid the shutout and 2. Restore the confidence of your potential All-American kicker who missed a chip shot off of the post from 29 yards out in the beginning of the quarter. With the kick narrowly going through the upright, Andre Szmyt broke the single season ACC record for field goals made. If Kelly had an issue with Babers putting points on the board by any means necessary, the Irish defense should have done their best on that drive to keep Syracuse out of their red zone.

Andre Szymt makes field goal.

With the 2018 regular season finale this Saturday in Chestnut Hill against the conference rival Boston College Eagles, the No. 19 Syracuse has the opportunity to bounce back from a tough loss.

For the second time since joining the ACC, there’s something at stake with this game. A victory at BC would push Syracuse to 9-3 (a plateau they’d reach for the second time since 1996) and improve their chances at playing their bowl game down in Orlando this holiday season. Coach Babers has made it clear that the latter isn’t their focus right now as Boston College “is not a freebie”. You can catch the old Big East foes square off Saturday at Noon on ESPN.