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Final score: Notre Dame 45, Syracuse 21

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Not as close or as far as it looks

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Going into Saturday’s game, we didn’t really expect the Syracuse Orange football team to be able to hang with the No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. And they didn’t, really, on the scoreboard in a 45-21 loss. Yet, as anyone who watched the game can attest, this one really came down to a handful of bad breaks for SU — most of which were self-induced.

The Orange defense held the Irish to just three points in the first quarter, then took a 7-3 lead on a Rex Culpepper touchdown pass to Anthony Queeley. They could’ve extended their lead but then the mistakes arrived. A roughing the passer penalty on what would’ve been a third down stop. A Rex Culpepper fumble. SU’s failure to play prevent defense late in the second quarter... Despite a quality first half, ‘Cuse still found themselves down 24-7 at the break.

SU and Notre Dame spent most of the third quarter trading turnovers, with two fumbles and a pick thrown for the Orange and a fumble and an interception thrown for the Fighting Irish as well. There was room for Syracuse to close the gap with an impressive Sean Tucker touchdown run cutting the deficit to just 24-14, and Ja’Had Carter’s nice interception also providing an opportunity. Unfortunately, the Orange just couldn’t string together enough on offense to keep up with Ian Book’s lethal rushing ability for Notre Dame (eight carries for 53 yards and two TDs). ND led 38-14 after three.

Not much happened in the fourth beyond some stat-padding on both sides. Notre Dame’s Chris Tyree had a 94-yard rushing touchdown with the game well decided already, as did SU’s Cooper Lutz (his, an 80-yarder on the ground). Dillon Markiewicz also took the field, handing it off a few times and throwing once — it was incomplete.

We knew Culpepper was getting the start going in, and as such, it wasn’t a surprise to see a typical Rex experience on the game. Early scripted plays looked pretty good, and he relied heavily on Taj Harris to get going. The play-calling had peaks and valleys, but was ultimately derailed by the glut of turnovers — all entirely self-induced.

Rex finished the game 17-of 28 for 180 yards, a touchdown, a pick and two fumbles (plus eight yards rushing). Tucker had a great game on the ground after last week’s struggles, rushing 24 times for 113 yards against the Irish — highlighted by the aforementioned 40-yard rumble. Just give him 44 at this point given how bad the offense around him has been. Lutz had six carries for 102 yards, though all but three of those were in garbage time.

Though it wasn’t last week’s record-setting performance, Taj Harris still managed eight catches for 69 yards and is now tied with Marvin Harrison in sixth on the all-time Syracuse receptions list with 135 for his career. Queeley caught four balls for 42 yards and a score, and Tucker had two first-half grabs for 46. Nykeim Johnson had two catches. Aaron Hackett each caught a pass, though Hackett had a big fumble in the third quarter after a 10-yard gain on his reception.

Obviously the defense let up plenty of points, but it’s tough to fault them. Lee Kpogba and Garret Williams led the way with eight stops each, while Ifeatu Melifonwu collected seven. The Orange had seven tackles for loss on the day, led by Geoff Cantin-Arku (both sacks), with Melifonwu, McKinley Williams, Kingsley Jonathan, Josh Black and Rob Hanna collecting the others. Garrett Williams had three pass break-ups and Jonathan had one. Marlowe Wax had a fumble recovery after Book dropped a snap exchange.

So... a 1-10 season that disappoints a ton and leaves a lot of questions. We’ll talk about all of that in the coming weeks. But for now, feel free to add your own thoughts after this odd, closer-than-it-looked blowout.