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Turnovers deny Syracuse football chance at Notre Dame upset

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A promising start turns into a disappointing end

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

You’d be forgiven if you mistook this Syracuse Orange squad for the same team that played against Clemson earlier this season.

Syracuse actually led for six minutes and 37 seconds against the No. 2 North Dame Fighting Irish and looked like a team that didn’t have one win this late into the season. However, four Syracuse turnovers denied the Orange any chance to capitalize on a slow-starting Notre Dame team. The Irish capitalized on Syracuse’s mistakes to pull away quickly at the end of the second quarter en route to a 45-21 win.

“Both teams were competing hard,” said Dino Babers.

A sloppy sequence of events gave Notre Dame all the momentum it needed to take control of the game. The Irish were backed up on their own 28-yard line with less than five minutes to go in the second quarter. However, on third and 10, Kingsley Jonathan was flagged for roughing the passer because he put his hands on Ian Book’s facemask. That penalty gave Notre Dame a first down and Book strung together three straight positive plays to retake the lead for the good.

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

Culpepper fumbled on the very next possession for the first of Syracuse’s four turnovers on the day. Carelessness with the football denied the Orange offense any chance to capitalize on the chances provided by the Orange defense. Culpepper had two fumbles and an interception on the day while Aaron Hackett also fumbled the football.

Culpepper’s first fumble is when Notre Dame started to take control of the game. The Orange defense started to get tired as the offense couldn’t stay on the field long enough, which has been a trend the entire season. The Irish scored three touchdowns in the last three minutes and 18 seconds of the second quarter to grab the advantage for good.

Book took advantage of Syracuse’s tiring defense with his mobility and accuracy to scramble for yards and to find open holes in the Orange zone coverage. He finished 24-for-37 with 285 yards and three touchdowns. Book’s trademark mobility allowed him to scramble for 53 yards and two touchdowns.

“Book was definitely bigger than what he looked like on film,” said Garrett Williams. “He had really good mobility, which we knew going in. But he was way faster than he looked on film.”

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

Syracuse’s defense did all it could to make Book uncomfortable, with the Orange defensive line and linebackers congesting the pocket on the majority of passing plays. Geoff Cantin-Arku was the big benefactor of the successful penetration with two sacks. Syracuse’s pass rush proved to be effective against one of the better offensive lines in the nation.

However, the story of the game continued to be the turnovers as three of Syracuse’s four turnovers were in the second half. Any time the Orange seemed to have the momentum to march down the field, Syracuse would cough up possession and give Notre Dame free reign to burn time off the clock and score.

With the loss, Syracuse goes to 1-10 on the season, its first one-win season since 2005. The Orange have dealt with their fair share of injuries on both sides of the ball, which didn’t aid the cause for more victories. The amount of youth on both sides of the ball is still promising for next season as development throughout the season and in the offseason should make Syracuse’s young contributors better for the future.

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

“There’s guys out on the defense, and I mean a lot of them, that can’t touch me in the weight room,” said Babers. “They’re gonna grow up, they’re gonna lift up, they’re gonna build up, and they’re gonna be really good players.

Unfortunately, Syracuse fans must deal with a one-win season in a unique year with many challenges. On the bright side, there were enough positives throughout the season that should make the 2021 Orange team exciting to watch.