The game will be at Noon on ESPNU, with SU alums Anish Shroff and Paul Carcaterra on the call.
Notre Dame has been the forgotten member of the ACC family in the early portion of the season, partly due to their late start, but mostly due to the fact that their offense is not (as) loaded with the explosive, eye-catching stars of the other four ACC members.
While everyone is distracted talking about Chris Gray, Michael Sowers, Matt Moore, and the Syracuse midfield, the Irish are quietly biding their time, waiting for their chance to shine on the big stage.
Syracuse is 4-2 (1-1) and looking to avoid dropping to just one game over .500, while Notre Dame is 4-1 (0-1) but doesn’t have a win over a team of note yet this season. Thusly, this is a huge game for two teams needing to fatten-up their resumes. Let’s take a look at the keys to doing just that:
It really stinks to spend so much time and attention on a part of the game that’s usually over in less than 10 seconds, but we have to start with the face-off dot again this week.
Surely you remember Jakob Phaup and Danny Varello going 8-of-32 (25 percent) against Duke, or perhaps you’ve scrubbed that nightmare from your memory?
Either way, in Notre Dame, Phaup and Varello are going up against a unit winning an astonishing 70.8 percent (85-of-120) of their draws on the season. The Irish run out a two-headed monster at X: Penn transfer Kyle Gallagher is fourth in the nation at 73.5 percent (50-of-68), while Charlie Leonard doesn’t have enough draws to qualify but is 69.6 percent (32-of-46). Captain Obvious time: those are scary numbers for SU fans to see.
Face-offs can be a fickle game. One week you’re a zero. The next week, a hero. It will all come down to how your technique, quickness, and strength match up against the next guy you’re facing.
Syracuse doesn't need to win 60 percent or more to take the game, but they need to improve on the Duke performance. Keep this as close to an even battle at X as possible, and you give yourselves a chance overall.
Notre Dame’s Defense and Goalie
Unlike every other ACC team, this Notre Dame team is built around this end of the field.
Notre Dame is leading the country in scoring defense, surrendering only 6.6 goals per game on average. Goalie and baked-goods-entrepreneur Liam Entenmann (that joke just for you end-of-the-aisle enthusiasts) also leads the country with a 6.57 GAA and tacks on a save percentage of 62.7 just for good measure. The ND close defense is made up of three legit All-American candidates in Jack Kielty, Arden Cohen, and Penn-transfer Kyle Thornton.
Watching them last week against Virginia, I saw impressive athleticism and foot quickness out of the Irish close D. To me, this signifies that the best way to attack ND is to play team offense. Trying to individually dodge will likely not do the trick against the athletes they put on the field. Dodging must be done with the intent of moving the ball to the next guy. As the old adage goes: the ball moves faster than your feet, so get the ball moving or it might be a long day for the Orange offense.
The Perfect Storm
Here’s the deal: when you can’t win face-offs, you have the ball less. When you don’t have the ball as much, you have fewer scoring opportunities. When that happens, offensive players tend to get desperate and press their chances, leading to mistakes.
This is a very real possibility for SU in this game based on the track records of these two FO units this season. If the Orange are getting dominated at the X, they’re going to have limited chances to find the back of the net. Remember how they came back down seven against Duke? Going to be much harder to do against such a stingy Notre Dame defense.
Ideally, an offense wants as many opportunities as possible to try and break down ND’s defense because you need that many chances to put up a good number on the scoreboard. But if Syracuse has another cringe-worthy day at X, they could be facing a perfect storm scenario of the Irish face-offs, defense, and goalie.
Ah yes, the vaunted SU first-line midfield, the one considered the best in the country by most experts. Unfortunately, they haven’t been playing like it the last few weeks.
I mean, the emergence of the attack has been awesome for the offense: the addition of Owen Hiltz, the beautiful consistency of Stephen Rehfuss, and the improved shooting of Chase Scanlan.
However, as the attack has been trending up, the midfield production has been dropping hard and fast. The trio is averaging seven points per game on the season, a disappointing number after we saw them finish the shortened 2020 averaging 10.2 points per game as the third best midfield number in SU history.
But the last two games have been especially troubling. The first-line midfield has combined for seven total points in the last two games with all three guys being completely shut out in one of the two games.
It’s a number that simply needs to improve for Syracuse to get back on track. In the meantime, its been great to see the improved production from the second-line midfield, but it’s the Curry-Dordevic-Trimboli connection that’s going to lift the Orange offense up to victory in ACC games.
This will be the toughest challenge the Syracuse offense has faced all season. They need to work the ball around as a team to find the right pass and right shooting opportunity, and they need to be smart with their shot selection against one of the elite goalies in the country. You can’t afford to take bad shots and give Entenmann chances to get momentum early if you’re the SU offense.
Mitch Wykoff and the SU defense need to absolutely harass attackman Pat Kavanagh. They need to make his life miserable. The leader of the Irish offense is averaging over four assists per game, a huge number that indicates just how well he picks his passes to break down a defense.
But mostly, Syracuse needs an improved day at the face-off X. If they go 25 percent or anything close to it for the second week in a row, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for them to win this game against a tough Notre Dame group.
So, let’s hope Phaup and Varello figured some things out, had a great week of practice, and, as always, Let’s Go Orange!!