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Notre Dame-Syracuse: Six Keys to the Game for the Irish

Weis GipperCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2016

Kermit the Frog once said, "It ain't easy being green." Well, the truth of the matter for the Fighting Irish on Saturday is that it's indeed easy being green!

During the Charlie Weis era, Notre Dame has beaten their home finale opponent by nearly four touchdowns. So Irish fans, don't get too nervous when the boys don the green jerseys in honor of the Seniors and Green Week (sponsored by NBC).

Syracuse, meanwhile, is limping into this contest 2-8 with lame duck coach Greg Robinson. Greggers was given his walking papers last Sunday but will be able to finish out the remaining two games with the Orange. The question for Syracuse will be whether they will play hard for their outgoing coach or give up like Washington has this season.

1) Don't let the emotions get in the way.

For the Irish seniors, this is their last time running out of their tunnel and playing in front of 80,000+ at Notre Dame Stadium, so make it count! ND hasn't lost a home finale since Ty's last season (41-38 loss to Pittsburgh), and it shouldn't happen this Saturday, as the team needs to play loose and keep their emotions in check.

The Irish also need to quit worrying about bowl destinations because they will take care of themselves after next week's game with Southern Cal.

I wonder if Haywood's soon-to-be departure will have any residual effects on the team as well. We shall see, but the main focus is Syracuse and playing a full 60-minute contest.

2) Continue stuffing the run.

Last week the Irish stopped the vaunted option attack of Navy to the tune of 178 yards, which is well below their season average. That's something Pittsburgh's defense could not duplicate against the Midshipmen.

Notre Dame's defense will have their hands full with Syracuse's Curtis Brinkley. Brinkley is averaging 106 yards per game, while the Orange are rushing 146 as a team. If the Irish can shut Brinkley well below his average, Notre Dame will be in control throughout.

Look for Toryan Smith to have another big game filling in for the injured Brian Smith, while Maurice Crum will end his last home game in grand fashion.

3) Keep on running.

Next to Washington, Syracuse will be the worst run-stopping defense the Irish face this season. The Orange are giving up 209 yards (107th nationally) and 8.5 touchdowns a game.

On the flip side, Notre Dame's 230 yards last week against Navy was their second-highest rushing output this season. That could be in jeopardy because all three Irish backs are running with some confidence now. Look for two of Notre Dame's back to eclipse the 100-yard barrier against the Orange.

This will be another strong showing on the ground for the Irish as long as they take care of business along the line and with the ball.

4) Pickles, manage the game Weis-ly.

Jimmy Clausen wasn't asked to do too much last week against Navy because Notre Dame believed they could run on the Midshipmen, which they did. Clausen connected on 15-of-18 passes for 110 yards. He did, however, have three turnovers on the day.

What Weis will ask of his second-year quarterback is to do the little things correctly and not force the ball into heavy traffic. Once the Irish establish pounding the ball with ease, then Clausen can look down the field for some deep passes.

5) Passing fancy with short, intermediate passes.

Depending on what Greggers and the Orange defense give the Irish, Notre Dame needs to control their offense methodically with quick slants and some out routes. Syracuse's opponents are completing over 64 percent of their passes on the Orange defense, which has the Irish salivating.

Golden Tate has been quiet as of late, but he could have another strong performance with huge yards after catches. Robby Parris and Duval Kamara need to use their height to their advantage against the smaller Orange secondary, while David Grimes will close out a good career with at least one touchdown reception.

Look for more screen passes and a few fades to keep the Orange defense honest.

6) Force the Orange to pass.

Syracuse's offensive weakness is Notre Dame's strength. The Orange are 112th in the country in passing (125 ypg) and are completing less than 50 percent of their passes (48.4 percent). If the Irish can get up on Syracuse quickly and stuff the Orange rushing attack, Notre Dame can pull away easily.

The Irish will see both Syracuse quarterbacks in Cameron Dantley and Andrew Robinson. Dantley has been the starter for most of the season with nine touchdown passes, four interceptions, 1,117 yards, and a 50 percent completion average. Robinson, last year's starter, has three interceptions, 132 yards, and a 40 percent completion average to his 2008 resume.

Notre Dame has one of the best pass defenses in the nation (22nd), yielding only 179 yards through the air. Their opponents are barely completing 50 percent of their passes (51.1 percent), and they have given up only nine passing touchdowns.

When the Orange do pass, look for the Irish to have relative ease behind David Bruton, Kyle McCarthy, and a bevy of lockdown corners. Watch out for Robert Blanton to have a big game defensively.

Closing out the home portion of the schedule at 5-1 is definitely a lot better than that of last season. This will definitely be a building block for the future, but a date in the Coliseum looms Thanksgiving weekend, as well as a to be decided bowl game.

As the clock hits zeros on Saturday, the only thing turning green will be Orange fans as the Irish dominate the contest throughout.

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