The Irish welcome Syracuse to South Bend for their home finale this weekend. The Orange come in as a decided underdog against an Irish squad that hasn't met many fans' expectations this season. The Orange are anything but stellar themselves.
Syracuse averages fewer than 300 yards of total offense per game, with 133.4 coming through the air and 151.8 on the ground. Additionally, the Orange convert only 30 percent of their third downs and score touchdowns on only 56 percent of their red zone possessions.
With such a poor passing offense, the Irish defense should be able to totally commit to stopping the run. While a 4.7 yard per carry average is enough to scare Notre Dame, renewed confidence from their play against Navy should provide enough mettle to keep the Orange ground game in check.
On defense the Orange's story is similar. Syracuse allows over 200 yards rushing per game at a clip of 5.2 yards per carry. The pass defense is almost as poor allowing nearly 230 yards per game through the air. Toss in the 15 touchdowns rushing and 23 passing and you quickly arrive at the 33.3 points allowed per game by the Orange.
If that isn’t enough, Syracuse allows their opponents to successfully move the chains on 57 percent of third downs and surrender touchdowns on 82 percent of red zone tries.
The Irish offense should be able to mix the run with the pass, falling back to the former if head coach Greg Robinson and defensive coordinator Derrick Jackson decide to drop seven or eight defenders into coverage.
Much like Washington, nearly every matchup favors the Irish in this game. As such, the keys to winning for Notre Dame are foregone conclusions: play with emotion, don’t commit penalties, protect quarterback Jimmy Clausen, pressure the opposing quarterback, and do not turn the ball over.
With such a large talent disparity, the game plan should be simple and effective. There is no reason for complexity or apathetic play to prevent execution and dominance.
The real key to this game is playing a complete, 60 minutes of football, something Notre Dame has failed to do in any of their games this season. Even last week—up three scores with precious little time remaining—the Irish allowed the Midshipmen to taint the victory and prevent it from being a stepping stone to better football.
Notre Dame needs to come out and play fundamentally sound, physical football. The Irish need to get a lead, show a killer instinct, and walk away with a decisive victory.
This game needs to serve as a momentum-builder for the last game of the regular season. To even have a shot at beating USC the Irish need confidence from a sound win against Syracuse. It will take that, along with a nearly flawless performance and some help from the Trojans, to come out of California with a win.