The #3 ranked Fighting Irish will take on #13 Syracuse at Yankee Stadium in what could prove to be Notre Dame’s hardest remaining game of the 2018 football season. Syracuse, on a four game win streak, has been the surprise team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Notre Dame must follow the ensuing three keys to ensure a victory against the Orange.
Three Keys to a Notre Dame Victory
Key #1–Neutralize the Syracuse Special Teams Unit
Syracuse has the #1 ranked special teams unit according to S&P+ rankings. Notre Dame’s special teams unit is ranked #54. Notre Dame will have to ensure Syracuse’s special teams unit is not the difference in an important team.
Although Syracuse does not have any blocked punts or field goals, their kickoff return defense is tremendous. They rank 4th in the nation in kickoff return defense. They only give up 15.31 yards per kickoff return. Comparatively, Notre Dame ranks 49th in the nation with 21.23 yards per kick off return. It’s only a difference of six yards but Notre Dame may fare better if they just elect a touch back every time.
Syracuse boasts a top-tier punter in Sterling Hofrichter. Hofrichter was named to the Ray Guy award watch list in June. The 5’9’’ junior is leading the ACC with 44 yards per punt. That average is good for 30th in the nation.
More impressive is Syracuse’s kicker Andre Szmyt. Szmyt went from a walk-on in 2017 to earning a scholarship before the 2018 season. Szymt was named a mid-season All-American. Szmyt did not even appear in a game for the Orange in 2017. In 2018, he has hit all 51 extra point attempts while also hitting 27 of 29 field goal attempts. Szmyt became the Syracuse Orange’s single season point leader against Louisville with 131 points. He has hit 27 field goals on the season and is in distance of the NCAA single season record of 31.
The Irish must ensure they keep Syracuse out of field goal range. Syracuse will convert those attempts with their All-American kicker, Szmyt. Next, the Irish must find a way to avoid getting pinned deep in their own territory on punts from Hofrichter.
Key #2-Keep Ian Book Off the Ground
The second of three keys to a Notre Dame victory focuses on the quarterback. Fighting Irish Quarterback Ian Book will be back in action after missing the game against Florida State with an upper-body injury. The offensive line, without pre-season All-American Alex Bars for the rest of the season, will be tasked with this objective.
The Irish have done a good job of shuffling around their offensive line. They have ensured the best talent is on the fields. This shuffling has included starting senior Trevor Ruhland at left guard and right guard. And, it has also included getting much needed experience for junior Tommy Kraemer.
The offensive line has given up 14 sacks on the season. That is good for 28th best in the nation. The Irish will be going up against a Syracuse defense that is 10th in the nation with 33 sacks in 10 games.
This will be a difficult task for the Irish at Yankee Stadium. Given the circumstances, losing their best offensive lineman and a constant reshuffle with a first-year offensive line coach, the Fighting Irish has done a better than average job. However, with a quarterback coming off an upper body injury, it is imperative the offensive line protects it’s budding star quarterback.
Key #3-Red Zone Offense
The third of the three keys to a Notre Dame victory focuses on red zone offense. Notre Dame’s red zone offense is not ranked as the best but that does not make it bad. Through 10 games, Notre Dame’s red zone offense is ranked 28th in the nation. In 43 red zone trips, the Irish have rushed for 16 touchdowns, passed for 13 more and hit 9 field goals. Notre Dame has scored 38 times in 43 attempts which is good for an 88% success rate.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Syracuse Orange have the 44th best red zone defense in that nation. On the season, they have denied their opponents of points seven times in 36 attempts. Of those 36 attempts, Syracuse has only surrendered 8 passing touchdowns.
What does this mean for the Irish? Their formidable red zone Irish will be up against a formidable Orange red zone defense. Which team wins this match up, throughout the game, will come out on top with a win.