In the aftermath of Notre Dame’s drubbing of Florida State my thoughts drifted quickly to Syracuse. Normally, I go about Sunday rehashing the game a little, while often catching up for a Saturday that was often punted in lieu of college football. This Sunday was different – the stakes are extremely high for the Irish next Saturday. That said, this has a different feel to it than last year and even in 2012. Last year, the Irish showed some cracks before the November melt-down. This season those cracks do not appear evident.
That being said, I’m worried about Saturday. 13th Ranked Syracuse is 8-2 and has won four games in a row since dropping an overtime game to Pittsburgh. They also beat a ranked N.C. State team and took #2 Clemson to the wire early in the season. This game is no joke, and will undoubtedly provide a late season test for Notre Dame.
The longer that I’ve followed football the more I try to avoid the storylines that some media talking heads will jump all over. Will Ian Book play? Truthfully, I have no idea. Will the “loss” of a home game in order to play in the Shamrock Series hurt Notre Dame? Truthfully, I have no idea nor does it matter. The decision where to play Saturday’s game was made a long time ago. Lou Holtz once said and I’m paraphrasing, something along the lines of, I’m not responsible for who we play or when we play I’m only responsible for how we play. Has the travel affected Notre Dame? Again no idea, though I do know that I could burn the candle in nearly every direction in my 20’s.
If we aren’t going to speculate and grab storylines, what is going to keep Irish fans sane until Saturday at around 6:30 p.m. Numbers don’t usually lie. Could the Irish lose? Absolutely, a penalty marred or turnover filled game, pushes the needle to Syracuse. Of course this is true every week regardless of whether you are 10-0 or 0-10.
Getting Some Sleep this Week
If you are really worried and looking for some comfort to avoid storylines, consider the following numbers. Notre Dame is ranked higher than Syracuse in rushing defense and total defense. Incidentally, Syracuse ranks near the bottom of the nation in total defense. The only defensive stat that really matters though, is scoring defense. Here Notre Dame is ranked 15th in the nation as compared to 70th for Syracuse. Syracuse is also one of the most penalized teams in the country whereas despite the last two weeks, Notre Dame is in the top 25 in fewest penalties. An area of concern for the Irish heading into Saturday is avoiding turnovers, as opportunistic Syracuse is 4th in the nation in turnover margin.
A Familiar Recipe
Teams that win in November and compete for championships usually have a very similar recipe. Good defense, running the football, avoiding penalties, and avoiding turnovers. In almost all of these categories Notre Dame has out performed Syracuse through 10 games. Given the stats and numbers, if the Irish play a clean game on Saturday they should return to South Bend 11-0.