by John Vannie
DeShone Kizer passed for 471 yards, including three scoring plays of 54 yards or more, as the Irish overcame another shaky defensive outing to beat Syracuse by 50-33 on Saturday. Both teams put on a display of offensive fireworks in the first half, which ended with Notre Dame holding onto a tenuous 33-27 lead. On the flip side, the coverage by each team’s secondary was awful, and the flurry of missed tackles caused football purists to cringe in horror. The Irish romped for 654 yards on the day while the Orange fell just short of 500.
The aerial barrage commenced immediately after the opening kickoff. Kizer fired a bullet over the middle that Equanimeous St. Brown took in stride and ran through a pair of would-be tacklers for a 79-yard score. Eric Dungey accepted the challenge and led the Orange right down the field to paydirt. For the second time this season, Jarron Jones blocked an extra point attempt, and this time Cole Luke did the honors with a scoop and two point score. Instead of a 7-7 tie, Notre Dame held a 9-6 advantage.
Kizer found St. Brown again on the ensuing series, this time with a 67-yard rocket down the sideline for a 16-6 lead at the 11:23 mark. Dungey answered again moments later by hitting Amba Etta-Tawo, and the lanky receiver broke through half-hearted Irish attempts to bring him down to complete a 73-yard scoring play. The scoring barrage was not over, however, as C.J. Sanders returned the kickoff 92 yards for yet another Notre Dame touchdown. When the dust settled, the Irish found themselves in front by 23-13 and not even five minutes had ticked off the clock.
Notre Dame threatened again later in the period, but two ugly running plays from the Syracuse two yard line ended in frustration. The Orange opened the second quarter with a similar challenge at the Irish one, but Dungey managed to get the ball over the goal line on fourth down to close the gap to 23-20. Despite getting a few minutes of rest, the Syracuse defense could not slow down Kizer, who capped a five play drive with a short scoring run.
As this astounding half drew to a close, it was fitting that it ended with a bang. Another Irish trip inside the Orange ten ended with a sack and a field goal for a 33-20 margin, but a 74-yard punt return by Brisly Estime in the final minute set up a scoring pass from Dungey to Ervin Phillips. Syracuse could not capitalize on Kizer’s interception with a few seconds left, as Cole Murphy missed a 40 yard field goal before the teams staggered into the locker room.
Notre Dame’s defense showed up and pitched a shutout in the third quarter, while the offense continued its assault. A 54-yard strike from Kizer to a wide open Kevin Stepherson was followed by an astonishing 59-yard scoring run by Dexter Williams. The sophomore ran the stretch play to the right side, saw a crowd, reversed his field, and ran away from the gasping Orange pursuers.
Now ahead by 47-27 with the game entering the fourth quarter, things slowed down ever so slightly. Greer Martini broke up Dungey’s fourth down pass in the end zone to stop a Syracuse drive, and Justin Yoon tacked on a field goal to get Notre Dame to the half-century mark. Dungey came back with another short touchdown run to create the final 50-33 margin, but St. Brown had to recover an onside kick and Yoon missed a final field goal attempt to put a damper on his day.
The Irish used numerous players on defense, and the strategy paid off in the second half as they settled down and forced numerous punts. Still, it was hardly an artistic performance as the Orange were obviously not a quality football team.
Let’s review the answers to the pregame questions:
Can the Irish keep Syracuse on its heels with a balanced attack? Oh, yeah. The Irish went over, around and through the undersized Orange defense.
Will Notre Dame allow Dungey to play pitch and catch in the short zones? Dungey did throw for 363 yards, so he had plenty of success. He had to be perfect for his team to have a chance though.
Which special teams will make a positive impact on the outcome? Where do I start? Both special teams ran the entire spectrum, as Notre Dame had a kickoff return for a score and a blocked extra point return for two. Syracuse’s Estime had multiple dazzling punt returns.
Can the Irish play with the passion and fire that Kelly is demanding? The sideline was much more animated, but there sure was a lot happening on the field to keep folks awake.
Will Syracuse’s fast offensive pace negate any new wrinkles the Irish plan to implement on defense? Notre Dame did a better job in the second half, with both the pace of the Orange attack and in forcing them into more difficult third down situations. It may be best to pretend the first half didn’t happen.
Can the retooled Notre Dame secondary cover Etta-Tawo? He shredded them early for a score and finished with seven catches for 134 yards, but honestly I thought it would be much worse.
After VanGorder and Kizer, who is next to be thrown under the bus? Kelly’s comments coming out of the shaky first half made me wonder if he was going to fire himself, but everyone will live to fight another week.
Any victory following a 1-3 start is welcome, but the uneven performance did little to convince the fan base that the Irish defense can stop the bleeding in its upcoming games. Fortunately, they face another mediocre opponent next week before the schedule becomes more demanding.