Saturday night, when faced with their stiffest test to date on the season, the Syracuse football team earned an all-too-familiar result. The Orange (2-2) had an impressive number of yards on offense at the end of the game, but had trouble sustaining drives, while the defense made a few big plays while otherwise getting picked apart by a superior team. The end result was a 31-15 loss to #8 Notre Dame at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.
The Fighting Irish improved to 4-0 on the season in spite of allowing SU to amass 429 yards on offense and finishing the game with five turnovers. How? The Syracuse offense was able to convert only 3-of-15 third down opportunities while the defense could not stop Notre Dame’s ball-control offense that, at one point, completed 26 consecutive passes.
The Orange defense had a strong start, blunting the first four Irish possessions, ending the first on a fumble forced by Dyshawn Davis deep in SU territory that Brandon Reddish was able to fall on and the last when Reddish picked off a deep pass with under three minutes left in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the SU offense was stuck in neutral. After Terrel Hunt zipped a perfect pass to Brisly Estime for 38 yards on the first offensive play of the game, the Orange could not amass another first down on their first three possessions. Following the Reddish pick, Syracuse was able to get one first down via a personal foul against the Irish and another on the ground. After that, though, a false start penalty unraveled the next set of downs and the Orange started the second quarter with Riley Dixon’s fourth punt of the evening.
Notre Dame responded with a 95-yard drive, scoring on a 23-yard touchdown pass. The extra point gave the Irish a 7-0 lead with just over four minutes elapsed in the second quarter. The next Syracuse possession was like the last, hindered by a false start flag, and again resulted in another three-and-out.
The next play officially put SU into a deep hole. Everett Golson connected with William Fuller on a 72-yard touchdown and the Orange were staring at a 14-0 deficit with 8:31 left in the opening half.
Syracuse was able to build a solid drive on their next possession, reaching as far as the Irish 19, but a personal foul on the Orange backed them up 15 yards. Hunt was able to scramble for 13 yards on third down to regain field goal range. Cole Murphy cashed in on the 38-yard field goal try and SU was within 14-3 with just over three minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Notre Dame responded with another strong drive, reaching the Orange 15, when Golson tried to spike the ball to stop the clock. Julian Whigham rushed in to pick up the ball and took off for the far end zone as most of the players on the field stood in confusion.
Following a replay review, Golson was ruled to have muffed the snap and batted the ball to the ground. Whigham was credited with the fumble recovery, but the return did not count. In any case, SU took over at their own 25 and knelt on the ball to send the game to halftime.
Syracuse opened the second half with a 33-yard pass from Hunt to Jarrod West and a 15-yard scamper by Prince-Tyson Gulley to reach the Notre Dame 31. Three plays later, Hunt was picked off. Nine plays later, the Irish had rolled up 60 yards and scored again, extending their lead to 21-3 just over five minutes into the third quarter.
The next Orange possession was a three-and-out, only this time, SU opted for a fake punt. It was well-timed, as Dixon was able to ramble 42 yards downfield, stepping out at the Irish 30. Three plays later, Syracuse faced a fourth and one at the Notre Dame 21. The coaching staff made a quick decision to go for it, hoping to catch the Irish off-guard. Hunt took the snap quickly, then hesitated too long when looking for a crease in the defense on his quarterback keeper. He was stuffed for no gain and the ball was turned over on downs.
The SU defense blunted the ensuing Notre Dame possession by getting their fourth turnover of the game. Ritchy Desir forced a fumble and Durell Eskridge covered it up at the Syracuse 28.
Syracuse responded on offense, using a pair of passes to eat up pick chunks of turf. The first was a 28-yard hook-up from Hunt to West to cross midfield and the second was a 25-yard connection to Steve Ishmael, which had the Orange starting the fourth quarter at the Notre Dame seven-yard-line. Hunt scampered into the end zone on the next play for a touchdown. Murphy’s extra point try, though, was blocked and the Orange trailed 21-9.
SU opted to try an onside kick, but Notre Dame was prepared, collecting the ball at midfield. Ten plays later, the Irish were in the end zone again, extending the lead to 28-9 with just over ten minutes to go.
On the second play of the next Syracuse possession, Ben Lewis caught a medium-range pass from Hunt with a step on his defender and raced downfield for a 46-yard gain. SU was able to reach the Irish 19, but Murphy’s 37-yard field goal try thudded off the outside of the right upright and fell harmlessly to the turf, keeping the Orange in their 19-point hole.
A handful of plays after the Irish took possession, Durell Eskridge jumped a quick throw and intercepted the ball, taking it 29 yards for a Syracuse touchdown. The Orange were unsuccessful on their attempt for a two-point conversion, leaving the score at 28-15.
Notre Dame again covered an onside kick and this time drove in for a field goal, which extended their lead to 31-15 with under two minutes to go. The Orange were able to move the chains once on their ensuing possession, but were held on the following fourth down, giving the ball back to the Irish. One kneel down later, the ballgame was over.
Quarterback Terrel Hunt ended the game with good-looking numbers, as he completed 22-of-38 passes for 294 yards, but had zero touchdowns and threw an interception. Jarrod West had one of his best statistical games at SU, leading the team with eight receptions and 103 yards.
Durell Eskridge and Brandon Reddish each had an interception and a fumble recovery in the game and Eskridge also had nine tackles. Julian Whigham had SU’s other fumble recovery, while Dyshawn Davis, Ritchy Desir, and Isaiah Johnson were each credited with a forced fumble. Davis topped the Orange with 11 tackles, including eight solo stops, and Johnson had the team’s only sack in the game.
The Orange have a short week to prepare for their next game, as Louisville will visit the Carrier Dome on Friday night for SU’s conference opener. The Cardinals (4-1, 2-1 ACC) bring a two-game win streak to town, most recently pulling out a come-from-behind 20-10 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday. The action will get underway at 7:00pm Eastern and ESPN will televise the contest.