A quick take on Syracuse’s 45-21 season-ending loss against No. 2 ranked Notre Dame, in front of an exclusive Saturday afternoon crowd of faculty, friends, and family at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.:
WHAT HAPPENED: Playing on the second-latest regular season date in the program’s 131 year history (Dec. 5), Syracuse (1-10, 1-9) ended this haphazard season with only one victory for the second time in program history this century (2005 under Greg Robinson). The Orange came out playing strong and smart, taking a 7-3 lead on a Rex Culpepper to Anthony Queeley 18 yard touchdown pass with 9:55 in the second quarter. Then a crucial third down personal foul penalty against Kingsley Jonathan hitting Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book in the facemask kept an eventual scoring Irish drive intact, and changed the game’s momentum. Notre Dame scored three times in just over three minutes before halftime to end any thoughts of a monumental upset, and added three icing-on-the-cake touchdowns in the second half highlighted by Chris Tyree’s 94-yard touchdown run with 6:30 to play.
ANALYSIS: It took Notre Dame (10-0, 9-0) a quarter and a half to wake up and get ready to execute as expected of the number-two ranked team playing in its home finale, before embarking on its goal of making the College Football Playoff semifinals. The momentum swing came on the ND drive after the ‘Cuse took the lead, and was perfectly engineered by the Irish’s splendid quarterback Book. Again, the SU defense had its moments producing two turnovers and holding its own over stretches, while the offensive highlights engineered by Culpepper playing in his Orange finale were the touchdown pass to Queeley, Sean Tucker’s 40 yard burst for a score in the third quarter, Cooper Lutz’s 80-yard score with 5:33 to play, and a season-best 229 yards on the ground. Give Dino Babers and staff credit for having a depleted roster, that was 34 point underdogs, ready to play early, before a combination of Notre Dame’s better talent and Syracuse mishaps kept the Irish unbeaten.
HERO: Filling the role perfectly, Notre Dame’s Book capped off his home career with a school-record 30th victory. Sluggishly trailing 7-3, Book was at his best during the marvelous second quarter (3:08) scoring blitz by scampering 28 yards into the end zone, then hooking up with Javon McKinley on two TD strikes and suddenly it was 24-7 ND at the half. Book added a third quarter 17 yard rushing touchdown and a third scoring throw to McKinley, as he now leads the Irish to the ACC Championship game in two weeks. Book finished 24-for-37 passing – 285 yards in addition to the two running touchdowns, getting a well-deserved proper exit on a ND timeout with 4:58 to play.
ZERO: Down 27 scholarship players and undermanned against a talented and athletic Irish team, Syracuse played strong, but as we’ve seen at the most inopportune times this year, SU was hurt again by self-inflicted wounds. Besides a maddening eight penalties overall, including a fourth quarter targeting call against special-teamer Markenzy Pierre, three Cuse fumbles and an interception made the tall task of pulling off a shocker that much more impossible.
WHAT’S NEXT: A busy offseason looking to a brighter future in 2021. Syracuse will not play in a bowl game for the second straight year (and many teams with winning records will be in the same predicament due to bowl game cancelations related to the pandemic), and instead the coaching staff will turn its attention to the early recruiting signing period which runs from Dec. 16-18. SU has already received some 20 verbal commitments, highlighted by 4-star New Jersey (Camden) defensive back Duce Chestnut, and 3-star California (El Dorado Hills) quarterback Justin Lamson. The program will also be active participants examining the transfer portal which opens in Jan., allowing players a one-time option to move on to new schools without sitting out a season. Just how involved SU will be in pursuing transfers will depend on how many scholarships are available. Current players on the roster have the option to receive an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic-plagued 2020 season.