While the loss last week against Clemson was painful to bear, Syracuse has to have a short memory and get back on track as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish come to town on Saturday.
This will be a major network, nationally televised game and the Loud House will be an integral part of SU’s chances of success. Here’s what to watch for.
- Teams: Syracuse Orange (6-1, 3-1 ACC) v. Notre Dame (4-3)
- Date: Saturday, Oct. 29
- Game Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
- Venue: JMA Wireless Dome (Syracuse, NY)
- Network: ABC
Fearless Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Syracuse 23
The Juice Online Season Record: 7-0
WILL DREW PYNE TEST SECONDARY?
Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne has played up and down since replacing injured starter Tyler Buchner in Week 2, throwing for 701 yards, eight touchdowns and one pick in his first three games but only 356 yards, three touchdowns and another pick in his last two. The loss to Stanford two weeks ago was particularly disappointing and, along with the loss to Marshall earlier this year, makes it hard to gauge where exactly Notre Dame is at as a team.
The bottom line however is Pyne is a talented QB that has good mobility, and SU shouldn’t take a match up against this second-string QB lightly. Notre Dame has a good offensive line, three diverse and talented running backs, and a tight end that’s projected to be a day one pick in the NFL Draft.
The good news for Syracuse is that the Irish have a similar problem to SU: Their TE is their best weapon. No other WR has stepped up and TE Michael Mayer accounts for 47.4% of Pyne’s passing yards over the last three games. I don’t see that changing against Syracuse’s elite cornerback group.
SECOND RECEIVING OPTION BADLY NEEDED
I said it in my preview column last week, and it came to fruition: SU would be in trouble if Garrett Shrader had nowhere else to go with the ball besides Oronde Gadsden.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why SU has so much trouble finding a number two option, but I think Dino revealed it in his press conference on Monday. When gushing about how offensive coordinator Robert Anae works with the players, Dino remarked that he’d also love to have a number two guy rise up, but “nothing is given (from Anae). They have to earn it.”
The truth is SU’s other receivers don’t get very many targets to begin with. Between Gadsden, Sean Tucker getting his rushes (and becoming a receiving option this year), and Shrader himself taking off with the ball nearly 15 times per game, there’s not much of the football to go around. Hearing that the onus is on the players to be nearly perfect on what little opportunities they get in a game is concerning. No wonder no one has “earned it” – they’re barely getting the chance to.
CRUNCH TIME FOR DINO
On the subject of head coach Dino Babers and his staff, it’s worth noting this is a monumental game for them. While there’s no shame in losing your first game of the year to Clemson, the second half was a total collapse in which most of the blame could be put rightly on the coaching staff.
In a game that Syracuse led by two scores at halftime, Sean Tucker received a grand total of five carries. Despite being halfway through the year the team still committed 10 penalties for 88 yards, many coming in the second half. Syracuse leads the country in penalties per game.
It was a breath of fresh air to see coach Babers begin Monday’s press conference by addressing some of these issues head on and without prompting. That shows a strength in self-scouting and is a powerful message of accountability by the coaching staff that makes strict coaching easier for the players to swallow.
My worry is that it needed to be done in the first place. A common theme in Babers’ losses over his tenure at Syracuse has been getting “out-coached” and losing winnable games. The Clemson collapse coming down to bad coaching (five Tucker carries in a game you’re winning? Five?), penalties, and the continued inability to feed another receiver is a massive red flag for the tough schedule ahead.
Notre Dame, for all its struggles, is a well-coached team with elite talent on both sides. As fantastic a year as SU is having, it’s going to be tough to predict a win until these issues are shown to be fixed.