Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1-3 SU, 1-3 ATS) vs. Syracuse Orange (2-2 SU, 2-2ATS)
College Football Week 5
Date/Time: Saturday, October 1st, 12:00 PM
Where: Met Life Stadium
by Mike Mann, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ND -10 /SYR +10
Over/Under Total: 75
The Syracuse Orange and Notre Dame Fighting Irish travel east to New Jersey for a noontime, non-conference Saturday showdown at Met Life Stadium between two teams with near opposite coaching situations.
It has been a nightmare first month of the season for Notre Dame, culminating in last week’s 38-35 loss to Duke in South Bend that saw the Irish record drop to 1-3 on the year so far. The loss to the Blue Devils had at least one positive result, as much to the delight of Notre Dame fans everywhere the school finally fired beleaguered defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. The Irish defense has been nothing short of terrible to start the season, here are just some of their shortcomings thus far – 1) allowed 134 points through their first four games of the year, the most in school history, 2) all three losses have come against first year starting quarterbacks, 3) in those three losses they let up an average of over 505 yards of offense per game, 4) have missed nearly 60 tackles in four games, 5) have not recovered a single fumble and have recorded just one sack 5) allowed five plays of 60+ yards, more than they allowed in the three season span between 2012-2014, and 6) currently rank 109th in total defense, 87th against the pass, 96th against the run and 101st in points allowed per game. While all of those stats are inexcusable and provide ample evidence as to why the school had no choice in getting rid of VanGorder, he is far from the only issue on the team, especially amongst and at the top of the coaching staff.
In the postgame press conference following the loss to the Blue Devils, head coach Brian Kelly said that “we did what I wanted today in terms of coaching” while also stating that all starting positions amongst the team are up for grabs, essentially placing the blame on his players for the Saturday’s downfall against Duke. Considering the team has gone 1-5 over the last six games (letting up an average of over 41 points per game) and just lost back-to-back games at home for the second time since November of 2014, his comments and clear lack of accountability came through as exceedingly ignorant and shallow. In the week leading up to the Duke game Kelly stated he was going to get more involved in the defense, and what followed was the worst and most frustrating to watch performance the team has had in years, which is especially troublesome considering that Kelly is already readily involved on the offensive side of the ball too, including the play-calling which been labeled as ‘unimaginative’, ‘substandard’ or ‘absurdedly
The administration waited too long to get rid of VanGorder and they cannot afford to make the same mistake with Kelly. The whole angry a-hole routine is all well and good (or at least tolerable) when your winning, but when you are not only losing but also avoiding accountability in the process, it’s time for a change. Those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them, and if the losing continues along with Kelly’s tenure, his situation will be remarkably similar to the unfortunate one in South Bend a few years back when fans were forced to suffer through a 16-21 record through the nightmare final three years of the bloated buffoon era of Charlie Weis. For all the grief Lou Holtz got on his way out of Notre Dame it’s interesting to note that the most losses a Holtz team had after his first year coaching for the Irish was five, and that only happened once in ten years, but in the 19 years since he left they have had at least five losses 11 times, and with their unfortunate 1-3 start so far, it’s looking like this will be the 12th time in 20 years. While many Irish fans believe that Tyrone Willingham is the best coach the team has had since Holtz, you could even make that point that George O’ Leary may turn out to be better for Notre Dame then Kelly, as at least O’Leary only embarrassed the administration by lying on his resume and never hurt them on the field, unlike Kelly whose continues to be culpability challenged and either unable or unwilling to take responsibility for the damage his personality and ignorance is now inflicting upon on Notre Dame.
While the Irish continue to deal with their coaching conundrum, Syracuse has no such issues thanks to their offseason hiring of Dino Babers to take over as their sideline leader. The new Orange coach had strong success in his four years before heading to New York, getting to the playoffs twice with Eastern Illinois from 2012-2013 and following that with a two year stint in Bowling Green that saw the Falcons win not only a MAC Conference Championship but also their first bowl game in a decade. Babers inherited an Orange team full of youthful experience, this year returning sixteen starters, only five of which are seniors. Sophomore dual-threat quarterback Eric Dungey leads the nation’s 7th rated passing offense and has played efficiently well to start the year, completing over 65% of his passes for 1,367 yards, a 9/3 TD-INT ratio and an additional two touchdowns on the ground. His favorite target, wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawao, is the true star of the offense, which is made even more impressive considering the fact that he wasn’t even supposed to start entering the season. Tawao transferred from Maryland after finding little success with the Terps, catching just 30 passes for 438 yards and only one touchdown over his last two seasons with the team. In just four games with the Orange, Etta-Tawao has already far surpassed those numbers and currently leads the NCAA with 706 yards receiving, is fifth in touchdowns with 5, and fourth in receptions with 40. He has at least eight receptions and 103 yards in every game so far and last week became the first Syracuse player to have multiple games with 200+ yards receiving in a season, a record he could potentially add to this week going up against Notre Dame’s suspect and highly exploitable pass defense.
The Orange defense is headed by their returning statistical leaders from 2015, junior linebacker Zaire Franklin, who led the team in tackles in 2015 and continues to do this season as well, and sophomore defensive end Chris Slayton, who again is tops in sacks and tackles for loss. Their defense ranks just 92nd against the pass and an even worse 103rd against the run, an area that if Brian Kelly has any remaining sense in his head will attempt to exploit by finally going back their ground game and consistently using running backs Josh Adams and Tarean Folston.
With their disastrous and disarrayed start Notre Dame has already solidified that there is no chance of a pot o’ playoff at their end of the season rainbow, and with that motivation now gone it is up to Brian Kelly to attempt to right the ship that he has battered and get his team back on track toward respectability. How they respond to last weekend’s massive shortcoming in South Bend will decide their season, and should the upstart Orange pull the upset on Saturday, could/should also seal the fate of Kelly’s future at Notre Dame. Syracuse is set up well for success in the near future with the combination of a strong, energizing head coach and a roster comprised of talented underclassmen, but they have struggled mightily through the first month of the season against mobile quarterbacks in blowout losses to Louisville and South Florida, and I believe DeShone Kizer will respond well from last weekend’s debacle and lead his Irish team to a much needed win and cover in Jersey against Babers and the Orange.
Mike M's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Notre Dame -10
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