Nail in the CoffinWith six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Syracuse faced a 3rd-and-1 from the Notre Dame 21-yard line, but a handoff to Adonis Ameen-Moore was limited to no gain as Irish sophomore safety Max Redfield filled the gap. Trailing 21-3, Syracuse was thus forced to eschew a field goal attempt on 4th-and-1, and quarterback Terrel Hunt's sneak attempt was stopped short of the marker, this time with Irish junior Sheldon Day doing the honors.
The fourth-down stop was Notre Dame's fifth in seven attempts by opponents this season.
Offensive MVP -- Everett GolsonRarely will a quarterback receive post-game honors when saddled with two fumbles lost (plus a third recovered by his teammate) and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a fourth-quarter score.
Rarer still does that same quarterback connect on 32 of 39 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns -- at one point completing 25 straight without a miss.
"Good and bad. There's a lot to learn from," said head coach Brian Kelly. "He does so many really good things, but there are things he has to experience and he experienced some things tonight that are going to make him a better quarterback."
Golson's streak stretched from the third play of the second quarter -- a seven-yard completion to Tarean Folston on 3rd-and-7 -- to a swing pass midway through the fourth quarter that sailed behind Corey Robinson.
Contained therein were 312 passing yards and four touchdowns.
He also fumbled inside the Syracuse 20-yard line twice and gave the Orange brief hope late with the aforementioned interception touchdown at the 5:59 mark of the fourth quarter, a play that brought the hosts from a 28-9 deficit to more manageable 28-15 margin.
"It was pretty weird for me. What I take from it is I have to get better," said Golson of his uneven evening. "There were a lot of mistakes I made. Just sloppy, just sloppy starting with me."
Offensive Game Balls-- Sophomore Will Fuller continues his assault on the Kelly-era record book, scoring a touchdown for the fourth time in as many games. The last player to accomplish the feat was Jeff Samardzija, who scored in each of the first eight games of the 2005 season.
Fuller collected six receptions for 119 yards and two scores, including a 72-yarder that gave the Irish a 14-3 edge midway through the second quarter. Add to that a 75-yard touchdown in the season-opener vs. Rice and Fuller is the first Irish player since Michael Floyd in 2009 to produce two scores of 70 yards or more in the same season.
Prior to both touchdowns, Fuller was stopped short of the marker on a third-down tunnel screen that gained just three yards. His head coach was not happy with the effort. Nor was the still-developing speedster.
"I was really aggravated at myself," said Fuller. "On our first tunnel screen, I should have had a big play but I didn't even get the first down. When he was talking to me, I was already aggravated with myself so I just told him, 'Get me it again, and I'll make sure I get it.'"
Fuller then scored, untouched from 23 yards out, when given a second chance.
-- Fuller's classmate Corey Robinson likewise enjoyed a career-night, securing a personal best eight receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown. (Robinson caught nine passes for 157 yards in all of 2013.) He has 12 catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns over the last two contests.
Robinson's touchdown catch, a leaping eight-yard fade route to the back corner of the end zone, also included defensive pass interference, the second such call Robinson has drawn this season. It extended Notre Dame's lead to 21-3 early in the third quarter.
-- "A big part of Corey's game tonight was his ability to be a complete wide receiver," said Kelly. "Everybody has a sense that Corey is this big target that's rangy and you just throw it up to him. We did that tonight and he scored a touchdown.
"But he caught six passes on the perimeter where he had to turn back that big body, catch it with a cast on (his right hand) and run through traffic. That says a lot about his development as a complete wide receiver. I think tonight was a big night for him."
Unsung -- Perimeter BlockersNotre Dame employed a heavy dose of screen passes Saturday night, the lion's share of the horizontal variety (bubble passes or the aforementioned tunnel screens). Instrumental to the success of both is blocking by wide receivers for each other after the catch.
After a notable blocking missteps in each of the first three victories, Kelly was able to offer post-game compliments to that end.
"C.J. Prosise was huge tonight. his ability to stabilize the sam linebacker, the nickel on the perimeter was huge for us," said Kelly. "And then Will Fuller held his own against their corner. And if we were going to get overwhelmed at that position, we would not have had some of the success we had, so blocking was key for us at the wide receiver position tonight."
Sticking With It: With 161 rushing yards on 41 attempts, Notre Dame improved to 38-4 under Brian Kelly when attempting more than 30 rushes in a contest, including wins in 24 straight. They're just 3-11 when rushing 30 times or fewer.
(Notre Dame is 15-0 under Kelly with 40 or more carries, a stat likely skewed by the reality that the Irish offense was often running out the clock in protection of a large lead.)
Defensive MVP -- Sheldon DayIt's difficult to be an underrated Notre Dame football player on a highly ranked team, but like fellow Indianapolis-product and former teammate Zack Martin before him, Irish defensive end Sheldon Day has done just that.
Day put forth another standout effort Saturday night, finishing with five tackles including two for lost yardage with a quarterback hurry. Two more of his tackles resulted in no gain.
He spearheaded a defensive front that limited Syracuse to 93 rushing yards on 29 attempts (the Orange added 42 on a fake punt).
"It's our mentality," said Day of the unit's continued conquests of opposing rushing attacks. "Coach (Brian) VanGorder pushing it to the D-Line each and every play during practice. It's a hard-core mentality that we will not be run on."
Defensive Game BallsThe Irish defensive end trio of Romeo Okwara, Isaac Rochell, and Andrew Trumbetti combined for seven stops including two behind the line of scrimmage, adding a quartet of quarterback pressures. (Okwara was also flagged for a questionable "Roughing the Quarterback" penalty.)
Both of Trumbetti's stops behind the line came on third down including one in which he ran down a screen pass from the hash mark to the sideline to force a Syracuse punt.
"They're taking everything serious now," Day said of Rochell and Trumbetti. "They're learning how to be college football players now and it's exciting watching them grow."
Asked if he knew the freshman Trumbetti had hashmark-to-sideline speed as displayed Saturday night, Day offered, "No I did not. No I did not. We practice in knee braces and he never gets to really run. It was definitely fast."
From the trio's seven tackles, Syracuse managed just three yards.
Special Teams MVP -- Kyle BrindzaTwo punts that averaged 80 yards without any return, one pinning Syracuse inside its 20-yard line, plus four touchbacks on six kickoffs with one of the returned boots ending with the Orange starting a fourth quarter drive at their own 10-yard line.
Brindza also booted a 37-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to extend Notre Dame's lead to 31-15 -- the 18th time in as many chances that Brindza has drilled a fourth quarter or overtime field goal in a still-competitive contest.
-- Both Greer Martini and Mattthias Farley recovered on sides kick attempts tonight. Martini's recovery followed a surprise attempt by the Orange early in the fourth quarter after they'd cut the lead to 21-9.