Irish Hoping to Close Season on High Note

The Irish are set to play their final game of the season against Syracuse. The Irish (5-6) have the chance to even their record and finish the season on a high note winning their last four games of the season. Notre Dame players seem to have that swagger back, but the Orangemen should not be taken lightly.

Coach Kent Baer knows his defense will have a real challenge on their hands this week. The Orangemen have a powerful offense, scoring a shade under 26 points per game and averages 362 yards of total offense. Syracuse has a balanced attack and can hurt you with the run or the pass. They also add in some option which makes their offense hard to defend.

Walter Reyes is the Syracuse version of Julius Jones. Reyes has rushed for 1,158 yards this season and Baer says he reminds him of Jones. "He's a heck of back," said Baer. "He reminds me of Julius a little bit. I don't think he's quite as fast--maybe he is--it's hard to tell. I think this is one of the most physical teams we've seen. The fullback is a great blocker. They do a great job with the running game. They do set it up with the run, play-action passes, the quarterback is extremely mobile. He presents a problem with just his ability to scramble."

The threat of the option makes Syracuse harder to defend according to Baer. "These guys are totally different from just about any we've seen because of the threat of the option. Then the two-back running game, the play-action passing game, then they get into a four wide receivers and throw the ball."

The Syracuse offensive line has done a great job of protecting quarterback R.J. Anderson allowing only 12 sacks on the season. Baer says that this is a solid and veteran offensive line. "I think they're really good pass blockers. The ability of that quarterback to scramble eliminates a lot of sacks. That's really a concern because he has the ability of just running the football."

Anderson also is a concern for the Irish defense. "He's got a strong arm. He got a really quick release, probably the quickest release we've seen. He can throw it on a rope. I think he throws better on the run than in the pocket. It should be fun, huh?"

Baer said the secret to the Irish success this week will be stopping the run—as it always is. "You've got to defend the run first. Make sure you are sound versus the option. Anytime you defense a team that runs the option, you can't do a lot of things because it puts you in bad positions. I think you try and force them in as many passing situations as you can."

Running back Julius Jones has a chance to set the single-season rushing record for yards this weekend against Syracuse. Jones is just 224 yards away from the record. "I'm very shocked,' said Jones when asked if he ever thought he would be this close to the record. "I never would've thought that I would have the opportunity. I never thought that I could do it. I've been getting more carries, the offensive line has gotten so much better, and as a team, we've gotten so much better."

Jones says he won't be thinking about the record when he's playing the game. "I'm just going to go into this game just like every other game—trying to win. I don't really think about records. I think if you do that, sometimes you get off your game and bad things happen. I'm just going to go into this game and try to win."

Julius says he parents will be at the game, but his five brothers and sisters will watch on TV. "I think my mother and father will be there to watch my last one so that's always good. Everyone else will be watching on TV."

Coach Tyrone Willingham says the Irish are focused on winning the game, but if the record is in reach, he'll give Julius the chance to set the record. "We will think about it, but the first thing is, team first, win the football game. We will address all those other things as we get to it."

Willingham was asked if maybe the Irish should've gotten Jones the ball earlier in the season. "There's always that thought, but at the same time, there was a lot of growth that was taking place with our football team. I think the opportunities that he had he did very well with. There was still a lot of growth and we were not hitting on all cylinders as we seem to be hitting right now."

The Orangemen have lost their last three games. Willingham says Syracuse will be motivated to beat the Irish. "We know this is going to be a tough game. I don't think Notre Dame has played in the Carrier Dome. This is a game that they're going to be very excited about it. They will bring their best game."

The Irish have a chance to close the season with a four-game winning streak. The Irish offensive line has the chance to give Jones the chance to break the single-season rushing record after a slow start. The team has plenty to play for in this final game. Can the Irish avoid another losing season and finish their season on a high note?


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