Jim Molinaro will line up for the last time at left tackle for the Irish on Saturday. We asked Molinaro what kind of game we should expect from Syracuse. "It will be the most physical game of the whole year," said Molinaro. "They play real hard. A lot of those northwestern teams play smash-mouth football. That's what they're about. Watching them on film, they're real aggressive."
The Irish offensive line has been through the wars so Molinaro doesn't think Syracuse can do anything they haven't seen at this point. "We've seen everything that anyone can throw at us. And, they've probably seen everything as a defense that we can throw at them. When you've played so many games, it's going to come down to the will. Who want wants the game more and the physical strength in the fourth quarter."
Molinaro says he doesn't know how he will feel once the game is over. "It really hasn't hit me yet that it's going to be over next week. I'm just trying to stay focused to get a win. All us older guys are just trying to stay focused in practice this week to get a win."
Bigger goals are probably on the horizon for Molinaro. He said he'd always dreamed of the NFL. Just not at the position he will be playing. "It's always been a dream of mine, but you never know. I came here as a defensive lineman. If you would've told me I'd been 310 pounds and playing offensive line, I would've told you you were crazy. Sometimes life gives you curveballs and it's what you are going to do when opportunities come."
The season hasn't unfolded like Molinaro had hoped, but he says this season has been a good one because this offensive line has shown they can be effective. "Watching film from the first game up until the last game, obviously the line has played a lot better. You just get so much more comfortable after playing so many games with these guys. You can see the progress and that's rewarding."
Molinaro has the chance to end the season on a high note with four wins and the chance to give one of his best friends a gift. Julius Jones has the chance to set the single-season rushing record with 224 yards in this game. "As an offensive lineman, it's great to see a running back have that many yards. Personally, it's great to see one of my best friends come back, face all the scrutiny this summer, and really stay focused for the season. He's handled this well, and it wasn't easy for him. I would love to see that happen for him, for this team, and for the offensive linemen."
Just one more win would be enough for Molinaro. He's hoping to end his season and career as a winner—something these seniors haven't done. "It'd be great to end the season with a win and finish the season with four wins. That's a feeling we haven't really had around here since I've been here."
Offensive tackles coach, Mike Denbrock says Molinaro has been the rock along the offensive line this season, and he's really going to miss him next year. "He's really meant everything," said Denbrock of Molinaro. "He's been a solid force at left tackle, and someone we've been able to lean on offensively to give us real steady play. He's really kind of helped these guys understand the mentality you need to have to play the game with. I think Jimmie has really done a great job of helping these guys understand the kind of attitude you've got to bring with you to play this game. He's been invaluable to us is so many ways, and we're really going to miss him."
Vontez Duff will line up at corner for the last time on Saturday. Duff also says he has no idea how he will feel at the end of the game. "I couldn't explain it right now," said Duff. "I don't think words can explain it, really. I don't know how I will feel once that last second on the clock ticks off. I don't think my words can explain it right now."
Duff wanted to make it clear that this wasn't his last game. "You can't really think of it as your last game if you want to make it to the next level. I'm just going to play the game, work my technique, and make sure I don't get beat."
The Texas native will face another great receiver on Saturday in Johnnie Morant. Morant has almost 700 receiving yards on the year and will remind many of Mike Williams from USC in size and ability. "They're all good receivers. They all have different styles. He's a good receiver. You got to make sure you've got you're A game of he'll make you look bad."
Duff says the Syracuse offense will be difficult to defend. "They do a lot of different things. They switch it up, run some option, they pass it as well. You've just got to be ready for everything. Make sure that we're prepared and execute our defense to the best of our abilities so that we have a better chance of winning this game."
One more win would make Duff happy at this point. "I'm just focused on meeting our goal of one more win. We set a goal to get four wins and we're one short. It's been great playing here. I don't know how I will feel after the game, but I do know I'll feel great if we can get one more win."
Duff and Molinaro have meant a lot to this Irish team. Both have been leaders that kept the team together throughout the season. One more win and a rushing record would seem fitting for a team that never stopped fighting.