Can the Irish Finish With Four Straight?

<P>The Irish will tee it up one more time in 2003 when they play their final game of the season against Syracuse. The Irish (5-6) have won three straight games while the Orangemen (5-6) are riding a three-game losing streak. The Irish season has been a disappointment, but there is still fight in this Notre Dame team. </P>

Syracuse can create a lot of problems on offense. The Orangemen have a balanced offense averaging 184 yards rushing, and 178 yards passing per game. Their offense will use a lot of option, but will also show some pro set type of formations with three and four wide receiver sets. Their offense will show a defense a lot of different looks and formations so the Irish defense will have to be prepared to stop them all.

Quarterback R. J. Anderson completes 60 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1.955 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. He's a mobile quarterback who can beat you with his feet, as well as his arm.

Walter Reyes is the main back in the Syracuse offense. He's rushed for 1,158 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. He averages 4.9 yards per carry. What we found interesting, however, is that he seems to disappear when the Orangemen play the more difficult teams.

As evidence, Reyes rushed for 40 yards against Va. Tech, 55 yards against Boston College, 63 yards against West Virginia, 89 yards against Miami, and 40 yards against Rutgers. We believe the Irish will be at least as difficult to run against as any of these teams listed.

In the passing game, the main receiver is senior Johnnie Morant. Morant has 40 receptions on the year, for 696 yards, and five touchdowns. Opposite Morant is Jared Jones. Jones has 35 receptions on the season, for 346 yards, without a touchdown. The Orangemen also throw the ball to Reyes a lot of out of the backfield as he has 35 receptions, 351 yards, and one touchdown on the season. The Irish linebackers must pay special attention to Reyes coming out of the backfield. The top tight end has only caught five passes so he shouldn't be much of a factor in this game.

The Syracuse offensive line appears to be solid. They've allowed Anderson to be sacked just 12 times on the season, and the Orange rush for 4.4 yards per carry (an impressive stat).

On defense, the Orangemen are led by senior linebacker, Rich Scanlon. Scanlon has 139 tackles on the season, nine tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and an interception. Safeties, Diamond Ferri and Anthony Smith are also very active as they are the second and third leading tacklers. Their two interior linemen, Christian Ferrara and Louis Gachelin, also appear active with 21.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks between them.

The Syracuse defense allows and average of 145 yards rushing per game, and 224 yards passing. Opponents have scored only 11 touchdowns on the ground against Syracuse, but have scored 21 through the air.

I think the most important stat in this game is a three-game win streak versus a three-game losing streak. The Irish appear to be very confident right now, we have to wonder how much confidence the Orangemen will have.

On the flipside, this will be the last game for 16 seniors for Syracuse and we're sure they will want to go out with a win. Add to that the circulating rumors of the job stability of head coach Paul Pasqualoni and you have the makings of a motivated team.

Another factor in the favor of Syracuse is artificial turf and a dome stadium. The Irish haven't played on "turf" this year. We doubt many Irish players have ever played in a dome before.

The Irish effectively stopped one of the best option teams in the country in Navy. They should be able to stop the rushing attack of Syracuse. The real battle will be chasing R.J. Anderson and getting him off-balance in the passing game.

As for the Irish on offense, we expect a healthy diet of Julius Jones. I also think we might see some more experimentation with the vertical passing game we saw last week against Stanford. The Syracuse defense doesn't appear to be one of the stronger defenses the Irish have faced this year. We expect the Irish to be able to move the ball pretty effectively against their defense with both the pass and the run.

In the end, we expect the Irish to pull away in this game. We don't think Syracuse will have success running against Notre Dame. R.J. Anderson will have to have a big game if they hope to win. We think the Irish struggle a little early, but come away victorious. Notre Dame 35 Syracuse 14. Top Stories