Notre Dame will be looking to move to 8-2 and a step closer to a BCS bid this Saturday when the Syracuse Orangemen (1-8) come to Notre Dame Stadium. Syracuse will be looking to salvage their season with a victory over the Irish in an otherwise dismal year. The season started out with hope that Greg Robinson would be able to jumpstart the Syracuse program much like Charlie Weis has done at Notre Dame.
Like Weis, Robinson was a successful coordinator in the NFL, as he won two Super Bowl rings as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos (1994-2000). He also spent a year as the New York Jets' (1993) defensive coordinator, three years as the Kansas City Chiefs' defensive coordinator and one season as the defensive coordinator at the University of Texas. Weis and Robinson went head-to-head in the NFL three times, with Weis getting the best of Robinson in all three meetings. In 1999 the Jets beat the Broncos 21-13 with Weis as the offensive coordinator in New York. In 2000 New England Patriots beat the Broncos 28-19, and in 2002 the Patriots beat the Kansas City Chiefs 41-38.
The season started out with promise as the Orangemen were competitive in losses to West Virginia (15-7) and Virginia (27-24). Those losses were sandwiched around their lone win to date against a 1-9 Buffalo team. After a week off, the Orangemen were beaten soundly by Florida State and that is when the wheels appeared to come of as Syracuse struggled to mount a challenge in four of the five next losses. The Orangemen had two weeks to prepare for their last game against South Florida and were shut out 27-0. In that game Syracuse was out gained on offense 427 yards to 182.
Syracuse On Offense:
In addition to installing a new offense at Syracuse, Robinson has a very inexperienced group on offense as the Orangemen returned only four starters from last season's squad.
Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +.
One of the returning starters is junior quarterback Perry Patterson. Prior to this season Patterson had a respectable 58 percent completion percentage. He has seen that number fall to just over 48 percent in the new offense. Because Patterson has struggled to move the offense, Robinson has given sophomore Joe Fields the ball. Fields started the first three games of the 2004 season as a true freshman, before giving way to Patterson. This season Fields hasn't provided much of a spark and in fact he has struggled much more than Patterson in completing only 34.6 percent of his passes while throwing three interceptions and no touchdowns. I'm not certain which quarterback will get the start against the Irish, but I assume both will play.
At running, Damien Rhodes will be starting and receive most of the carries out of the backfield. As with most west coast offenses, Syracuse likes to throw to the backs coming out of the backfield. In addition to Rhodes 775 rushing yards, he has caught 22 passes for 271 yards. After Rhodes there isn't much experience, although red-shirt freshman Kareem Jones will see some time.
The fullbacks are inexperienced and don't see the ball very often and are many used as blockers.
The leading receivers for Syracuse are junior Tim Lane, sophomore Rice Moss and true freshman Nick Chestnut. Prior to the start of the season Moss was the only player of this group that had caught a pass for the Orangemen, and he only had four career receptions. Lane leads all receivers with 24 receptions and 317 yards. He also leads the team in receiving yards per game with 35.2 yards per game.
The Orangemen will look to the tight ends when they put the ball in the air, and they have four that they will rotate into the lineup. Senior Joe Kowalewski is the returning starter; he has 28 career receptions and two touchdowns. The other primary tight end is Alex Shor, who has 8 career receptions for 87 yards.
The adage is if you can't win the battle in the trenches you will have trouble moving the football and the youth really shows along the offensive line. While Syracuse has two veterans in senior right guard Steve Franklin and senior right tackle Quinn Ojinnaka the other three uglies, Kurt Falke, Carroll Madison, and Justin Outten are struggling to establish themselves. This until isn't opening holes for Rhodes and they are having difficulty protecting the quarterback as they have surrendered 31 sacks on the season.
Syracuse On Defense:
Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +
Unlike offense Greg Robinson has an experienced group he can depend on as Syracuse returned eight starters from 2004. Three of those starters are on the defensive line; seniors James Wyche and Kader Drame along with junior defensive tackle Chris Thorner. Senior defensive end Ryan LaCasse wasn't a starter in the past, but he does have experience and he has been a very productive player this year as he leads the defense with seven sacks.
The linebacking corps is an experienced group with returning starters senior Kellen Pruitt and junior middle linebacker Kelvin Smith. Will linebacker Tommy Harris is another senior that has experience.
The strength of the defensive until is the defensive backfield and it stars with senior free safety Anthony Smith. Smith has six interceptions on the year, and always seems to be around the ball. Sophomore Dowayne Davis is the strong safety and the cornerbacks are senior Steve Gregory and junior Tanard Jackson.
Final Thought -
Preview: Notre Dame vs. Syracuse
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