Preview: Notre Dame vs. Syracuse

Irish Eyes previews the game between the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the Orangemen of Syracuse

#6 Notre Dame vs. Syracuse
Fighting Irish   Orangemen
Saturday, November 19th
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN.
2:30 EST

  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:

Syracuse Offense '05 Rank Per Game ND Defense '05 Rank Per Game
Rushing Offense #102 109.6 Rushing Defense #40 131.22
Pass Offense #106 146.9 Pass Defense #100 267.6
Pass Eff. Offense #113 87.7 Pass Eff. Defense #46 118.7
Total Offense #114 256.4 Total Defense #77 398.8
Scoring Offense #113 13.9 Scoring Defense #47 24.3

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.

Key match-ups: Derek Landri, Tevor Laws, Victor Abiamiri and Ronald Talley against the front five of the Orangemen. If the Irish shut down the Syracuse running game, the Orangemen will have to rely on their inconsistent passing game.

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +.

  Joe Fields So. 9-26- 155 0/3 34.6
  +Perry Patterson. 102-212- 1,167 8/4 48.1

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.

  RB Hgt/Wgt Rushes-Yards
  +Damien Rhodes Sr. 6-0/211 187/775, 7TDs
  Kareem Jones Fr. 5-11/207 32/101 0TD

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.

  FB Hgt/Wgt Recpts-Yards
  Stephen McDonald Jr. 6-0/248 2/12 yrds 0TDs
  Breyone Evans So. 6-0/233 - -

The fullbacks are inexperienced and don't see the ball very often and are many used as blockers.

  WR Hgt/Wgt Stats
  Tim Lane Jr. 6-2/209  24 rcpt/317 yds/ 1TDs
  Rice Moss So. 6-2/205  19 rcpts/234 yds/0 TDs
  Nick Chestnut Fr. 5-11/173  6 rcpts/92 yds/2 TD

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.

  TE Hgt/Wgt Stats
  +Joe Kowalewski Sr. 6-4/25 12 rcpts/158 yds/ 1TDs
  Alex Shor Sr. 6-8/255 7 rcpts/77 yds/ 1TDs

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.

  Offensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  LT Kurt Falke Sr. 6-6/295 6 starts
  LG Carroll Madison Fr. 6-2/318 7 Starts
  C Justin Outten Jr. 6-1/284 9 starts
  +RG Steve Franklin Sr. 6-4/330 32 Starts
  +RT Quinn Ojinnaka Sr. 6-5/292 21 Starts

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:

Syracuse Defense '05 Rank Per Game ND Offense '05 Rank Per Game
Rushing Defense #97 189.6 Rushing Offense #58 148.7
Pass Defense #6 163.2 Pass Offense #5 328.8
Pass Eff. Defense #22 109.7 Pass Eff. Offense #4 163.3
Total Defense #43 352.8 Total Offense #10 477.4
Scoring Defense #50 24.4 Scoring Offense #7 38.7

Defensively the Orangemen are stronger than they are on offense, but it's difficult to really say how much stronger because they have had difficulty stopping their opponents on the ground, as they are giving up over 189 yards on the ground per contest. The defense is impressive in allowing just 32 percent of third downs to be converted which is 17th in the nation. The Orangemen defense is also very impressive in pass defense, as they are ranked sixth in passing yard yielded (163.2 yards per game) and 22nd nationally in pass defense efficiency.

Key mach-ups:The battle of the NFL coordinators. Charlie Weis versus Greg Robinson. Scratch that. This game will come down what it has come down to in almost every game the Irish have played this season, Brady Quinn and his receivers against the Syracuse secondary. Can Quinn put the ball where his receivers can make plays.

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +

  Defensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +DE James Wyche Sr. 6-6/267 40 Starts/2.5 sacks
  +NT Chris Thorner Jr. 6-4/312 9 Starts/24 tckls
  +LT Kader Drame Sr. 6-5/290 21 Starts/ 4.0 TFL
  DE Ryan LaCasse Sr. 6-3/249 13 Starts/ 7 sacks

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.

  Linebackers Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +SLB Kellen Pruitt Sr. 6-4/228 31 Starts/ 41 tckls
  +MLB Kelvin Smith Jr. 6-2/232 32 starts/69 tckls
  WLB Tommy Harris Sr. 6-2/233 7 Starts/37 tckls

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.

  Defensive Backs Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +CB Steve Gregory Sr. 5-11/178 35 Starts/ 2 INT
  +CB Tanard Jackson Jr. 6-1/187 20 Starts/ 1 INT
  FS Dowayne Davis So. 6-0/196 9 Starts/ 2 INT
  +FS Anthony Smith Sr. 6-1/194 33 starts/ 6 INTs

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 -
You know Charlie Weis does his press conference on Monday, and he already has the opponent scouted and broken down? By Monday afternoon Weis already knows his opponent and the opponents tendencies.

Here is an excerpt from Greg Robinson's press conference on Monday:

Robinson on how Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn has adapted to Charlie Weis' schemes: "I think that he was in a good system of offense for the last two years. (Former Notre Dame Head Coach) Tyrone's (Willingham) a good quarterback coach. I think that Charlie has been able to take him to the next level. I don't think that this is just something that happened overnight. This was a great player coming out of high school. I just think that he's grown more and more comfortable. The things that Charlie does aren't that much different from the things that Tyrone was doing, in some ways. They're both good football coaches, and Brady is reaping the benefits of that."

This is going to be a game of strength against strength. Notre Dame's offense agasint the Syracuse secondary. The Irish haven't had trouble with better secondaries, so this is going to be very difficult for the Orangemen.

Defensively the Irish have struggled against the pass, but that is also the Orangemen's weakness. In fact, even Syracuse fans would admit that it's tough to find something the offense is good at considering they are only scoring 13.9 points a game. Top Stories