This would be the first time this season the Notre Dame football team would play in nasty weather. It did rain for a brief period of time during the Tennessee game but it appears the last home game has all the makings of a slopfest. These types of weather conditions are not new to some of the Irish players.
"Well, for me, that's really not foreign coming from Minnesota," senior Mark LeVoir said, a native of Eden Prairie, Minnesota. "I've kind of missed it. To me, that's real football and it's fun for an offensive lineman because you know you're going to have to run the football and pound them. When the weather gets bad, you have to focus on the little things like ball security. For an offensive lineman, you have to make sure your feet are under and you're not slipping and sliding."
The weather and the fact that Syracuse has the 6th best pass defense in the country are signs that a game plan centered around the run could be in store. The Orange are 97th against the run, giving up 189 yards per game. Last week, Notre Dame got their running game back on track against Navy by rushing for over 200 yards, the first time this barrier was broken since the Washington game. Sophomore running back Darius Walker ran for 119 yards in the contest and is just 203 yards away from the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He is aware of the weather possibly deteriorating.
"Coaches always tell us not to worry about the weather and try to look past it," Walker said. "But it's kind of difficult not to. In a sense, we're dropping about 30 degrees in a day or two. We have to realize to wear coats now when we go to class and not catch colds. But as far as football is concerned, ball security always comes into play when the weather comes into play, especially if it's a little rainy. You got to make sure you hold the ball high and tight. Don't make it too much of an issue but have it in the back of your mind because the conditions aren't right.
"You can get excited and nervous at the same time. You're excited because you know you're getting ball a lot and a little nervous because you know you have to protect it and be productive. If the weather is bad, you really can't pass. It's up to you to get the yardage to help them team."
Walker is from Lawerenceville, Georgia where the weather usually stays nice and warm. It's a little bit of an adjustment going from that to the craziness of the South Bend weather pattern. Walker wishes there would be sunshine all year long.
"I don't think there is anyway to get used to the snow," Walker said. "I still talk to people from this area and they're still not used to it."
*Offensive coordinator Michael Haywood and Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson were both with the Texas Longhorns last season. Robinson was the defensive coordinator and Haywood coached the running backs. This familiarity with the competition can work both ways but Haywood and the Notre Dame staff appear to have a good read on what the Orange defense will do on Saturday.
"I've seen a lot of the same things I saw last season," Haywood said. "He does a great job coaching technique and fundamental and he has a good football scheme. I think it gives us an advantage because Coach (Weis) has gone up against him several times in the NFL. I had a year to spend with him at the University of Texas. You are a little bit more familiar with his schemes and adjustments than other people who you have faced."
Offensive line coach John Latina sees the battle between Notre Dame's passing game, averaging 328 yards per game, and the stingy Syracuse secondary as a tough challenge for the Irish attack.
"They got a real good secondary," Latina said. "Statistically it shows it and on tape it validates it. They're ranked 6th in pass efficiency. They do a real good job against the pass. They've got some turnovers. They got some guys up front that are some real good players that we'll have to be able to contend with. Their linebackers are fast and athletic guys. It's a good defense that we have to prepare for and we'd like to throw it a bunch and they defend the pass well. It's our strength vs. their strength."
A closer look at the stats might show why the Orange have such a highly rated pass defense. Of their nine opponents, seven of the teams rank 74th or worse in passing offense. Four of them are below 101. West Virginia rates 113th, South Florida 112th, Connecticut 107th and Buffalo 101st. Florida State has the best passing offense Syracuse has seen at 18th in the nation. Notre Dame is ranked 5th in the country in this category.
*How many times can Irish fans say what a difference a year makes? It definitely has made the offensive stats worth looking at. Through nine games, Notre Dame has scored more points, 348, than the last five Irish teams did all season long. If the 38 points per game average continues (which also would be a new record), the single-season mark of 426 points would be history as well. Bowl games do count for season totals.
*Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall have combined for 21 touchdowns and over 1700 yards receiving in 2005. For the year, all Syracuse wide outs have totaled only four scoring receptions and 1322 receiving yards.