Scouting Report

The Irish play host to the Orangemen of Syracuse at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday. Notre Dame and Syracuse first played in 1914. They didn't play again until 1961 when the unranked Irish tripped up number ten ranked Syracuse 17-15 in South Bend. The Orangemen and Irish have clashed five times with the Irish holding a 3-2 record, 2-0 at home, 1-1 at Syracuse, and 1-0 at Yankee Stadium.

Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, who has been receiving a lot of fan and media flack, faces off against a lame duck coach in Syracuse's head coach, Greg Robinson. Robinson has experienced success in pro football as the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator in their two Super Bowl wins. Robinson, the coach for the Orangemen since 2005, has also experienced the other end of the football spectrum being 9-36 at Syracuse.

The Orangemen come into Notre Dame Stadium at 2-8 with wins over Northeastern and Louisville. Syracuse's losses have come at the hands of Northwestern, Akron, Penn State, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers, and Connecticut. The Irish enter this game at 6-4.

Syracuse plays their home games on field turf in the Carrier Dome. Under Robinson the Orangemen are 8-27 on field turf at home and on the road. Syracuse is 1-9 under Robinson on grass fields.

Notre Dame Connection:

Starting Syracuse quarterback, Cameron Dantley, is the son of former Irish basketball great Adrian Dantley. Dantley twice won first team All American honors, was the National Player of the Year in 1976, an Olympic Gold Medal Winner in 1976, six time NBA All Star, and Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame inductee.

Trivia Fact:

NFL great Jim Brown is only fifteenth in all time rushing yardage at Syracuse with 2091 career yards. Current tailback, Curtis Brinkley needs 64 yards Saturday to surpass Brown. Joe Morris is the Orangemen's career rushing leader with 4299 yards.

Syracuse Offense

Syracuse ranks 114th among BSC schools in total offense at 271 yards per contest with 146 yards rushing to rank 65th and 125 yards per game passing to rank 112th. The Orangemen, when they get into the Red Zone, have done well. Robinson's charges have entered the Red Zone a total of 19 times and have scored on 17 possessions with 11 touchdowns, 6 rushing, and 6 passing. The Orangemen have 6 field goals.

The Orangemen's problem though has been getting to the Red Zone. There are few offenses that have completed fewer third downs than Syracuse who have only completed 36 third downs all season. The Orangemen average 18 points per game offensively.

Syracuse's offensive line is small, with only one 300 pounder, and that could be influenced from Coach Robinson's tenure at Denver during their Super Bowl years where the Broncos featured smaller offensive linemen and a great running game. The Orangemen's offensive line is primarily young. From center to left tackle they are all sophomores. Seniors man the right side, and all five have helped the Orangemen's rushing game to total 1462 yards which is a 146 yards per game average. As a unit they have allowed 24 sacks.

The brightest spot in Syracuse's offense is with their running game and their running backs. The Orangemen are led by senior Curtis Brinkley who's already a 1000 yard rusher. Brinkley averages 5.2 yards per carry, a longest of 46 yards, and has scored 7 touchdowns, 6 rushing and 1 receiving. Brinkley hits the hole with authority, has the capability of making the first guy miss, and is adept at bouncing it to the outside. He's a tough kid that fights for yardage. Brinkley's 12 receptions have an average of 6 yards.

Brinkley's backup, Doug Hogue, is averaging 6.6 yards per carry with a longest of 82 yards and 3 touchdowns, 2 rushing and 1 receiving. Hogue also has 11 receptions for a 10 yard average. Hogue excels at making that one big cut at speed.

Antoine Bailey isn't even listed as the third string tailback, but the freshman has seen action to the tune of a 6.1 average per carry and Syracuse moves him all over the field, as a tailback, slot, and wide receiver. Supposedly, Bailey is the fastest of the tailbacks. I haven't seen evidence of this, but if he's faster than Bailey or Hogue then he's a real threat providing they get him the ball.

The Syracuse quarterback is the aforementioned Cameron Dantley. Dantley took over for last year's Orangemen quarterback and season opener starter Andrew Robinson. Dantley does a better job of keeping the ball out of the opponent's hands as he has all 9 touchdown passes for Syracuse and only 4 interceptions in 203 attempts while Robinson has 3 interceptions in 45 attempts. Dantley's other strength is his ability to throw on the move. Dantley has completed 50% of his passes for an average of 11 yards per completion.

The Syracuse receivers are paced by Donte Davis the split end, or X receiver. Donte, who also aligns in the slot, has 27 receptions for a 10 yard average and 1 touchdown. Lavar Lobdell the flanker, or Z receiver, has 13 receptions for an average of 13 yards per reception and no touchdowns. Tight end Mike Owen is second in receptions with 18 for a 9 yard average and 2 touchdowns. Fullback Tony Fiammetta is third with 14 receptions averaging 8 yards and he has 1 touchdown.

Syracuse Defense

Defensively the Orangemen are 104th in the NCAA rankings giving up an average of 423 total yards per game. The Orangemen allow 209 yards rushing per game for 107th place and 213 yards per game passing to rank 72nd. Syracuse gives up an average of 34 points per game.

In Red Zone defense the Orangemen are well down in the NCAA rankings at 110th. Syracuse has allowed opponents 33 scores on 36 trips inside the twenty. Their opponents have scored 12 rushing touchdowns, 16 passing touchdown, and 5 field goals. As a defense the Orangemen have 10 sacks.

Syracuse uses multiple fronts. The Irish will see the 4-3, 3-4, and 5-2 looks if Syracuse runs true to form. The first snap I watched the Orangemen aligned in a traditional 4-3 front and aligned the secondary in cover two. I remember thinking I hope they stay like this as it makes it easier on me. That first play was the end of easy as Syracuse is very much into movement and changing alignments and personnel. Three down and dropping eight is a big part of their package.

The defensive line is anchored by nose tackle Arthur Jones who plays the run well and gets pressure on the passing game. He has 2 sacks, 39 tackles, and 9 tackles for loss. Jones' sidekick, defensive tackle Nick Santiago, leads the Orangemen with 3 sacks. The wild card on this unit is number 30, Vincenzo Giruzzi who's listed as a defensive end, but he is all over the place as a two point stance defensive end, upright defensive end, and linebacker. He'll need to be accounted for before every snap.

The linebacking unit of Syracuse may be their strength. Many losing teams are led in their tackling statistics by their secondary, but this is not the case with the Orangemen. The Syracuse linebackers head up the first three slots of the tackles chart. Mike linebacker Jake Flahererty leads the team with 67 tackles. Will linebacker Mike Mele is second with 65 tackles. Both the Mike and Will have one tackle for a loss and no sacks. Sam linebacker Darrell Smith has 63 tackles, five tackles for a loss, and the unit's only sack.

The Orangemen's secondary is led by left corner Mike Holmes who is fourth in tackles with 58 tackles and 1 interception. Safety Bruce Williams has 2 interceptions. As a unit the Syracuse secondary has 5 interceptions and no sacks. They are a physical unit, but they have given up 23 touchdown passes.

Syracuse Special Teams

The Syracuse punter, Rob Long, is averaging 46 yards per punt which places him third in the nation. He has kicked one punt for 72 yards, hasn't had a punt blocked, forced 11 fair catches and placed 11 punts inside the twenty yard line. His coverage team has allowed 10 yards per return, but they have not allowed a touchdown.

The Syracuse punt return team has had three returners who have only returned five punts on the year for an average of 5 yards per return and no touchdowns. Syracuse has blocked one punt for a touchdown and that was from a unique effort and plan by Syracuse. One of the blockers on the punting team's gunners waited, timed his run down the line of scrimmage, turned up field on the snap, was there almost with the ball, and easily blocked the punt. The Irish blockers on the outside of the punt team need to be aware of this action from Syracuse.

The Orangemen's place kicker, Groza Award Semifinalist, Patrick Shadle, has hit on 12 of 14 field goals missing one from 51 and one from 42 yards. His longest field goal has been 53 yards. Shadle is 21 of 21 on extra points. I'd fear any Shadle kick from 52 yards or less if the game is on the line.

Niko Rechul does the kicking off for Syracuse. He's had 3 touchbacks and his kick offs average to around the five yard line. His kick coverage team allows opponents 26 yards per return, one of the worst averages in the country, but they have not allowed a touchdown. The Orangemen don't have any starters on their kick coverage team and they don't have good overall speed either. The front five for Rutgers were back, set up, and waiting long before Syracuse players got downfield.

The Orangemen's kick off return team is averaging 23 yards per return and returns are roughly shared by Max Sutter and Mike Holmes. Holmes takes it up field with speed has the lone touchdown, a 92 yard return.

The Game

Syracuse is pretty one dimensional offensively on most days. If they can't run the ball the Orangemen usually can't be competitive. Notre Dame is vastly improved in stopping the run this year and the Irish have improved as a team in their tackling.

Dantley falls under the cliché, "You don't have to win the game, just don't lose it." Syracuse can't win the game by passing the ball frequently. The Irish are too good in the secondary and should put enough pressure on Dantley, who is pretty beat up at this point, to make his trip to South Bend an uncomfortable one.

Syracuse shows multiple fronts, moves personnel around, and varies their blitz package and coverages well. Notre Dame needs to be patient and take what is given.

Michael Floyd being injured hurts the Irish offense because of the immense pressure he put on opponent's defenses. Hopefully, Duval Kamara, Robbie Parris, or David Grimes picks up the slack.

Notre Dame needs to keep improving in the running game.

Teams with a lame duck coach are hard to figure until the actual game. They may play their hearts out or they may fold early.

Syracuse is 1-9 under Robinson on grass fields.

Syracuse is competitive in the first and third quarters. . The Orangemen have been outscored in the first quarter only 54-62 and only 52-79 in the third quarter.

Syracuse is often overwhelmed in the second and fourth quarter. The Orangemen are outscored in the second quarter 57-104 and 20-94 in the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame has been outscored in the fourth quarter this season 47-66.

Syracuse played Pittsburgh and West Virginia tough. Against the Panthers the Orangemen led 14-3, 17-10, and 24-16 at the quarter breaks only to give up 18 in the fourth quarter in a 34-24 loss. In their game against West Virginia, a 17-6 loss in the Mountaineer's stadium, the Orangemen only trailed 10-6 with less than five minutes remaining when the Mountaineers' Noel Devine ripped off a 92 yard touchdown run.

Fundamentally the Orangemen aren't that bad a football team. They are some what under-talented, but the main fault of their 2-8 record, as I see it, is inconsistency. Just like Notre Dame. The question is which team shows up for both squads?

Prediction: Notre Dame 27 Syracuse 13


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