Syracuse and Notre Dame will play under the bright lights of MetLife Stadium Saturday night at 8pm eastern. CuseNation.com caught up with IrishEyes.com publisher Tim O'Malley to discuss the Irish in anticipation of the upcoming matchup.
Question#1: Everett Golson has returned after missing last season due to an academic issue. How has he been early this year? Is there a noticeable improvement from two seasons ago?
Tim O'Malley: Golson's been tremendous, accounting for most of Notre Dame's 13 touchdowns (thrown 7, rushed for 4) and bringing a consistent deep ball threat to the Irish offense for the first time in the Brian Kelly era. He's completed nearly 65 percent of his passes despite seven point-blank drops by his targets and has yet to throw an interception (or fumble).
The offensive line has offered mediocre protection but Golson has continually escaped to not only make positive gains with his legs, but to hit targets consistently downfield (anywhere from 15 to 55 yards on the run, rolling left or right).
The Irish haven't played a strong team yet, so it's hard to say if they'd have a different record without him, but it doubtless would have been more of a struggle to get to 3-0.
The major difference between Golson 2014 and the redshirt-freshman the nation saw in 2012 is his knowledge of Kelly's offense. Golson was quarterbacking with training wheels attached in '12, a mantra of "Don't mess up, we have a great defense" was adhered to in most contests. This is a quarterback-driven team and Golson is the leader of it despite his lack of captaincy status (he had no chance to be named a captain after a 2013 academic suspension).
Question #2: Syracuse has struggled defending the pass this season. Who are the biggest threats for the Irish through the air?
TO: A quartet of competitors have emerged in the absence of senior DaVaris Daniels who remains suspended on suspicion of academic dishonesty. Sophomore Will Fuller has been a three-game constant, catching a touchdown in each contest including a 75-yarder against Rice and a leaping, twisting 24-yard score to put Michigan away in the first half. Fuller is the fastest player on Notre Dame's team, at least when they're on a football field) and he'll be used on a variety of slants and bubble screens to ensure defenders don't play off throughout the contest -- he can beat anyone in college football deep if he gets a clean release.
Classmate Corey Robinson is another deep threat though in a disparate body type. Robinson stands six-feet-five and possesses the best hands on the squad. He's a one-on-one mismatch downfield and in the red zone but has not yet proven to be effective between the hash marks in short-to mid-zones. Junior C.J. Prosise is a converted safety averaging 20 yards per catch. He has a 53-yard touchdown to his credit -- along with a 55-yard touchdown drop. At 220 pounds, Prosise is dangerous after the catch.
Senior Amir Carlisle, a former running back and USC transfer, enjoyed a quick start, catching the first three touchdown receptions of his Irish career against Rice and Michigan (2). He injured his knee in a Sept. 13 win over Purdue and is expected to miss Saturday's contest. Redshirt-freshman receiver Torii Hunter, Jr., is likely to make his long-awaited collegiate debut (injuries) to round out the game day rotation.
Notre Dame will throw deep often Saturday night whether Golson has time or not, because he'll find deep targets on the move.
Question #3: How has the team dealt with the players suspended due to the academic issue that came up prior to the season? What is the latest on the situation?
TO: You've tapped into the question that has ruled Irish message boards since mid-August.
As of Monday, September 22, there is no definitive answer. Kelly remains in the dark and has, at least publicly, been steadfast in his stance the it is an academic matter, not a team matter. He wants them back and if he gets them back, they'll play, but until then, they're not involved in practice or in position meetings. (They are allowed at the football facility to train and eat with teammates.)
There is ZERO chance Kelly has or will share his true feelings, those that likely mirror 90 percent of Irish fans. That is, "What's taking so long?"
The actual investigation, according to Kelly, concluded one day prior the season opener. That was August 29. Yet no player had gone through his individual hearing in front of the honesty board as of Sunday, September 14.
Other students, potentially other graduates, are involved. Most fans -- check that -- some fans accept and appreciate that the football players are being afforded no favors. However, the non-athlete students aren't missing one-half of their collegiate responsibility due to an ongoing process as are the suspended five Irish football players.
They're student-athletes, not students. And they've missed a quarter of the 2014 season. And counting.
Question #4: Given that Notre Dame has two weeks to prepare for Syracuse, how are the Irish after a bye? How will the coaching staff use that extra time?
TO: The off week was spent with a skeleton staff. That is, the Irish assistants went out on the road recruiting. So preparation for Syracuse was likely an extra day at most, with the bulk of last week's practices dedicated to skill development. Akin to a training camp without heavy hitting.
Kelly has fared well after a bye with one exception, a 2011 home debacle under the lights against USC in which a heavily favored Irish team (-8.5) got housed by the rival Trojans in what was the first prime time game in South Bend 21 years.
The key for Notre Dame on this bye was healing. Captain Austin Collinsworth has missed the first three games with a sprained MCL. He could play (perhaps start) Saturday night at strong safety. Multiple players had concussions over the previous two games including starting cornerback Cole Luke and rotation defensive end Andrew Trumbetti. Both are available for the upcoming contest. The aforementioned Corey Robinson was playing WR with a broken hand -- two weeks off is expected to help that healing process as well.
Question #5: Syracuse struggled with Maryland, taking a little wind out of the sails of this game. How will Notre Dame react? Is there a chance they look past Syracuse and don't take them as seriously as if they were 3-0.
TO: I think it's human nature, especially for 18-to 22-year-old athletes, but three elements play into Notre Dame's favor entering this contest:
-- The bye week. Notre Dame needed it to refocus and recover.
-- The letdown already happened. The Irish weren't great against Purdue after preaching throughout the week that they were taking the Boilers just as seriously as they did the Wolverines (which is ridiculous).
-- Kelly and the Irish are accustomed to and look forward to these prime time, neutral site NFL stadium matchups. If this game were played in Syracuse, I'd say, "Trap!" If it were in South Bend, I'd feel even stronger about that. And if the Irish had likewise played last week, this would be a full-fledged Vegas trap special. But a game at MetLife will get the players -- and traveling Irish fans -- full attention.