EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Syracuse had everything going its way early and pulled out all the stops in an effort to pull off an upset on the national stage Saturday night. They forced an early Everett Golson fumble, one of four forced turnovers on the night, and were marching into Irish territory trying to take an early lead. Then three straight incompletions stalled the Orange on what would be a theme of the night. The Orange even faked a punt and tried a surprise onside kick.
"We can never mistake great effort and attitude and almost and all those types of things for victories," head coach Scott Shafer said. "The only kind of victories that count are the ones that show up in the win column. Our kids understand that and our coaches understand that."
Notre Dame showed off its superior athletes on the outside during a decisive second quarter. A 23-yard touchdown reception by Will Fuller was followed up by a 72-yarder utilizing the same Golson to Fuller connection. That gave the Irish a 14-point lead, one the Orange could not come back from. Syracuse fell 31-15 inside MetLife Stadium to fall to 2-2 on the season.
Syracuse had opportunities in this one, moving the ball to midfield or beyond on their first two possessions. After falling behind 14-0, the Orange moved the ball deep into Irish territory, but faltered behind an unnecessary roughness penalty. With the Irish trying to the game away at the end of the first half, Everett Golson attempted to spike the ball but lost the handle on the snap. Julian Whigham picked up the fumble and returned it for a touchdown. But just like seemingly everything Saturday night, things just didn't go Syracuse's way. The officials blew the play dead and the return was nullified.
"Those officials, they've got a tough job," Shafer said. "Shoot, God knows I make enough mistakes in a game. I don't know if it was a good call or a bad call. It's past history. So we're not going to lose any sleep over it. I know all the fans are upset saying it was definitely a fumble. You know what? I don't know. I know those officials they try their butt off. It's just the luck of the Irish went their way again. That's the way things go sometimes."
The Orange showed promise to start the second half, but another self inflicted mistake stalled a drive in Irish territory. Hunt threw an interception, Syracuse's only turnover of the game.
After the Irish went ahead 21-3, Syracuse tried to get back into it with their best drive of the night. A 25-yard strike to Steve Ishmael was capped by a Terrel Hunt seven yard touchdown run to bring the Orange back to within two scores. But the Irish responded with a long touchdown drive to put the final nail in the coffin on Golson's fourth scoring toss of the game.
The Orange defense was valiant in defeat, giving the Syracuse offense many opportunities to gain momentum. Everett Golson came into the game having not turned it over at all during the 2014 campaign. Syracuse forced five on the night, four from Golson. Durell Eskridge returned an interception for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to close the margin of victory.
"I thought our kids played extremely hard," Shafer said. "Physical football. I was pleased with a lot of the things that were going on. Especially early in the first half with our defensive kids. I really liked our plan. Five turnovers forced was pretty good. Obviously a great day when we're plus four but we're coming up short. Have to finish on offense. Hats off to the Notre Dame defense. That's why they were one of the best in the country."
The offense could never get things moving as the run game found significantly fewer openings than in weeks past, and Hunt was just off on a few critical throws that stalled drives. Ultimately the Irish offensive skill position athletes were too much and the offensive line wore down the Syracuse front seven.
"They just kept us off balance," Shafer said. "We didn't do a good job maintaining and sustaining our blocks up front at times and they got off of their blocks. It comes down to blocking and tackling, block progression and getting off blocks. They did a hell of a job. I mean, they did a hell of a job now. That's a damn good defense. Athletic defense. They beat our rumps on that side of the ball today. Simple as that. Sometimes you have to say you just got beat."
The offensive highlight of the night came from punter Riley Dixon, who took a fake punt in the third quarter 42-yards to give Syracuse another scoring opportunity. But they failed to convert on fourth down and stalled once again. That run made Dixon Syracuse's leading rusher as the rest of the Orange ran for only 93-yards on 29 carries. Notre Dame, however, put up over 500-yards of offense on Syracuse's defense.
Golson threw for 362-yards and four scores (to go along with two interceptions), while Will Fuller finished with 119 yards on six receptions with those two second quarter scores. Jarrod West led Syracuse in receiving with 103-yards on eight catches.
The game featured the largest college crowd for a football game at MetLife Stadium with 76,802 fans in attendance.
Syracuse has a short week ahead of them as they welcome Louisville to the Carrier Dome on Friday night in their ACC opener.
"I'm proud of our kids," Shafer said. "I like their effort. I love their attitude. It will be a great challenge for us as young men to bounce back and prepare for a short week and a very good Louisville football team. We'll be anxious to do so."