Syracuse has a theme over the last two games of the 2014 season. Failing to take advantage of opportunities to seize momentum. Those were well documented against Maryland, and the Orange vowed to correct those mistakes this week against Notre Dame, albeit a much stronger foe.
The defense forced five turnovers, but turned those into only 13 points, seven of which came late in the fourth quarter with the game basically decided. And that was not because the offense finally broke through, but rather the defense finished the job for them as Durell Eskridge returned his interception to the end zone.
The chances started early. The Irish were driving in the game’s opening possession when Syracuse forced an Everett Golson fumble and pounced on top of the ball. The very next play, Terrel Hunt found Brisly Estime up the sideline for a 38-yard gain and put the Orange into Notre Dame territory.
Three plays later, Syracuse was forced to punt. And so it went for much of the night on Saturday.
After Syracuse stopped the Irish on their next possession, they went three and out with excellent field position. Two possessions later, Brandon Reddish intercepted a Golson offering and Syracuse again pushed the ball into Irish territory. But on third and five, they failed to convert and punted.
Two turnovers. Twice into opponents territory off of those opportunities. Twice stalling without a chance to even attempt a field goal.
Late in the second quarter, Notre Dame had taken a 14-0 lead but Syracuse was driving trying to respond. With a 3rd and 9 looming inside the Irish 20, Michael Lasker committed a needless unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to push the Orange back 15-yards. Syracuse ends up with a field goal instead of a touchdown opportunity.
Even with all of this, Syracuse was still in the game throughout most of the evening. They opened the second half with a promising drive, but it ended on an interception. Trailing 21-3, they pushed the ball deep into Irish territory again, but failed to convert on third and fourth and one.
Costly penalties to stall drives, lack of execution in key moments, unable to move the ball in opponents territory. Those issues came up for the second consecutive week and cost the Orange an opportunity at a huge upset on a national stage.
It was not an embarrassing performance by any means, but it goes to show the slim difference between winning and losing. Football is a game of inches, and seemingly every inch went Notre Dame’s way in this one.
”It’s frustrating, you know,” head coach Scott Shafer said. “But that’s why I love football. It’s frustrating but what the hell? Let’s go. We have to move on, and that’s what I told the kids. All thumb pointing, no finger pointing because that’s what weaker men do. The greatest thing about this sport is that it teaches young men to own it.
”’Hey I didn’t get it done today. It wasn’t good enough. Yes coach.’ Later in life, that’s going to help them. Also, dammit we lost. I hate losing but son of a gun, there are lessons to be learned and these kids are going to learn from them. It’s going to be a sour ride home.”