This ongoing series examines Notre Dame’s 2014 opponents as they stand after the spring. We’re going down Notre Dame’s schedule, so next up: The Syracuse Orange.
Date: Sept. 27 at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. Time TBA.
Series history: Series tied, 3-3.
Last meeting: 2008 — Syracuse won, 24-23.
2013 common opponents: Pittsburgh (Notre Dame L, 28-21; Syracuse L, 17-16).
2013 in a nutshell
After a strong 2012 campaign that seemed to set Syracuse in the right direction, head coach Doug Marrone bolted for the Buffalo Bills. Syracuse suffered early in 2013, dropping games to Penn State and Northwestern. The young Orange team was stunted by playing then-No. 4 Clemson and then-No. 2 Florida State (both losses).
Syracuse finished 7-6, a fair mark for a young team in a new conference with a new coach. The Orange finished the year on an upswing, upsetting Minnesota in their bowl game. Syracuse returns most of its starters, who now have a year of experience under their belts, but a shaky passing game will need to be addressed.
Players/positions to watch
- Running back: Syracuse lost top back Jerome Smith, who declared for the NFL Draft (he went undrafted). The Orange return Prince-Tyson Gulley, George Morris and Devante McFarlane, who combined for 1,088 yards and six touchdowns last season. Then there’s quarterback Terrel Hunt, whose 577 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns ranked second on the 2013 team. Gulley is evasive in the open field, and Morris is a 201-pound north-south runner. They’ll be running behind an offensive line that returns four starters who have a combined 78 career starts.
- Defensive front seven: Barring the loss of All-ACC tackle Jay Bromley (team-high nine sacks) and linebacker Marquis Spruill, Syracuse returns its entire front seven. Syracuse did a good job defending the run last year — allowing a 24th-best 137.4 ground yards per game. Defensive end Robert Welsh’s 29 tackles, seven tackles for loss and four sacks are the most among returning players. Important to note: Despite a solid run defense, Syracuse didn’t have much of a pass rush.
- Durell Eskridge, safety: Far and away the strongest member of the secondary Syracuse returns, Eskridge is coming off a season that saw four tackles for loss and four interceptions. Eskridge is a ball hawk who may be problematic for Everett Golson and Notre Dame’s receivers. NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. recently slotted Eskridge as the fifth-ranked underclassman at his position for the 2015 draft. Eskridge missed the spring due to finger and hip injuries, but he’ll be in full health by the fall and will be one of the Orange’s top players.
The snowball-littered 2008 home finale against Syracuse still burns in the hearts and minds of Notre Dame fans everywhere.
I hesitate to use the term “trap game” in this situation because Syracuse is a solid, tradition-rich program, but this game is easy to overlook on a slate that includes the Michigan finale, USC, Florida State, Stanford, Louisville and Arizona State.
Syracuse returns most of its defense, a group which gave up 9.4 yards per play to Clemson and Florida State a year ago. The offense will present problems with Hunt the shifty quarterback, a stable of running backs and a strong offensive line. Notre Dame should win this one, but Syracuse is not to be taken lightly.