Notre Dame is reeling after a loss to Duke. Syracuse is getting increasingly excited about the Dino Babers era after an upset of Connecticut. Can the Irish rebound or will the Orange keep rolling? ESPN ACC writers David Hale and Matt Fortuna break down the keys to the game.
Matchup Notre Dame has to win: Notre Dame needs to establish the run, plain and simple. Sure, DeShone Kizer looks as sharp as almost any quarterback in the country. But the Irish rank just 83rd nationally in rushing (163.8 yards per game). And the QB should not be their leading rusher, as Kizer was last week against Duke when he was tied with Josh Adams (60 yards apiece). Kizer is dangerously close to Adams in the race for being Notre Dame’s leading rusher on the season, and with an offensive line as talented as this one, the Irish need to be able to impose their will up front, especially late in games. It will keep defenses off-balance and, more importantly, keep the Irish’s own struggling defense off the field, which is especially crucial when facing a tempo offense like Syracuse’s. -- Fortuna
Matchup Syracuse has to win: The pass rush vs. Notre Dame’s offensive line. For all of its struggles elsewhere, Notre Dame’s passing attack remains dangerous with Kizer throwing for nearly 1,100 yards in his first four games and racking up 16 total touchdowns. One of the reasons for his success is that he hasn’t been put on the spot often. Kizer has been pressured on just 15 percent of his dropbacks despite being one of the most heavily blitzed QBs in the Power 5. On the flip side, Syracuse’s defense has struggled against the pass and has one of the weaker pass rushes in the ACC. If they can’t make Kizer uncomfortable, it could be a long day for an already battered Syracuse secondary. -- Hale
Notre Dame X factor: Guessing the motivation level or mental engagement of 18- to 22-year-olds is a fool’s errand … which means it definitely is this week’s X factor for the Irish, who saw their defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder, get fired last week, with analyst Greg Hudson replacing him. What kind of effect will that have on these players? Was the coordinator the problem, or were the players just not that good? And how much of an impact can a new face in charge reasonably make on a week’s notice, especially with a group that’s only known him since June, when Hudson joined the Irish? -- Fortuna
Syracuse X factor: The tempo. Sure, there’s a big concern about the health of QB Eric Dungey, and if he can’t go, it’ll be tough for the Orange offense to be as effective as it has looked early. But regardless of who is taking snaps, the offense is going to move quickly, and that’s a big concern for a thin Notre Dame defense that’s trying to adjust to life under a new defensive coordinator. In Week 1, the Irish defense imploded against Texas’ new up-tempo style, and Syracuse has averaged about the same tempo as the Longhorns this year. The speed with which the Orange operate will test Notre Dame’s D, and as we’ve seen all season, that’s not a good scenario for the Irish. -- Hale
Fortuna’s prediction: Syracuse 41, Notre Dame 35. Look, if the Irish gave up 38 points to a Duke offense that had scored just 27 points total in its previous two games against Power 5 competition, what will this defensive unit look like against a Syracuse offense that loves to dictate the pace? Notre Dame wants to spread the snaps more evenly on defense, but subbing is a tricky issue against the nation’s fourth-fastest offense. And as much as a change in coordinator was needed, the problems run deeper on that side of the ball. A healthy Dungey will hook up with Amba Etta-Tawo for multiple touchdowns and deliver Cuse the win.
Hale’s prediction: Notre Dame 45, Syracuse 21. Two big things swing this game for me. The first is that Kizer is really good, and he’ll be the best QB Syracuse has faced since Lamar Jackson, who absolutely torched the Orange defense. The second is concerns about Dungey’s health. If he’s 100 percent, Syracuse certainly can turn this into a close game and perhaps pull the upset, but while Babers stays quiet on the subject, the status of his QB1 remains a concern for me.