Audric Estime had 128 yards and 2 TDs on 20 carries Saturday. (Photo: US PRESSWIRE)

Three weeks ago, it was, “run the football, and play good defense”, now it is more like, “run the football and block a punt”?

“Whatever works” should be this football team’s mantra.  According to Marcus Freeman after ND’s 41-24 dismantling of Syracuse, “if we can score 41 points doing it the way we just did it, we’re going to continue to do that.”

As a wise football coach once said, “you play to win the game.” Well, the Irish won and for the 5th time in 6 games.

ND never trailed on the day. On the first play from scrimmage, Brandon Joseph jumped a route, made a clean interception and ran 29 yards to the end zone for the pick six.  7-0, 7 seconds into the game.

But in typical 2022 fashion the Irish did not build on their good fortune. Two two major Irish penalties, and a couple of downfield pass completions later, Syracuse found themselves in the end zone and the game was knotted at 7-7, where it stood at the end of the first quarter.

On their third drive of the day, the Irish got the Estime -Diggs show rolling and notched their first offensive score of the day on a Logan Diggs 3-yard plunge. The drive covered 56 yards on 11 plays, nine of them runs and the Irish had the lead, 14-7.

What looked likely to be a one score or tie game at halftime, suddenly turned into a a two score lead just before halftime.  At the 1:42, mark, Pyne airmailed an open Michael Mayer 30 yards up field and Syracuse Safety Ja’had Carter picked the ball off and returned it to ND 42.

The Irish defense though, shut the door on four straight plays. Marcus Freeman judiciously used a timeout and the offense took over at their own 39 with 1:11 remaining. 

After a couple of runs that didn’t gain much, Pyne had his best moments of the day with three straight passes, while running the two minute drill. The first was a beautiful 37 yarder to Mayer up the sideline delivered under pocket pressure to the Syracuse 14. The next play went for 11, again to Mayer to the three and the Irish were in business with first and goal.   Next, with :17 left in the half, Pyne, off of play action, rifled a bullet to Jayden Thomas streaking towards the corner of the end zone. Extra point good, ND 21-Syracuse 7, at the half.

It can be maddening how good Pyne sometimes looks, considering another overall below 50% completion day.

The second half included the, by now to be expected of this team “mini meltdown”. The Irish should be credited however, with playing through a significant momentum swing and seizing it back before the game got away. 

Starting the second half for Syracuse was back-up QB Carlos Del Rio-Wilson.  Wilson a former 4-star prospect was a last summer transfer to the Orange from Florida. 6-2, 232, Del-Rio Wilson provided a spark for the Orange that was lacking while the apparently slowed by injury Schrader was in the game.

The teams traded field goals in the third, so now with the Irish leading 24-10, Syracuse took over at their own 33 after forcing a three and out with 2:46 left in the 3rd. Del-Rio Wilson then led a 6 play, 67-yard drive that included pass completions of 23 and 30 yards and with just :24 left in the third , Syracuse was within a score at 24-17.

The JMA Wireless Dome was rocking.  What those fans didn’t realize, is this ND team seems to thrive under such circumstances. But this time not right away.

A suddenly hibernating Irish offense again went three and out. Jon Sot punted 51 yards and Syracuse took over at their own 25 with a chance to knot things up with 13:57 left in the game. 

Del-Rio Wilson started things off showing off his running skills with scampers of 7 and 8 yards.  Then on 1st and 10 from their own 40 Wilson delivered a ball tipped at the line of scrimmage by Howard Cross. Marist Liafau was in the right place at the right time, and he came down with the errant pass at the ND 46. 

Momentum swung and the Irish were in business at midfield.

Seven plays later, on a drive that included 6 runs and a key pass interference call, Audric Estime found the end zone from 11 yards out. Momentum was now solidly with the Irish and  with 9:11 remaining, the Irish led 31-17.

Defense and special teams then went to work to slam the door shut.

After the ensuing kickoff, Syracuse was held to two yards on two plays and on 3rd and 8, Jayson Ademilola and Howard Cross combined for a sack and forced a Orange punt from their own 26.

Cue the Irish punt block squad.

This time it was Clarence Lewis who streaked in from punter’s far left edge untouched, layed out and executed a text book block, ND’s 5th of the season. Jordan Botelho recovered at the 2. On ND’s first play, Estime tallied his second TD on the day.  38-17, ND.

The Orange faithful streamed for exits.

Syracuse did manage a 75-yard late drive for a TD to make it interesting but a last gasp onside kick was recovered by Mayer at the Syracuse 47.  Steve Angeli entered the game for the Irish and handed the ball off 8 straight times and the Irish closed the scoring for the day with a 20-yard Grupe field goal.

ND 41 Syracuse 24, final. 

Key numbers for ND:  246 yards rushing, 37:40 time of possession, Pyne 9-19, 116 yards. Defense: 2 interceptions, 4 Sacks, 6 quarterback hurries, 8 tackles for loss.  Special teams: 1 blocked punt.

Therein lies the Irish identity, 2022.

A far from perfect performance, but the Irish seized needed momentum as another orange clad team is slated to invade Notre Dame Stadium. next week.  Fifth ranked Clemson, idle this weekend, looms for the 7:30 PM Kickoff next Saturday.

Armed with that momentum, the Irish now have a chance to put the misery of Marshall and Stanford in the rearview mirror.

By Phil Houk

For 25 years, bringing you the glory of Notre Dame football.

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