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No. 2 Notre Dame vs. Syracuse: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much

Daelin Hayes Notre Dame

Notre Dame Athletics

WHO? No. 2 Notre Dame (9-0, 8-0 ACC) vs. Syracuse (1-9, 1-8).The Orange was down to only 55 dressed players last week in a self-inflicted loss to North Carolina State, presumably sapping Syracuse of the emotional reserves needed to avoid the season’s 10th loss on a trip to northwest Indiana two weeks after the semester ended.

WHAT? Someone has to be the sacrificial lamb on Senior Day, a home finale the Irish have won every season during this four-year program resurgence. Classifying it as a four-year revival underscores the accomplishments of this senior class, on the verge of reaching 43-6, never winning fewer than 10 games in a season, about to win a modern record 24th straight home victory.

Syracuse can quietly join the likes of Boston College last year (40-7), Florida State two seasons ago (42-13) and a competitive Navy outfit in 2017 (24-17) in handing Notre Dame’s seniors one last positive memory in South Bend.

WHEN? 2:30 ET. Senior Day is usually marked by its pregame festivities, but this season those will have to wait until after the game, robbing faculty and staff a chance to audibly demonstrate which seniors excelled in classes and which did not, as Irish head coach Brian Kelly facetiously pointed out this week.

“Most of our guys would run out to a standing ovation because they do so well academically,” Kelly said, more joking about the idea of a few hundred hands clapping in a cavernous stadium than his team’s actual classroom performance. “I’m sure all the faculty and staff that are there would give them a round of applause.”

Instead, Notre Dame will invite the players’ families to the field after the game, at which point each player will be recognized on the video board as pictures are taken.

WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., in what should be the smallest attendance to ever watch a football game — aside from intramural football, that is — in the stadium’s 90 years. To date, that record remains 6,663, notched when the Irish beat Drake, 62-0, in 1932. The Great Depression’s grip stifled attendance more than any war or middling opponent has.

This season has consistently held 10,000+ fans, with 11,011 watching Notre Dame upset No. 1 Clemson on Nov. 7 the season’s peak. Given this afternoon will include only faculty, staff and their immediate families, a maximum of a few thousand feels generous.

NBC will have the broadcast, while the game will stream online and via the NBC Sports app. International viewers should be able to gain access via this link.

WHY? Give credit to Syracuse for showing up. Of course, as long as it had the roster numbers, that was a certainty, but this team lost its top-two running backs to preseason opt-outs. The offensive line depth was so non-existent, head coach Dino Babers nearly pulled the plug on the season before it began. The Orange’s best defensive backs followed those running backs out the door once the season’s tenor was clear. An injury ended junior quarterback Tommy DeVito’s season after four games. The numbers of available players kept dropping.

If Syracuse reserves slipped up just once at a mid-week dinner late in the season, a mild coronavirus outbreak could have knocked the roster below minimum requirements during this pandemic. Instead, the Orange have kept coming, week after week, knowing the likely Saturday result as soon as beginning Sunday film study.

Now to last two weeks past the semester’s end, to travel to northwest Indiana, to endure a 10th loss as the cacophony increases around fifth-year head coach Dino Babers, that roster held together well enough to at least make the trip.

In 2020, that genuinely deserves credit. It required discipline and vigilance in doses missing at programs across the country.

“One of the things that you’re able to build during this time that is so different than if we weren’t experiencing this incredibly difficult time in our country, is the ability to put aside the distractions that you’re facing on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said. “[Players] are confronted with the biggest distraction.”

It is one thing to power through that distraction with a Playoff bid on the line. It is another when facing a blowout 10th loss. Before discussing the exact terms of that blowout, give Syracuse kudos for showing up for it.

The Irish have enjoyed only two true routs this season, establishing the terms of South Florida’s rebuild in a 52-0 win and beating Pittsburgh, 45-3, to shift the narrative before facing Clemson. Notre Dame’s early results grant understandable skepticism this roster is likely to trounce an opponent when given the chance, scuffling to an opening 27-13 win against Duke, giving up 26 points to Florida State and struggling to a 12-7 win against Louisville.

But the Irish have grown up since then, and thus the 33.5-point spread in their favor feels insulting, a combined points total over/under of 51 arguing for a 42-9 result that begs the question, how will Clark Lea’s defense give up nine points? Even if a shotgun snap goes awry — particularly if senior Josh Lugg gets his first start at center while sophomore Zeke Correll recovers from a high ankle sprain, a game-time decision per Kelly on Thursday — and an opportunistic Orange defender gets to it first for a convenient scoop-and-score, a second mishap would still be needed for Syracuse to get into scoring position again for a field goal.

Notre Dame has been playing too well the last two months, since that rout in the Steel City, to assume it will make two comical gaffes. Instead, let’s begin turning a twice-repeated score from the last two seasons into a recurring motif of this dominant stretch.

Notre Dame 52, Syracuse 0.
(8-1 straight up, 5-4 against the spread, 4-5 over/under)

INSIDE THE IRISH READING:The ticking clock on Clark Lea’s time at Notre DameNotre Dame clinches ACC title game berth with Wake Forest trip canceledCanceled Wake Forest trip sends ND to not only the ACC title game, but also the PlayoffAnd In That Corner … Syracuse stands between Notre Dame and unbeaten regular seasonRotation at Buck LB a change for ND, a productive and dynamic changeND wanted ‘balanced’ ACC schedules; the conference deliveredNotre Dame seeks third straight unbeaten season at home, a testament to the seniors30 Years of ND on NBC: Syracuse & snowballs, a 2008 comedy with a long-term payoff

Syracuse QB Rex Culpepper expected to start at No. 2 Notre Dame
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