Syracuse week rolls on and before we dive into how the game will play out from our perspective its important to look at the matchup from the other side of the table. In a week where we are already introducing the new Down the Tunnel radio show (premiering tomorrow night) we at Down the Tunnel are bringing you yet another new weekly feature. Each week we will have a Q&A with a media member from the opponent the Irish will face that week. This week we were joined by Brent Axe (@BrentAxeMedia), an ESPN Radio host in Syracuse covering Syracuse athletics and is also an AP voter. Brent answers some of our questions about Syracuse and how he thinks the game this weekend will play out.
DTT – After looking back on the first three games of the season, what would you say that the major strength of Syracuse is at this point? What is the major weakness?
Brent – Ironically their biggest strength could also be perceived as a weakness as well as quarterback Terrel Hunt is the team’s leading rusher with 273 yards so far this season. Hunt has done a good job on zone-read plays and is much more decisive this season in Syracuse’s fast-paced offense, but his yardage also has to be attributed to the weakness of wide receivers to get separation, forcing him to take off and run more. Running back Prince-Tyson Gulley is capable of breaking off a big run at any time and Linebacker Cam Lynch has been a major strength as well. He is Top 10 in the country in several defensive categories and looks like he has been shot out of a cannon to begin the year.
The weaknesses have been the struggle of the wide receivers to gain separation. Syracuse’s passing game has been short-range on bubble screens and short routes. The secondary is also a big question mark. The history is there for this unit failing to keep up with athletic receivers.
DTT – Syracuse comes into this game with one of the top 20 rushing offenses in the country while Notre Dame touts a top 20 rushing defense? What makes the Orange rushing attack so potent? How do you think they will far against the Irish defense?
Brent – Versatility. What helps is that Syracuse basically has another running back on the field with Hunt. He’s not a burner, but is elusive and can get to the first-down marker when needed on 3rd down. Gulley is the No.1 guy and has the speed to get to the outside and ability to find the hole. Adonis Ameen-Moore is the power back. He is very similar this year to what Jerome Smith was to the Orange last year. Very hard to bring down. Devante McFarlane and Erv Phillips bring speed. George Morris II has flashed at times, but he has kind of been the odd man out this year.
I’m very curious to see how they do against Notre Dame defense because it is far and away the best they have seen this season.
DTT – Syracuse has seemingly had some trouble in the passing game so far this season. Why do you think that is?
Brent – I think it’s a combination of the receivers struggling to find separation, Hunt still developing as a passer and Syracuse’s offensive philosophy. Offensive Coordinator George McDonald has joined the party of coordinators that want to run as many plays as possible, so I think the tendency is Hunt will take the safe route and keep the chains moving by utilizing the H-back a lot. One big key for this game is Hunt will not have his safety valve in this game as Ashton Broyld got hurt last week against Maryland.
DTT – Who are two Syracuse players that Notre Dame fans have not heard of but will know by the end of the game on Saturday?
Brent – I’ll go with Cam Lynch and Brisly Estime. Watch Sean Hickey at left tackle as well. He is going to be an early-round NFL draft pick.
DTT – How do you see the game playing out? What is your prediction?
Brent – I think their best hope is to put pressure on Golson and try to force him into a few mistakes, which won’t be easy considering how he has played this year. Syracuse will play physical “hard-nosed” football, as head coach Scott Shafer likes to say, and will blitz a lot. But the offense just isn’t ready to keep pace. McDonald better have a few tricks up his sleeve. But at the end of the day I think they will be physically dominated by the Irish ‘D. and will struggle to score. Their kicking game is a mess right now. If they can’t finish drives with points, this game will get away from them fast.
I’ve got Notre Dame 41, Syracuse 14.