Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Syracuse v. Notre Dame Analysis

I'm really having difficulty getting excited about this game.

Syracuse is, by far, the worst team in any BCS conference, and is in the bottom 5 of all of Division I-A with a record of 1-9. The only team they've beaten this year is one of the worst teams in I-A, Buffalo, who is also 1-9, having beaten Kent State (1-9) last week.

To give a sense of just how badly we could beat this team, they lost to Pitt by 17 points, a team we smacked around the field and beat by 21. While this doesn't necessarily mean we'll beat them by 38 (although they will, unless Charlie starts sending in the walk-ons by the early 4th quarter), it does mean that we are going to crush them. [read this article for an interesting take on this kind of illogic, proving that mighty Miami (#4 in country) could be beaten by Florida International (#163)]

There is only one matchup in this game that provides any consideration:

Notre Dame Passing Offense (5th in the nation) v. Syracuse Passing Defense (6th)
2959 yds v. 1469 yds allowed
329 yds/gm v. 163 yds/gm allowed
27 TD v. 8 TD allowed
5 INT (.5 per game) v. 11 INT (1.1 per game)
1.8 INT% v. 5.3% INT percentage (passes/INTs)

The only reason this is worth noting is the fact that there is a severe statistical discrepancy. This is not really worth noting, as teams stop passing against a team when they get ahead - other teams in the top 10 are Pitt (who we killed through the air), Buffalo (1 win), Tulane (2 wins), and East Carolina (3 wins).

Even if the numbers are legit, and the Irish passing offense struggles, Syracuse gives up almost 190 yards/game on the ground (97th in nation), so Darius will have a big day.

Notre Dame's second string could win this game. Grag Robinson, Syracuse's coach, will turn this team around and get them to be competitive again, but there is simply not enough talent there to challenge Notre Dame. Don't pay any attention to Coach Weis' rhetoric about this team having beaten us two years ago, as the Irish were emotionally beaten up and had the worst gameplan in Notre Dame's history for that game, thanks to Ty Willie and his merry men.

Look for the Irish to score early and often, taking their pass offense (5th in nation) and proving the Syracuse D to be overrated, as the Notre Dame scoring offense (7th) just keeps rolling, with the run game adding up to big numbers for the total offense (10th).
Syracuse is inept on offense, and will be unable to respond, struggling on the ground (102nd in the country) and in the air (106th), giving up the most total offense (114th) scored by the Irish this year. I'll be surprised if their scoring offense (113th) can put up any points against the underrated Irish D (77th total, 47th scoring), who have faced three of the top 15 teams in total offense.

This game will be over at halftime.

Notre Dame 49
Syracuse 0

Notre Dame puts up 35 in the first half, prompting Wolke to lead the team in the second half.
If weather becomes a problem, Brady may not get to take a break until midway through the third quarter. The Irish defense gets their first shutout of the season against a team that got shut out by South Florida last week. (not Florida or Florida State - South Florida)
In the second half, Wolke gets some substantial practice handing the ball to Asaph Schwapp and Justin Hoskins, and they still stumble into a touchdown. An overzealous second-string corner returns an interception for a touchdown to round out the scoring, and Coach Weis promptly berates him for scoring, telling him to kneel the pick next time we're up by 42 so he can run more clock.

Notre Dame 42 Naval Academy 21

This game was similar to what I expected. Navy ran a little better than I expected, amassing 239 total yards on the ground, but this is still over 50 yards fewer than they had been averaging. The difficulty in stopping the run was their consistency; they averaged a little over 4 yards per carry, and they didn't have any big runs to skew the average (their longest was 12 yards). Also, because of their consistency, they initially went for it on 4th and short, going 2-2 on 4th down in the first quarter. However, as the game wore on, the larger defensive line started getting excellent penetration into the Navy backfield, disrupting the option offense. They only went for it one time on 4th down after the 1st quarter, and the defense stopped them.

Notre Dame's offense was predictable - they leveraged their strength and height advantages, leading to a touchdown on 6 of their 9 drives in the game. The other drives ended in a turnover on downs, an interception (surprising from Brady), and the end of the game.
The Irish leveraged their strength advantage by providing healthy doses of Walker and Thomas on the ground, amassing a total of 221 yards rushing as a team (Walker led the team with 124 yards). The Irish run game also allowed the Irish to even up the time of possession against a ball-hogging team, wearing down their defense as much as they tried to wear down ours.
Notre Dame leveraged their height advantage all day long, scoring 4 passsing touchdowns against the undersized Navy secondary. Navy made a real effort to try to shut down Jeff Samardzija, routinely double- and triple-teaming him. This, of course, left Maurice Stovall in one-on-one coverage with an undersized corner. He took full advantage, grabbing 8 balls for 130 yards and 3 TDs. Also, while Samardzija's TD catch streak was broken, as he caught only 5 balls for 42 yards, he played a crucial role in tying up the Navy secondary. Fasano caught a TD in his second straight game this week as well, which was nice to see.

Brady was consistent, going 22-31 for 284 yards and 4 TD, but also throwing his 5th pick of the season.

Navy played with a lot of heart, never giving up, even after the Irish went up 3 scores in the 2nd quarter, effectively putting the game out of reach. They wouldn't stop fighting, eventually scoring two TDs in the second half, one with only 1:17 left in the game.

The best part of the game was after the final gun, however, when the Navy players walked over to the Navy band, with the Notre Dame players standing just behind. In a great moment of patriotism, the entire stadium fell absolutely silent as the Naval band played "Navy Blue and Gold," the alma mater of the Naval Academy. Not since I was in the empty stadium about 13 years ago have I heard Notre Dame Stadium that quiet, as the entire crowd showed their respect for our men and women in uniform. It was a very poignant moment.