Sept. 28, 2014
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The University of Notre Dame's postgame locker room lacked anything in the way of a celebration after the team's 31-15 football win against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium Saturday night.
Sure, the quarterback set a school record for most consecutive completions. Yes, the defense stymied a running attack that came into the game averaging 265 yards per contest. But, that feeling of satisfaction, well, that remained out of reach.
"This game will get you beat week in and week out," said head coach Brian Kelly.
The Fighting Irish had only turned the ball over once in their first three games. Against Syracuse they gave it away five times.
Kelly said his players knew they could have performed better.
Quarterback Everett Golson established a record for most consecutive completions in school history. He ran the streak to 25 until a fourth-quarter quick screen to Corey Robinson went awry. Golson finished the night completing 32 of 39 passes for 362 yards and four touchdowns, giving him a an efficiency rating of 183.6. He also had two interceptions and two fumbles, one coming on a botched spike play at the end of the first half.
The senior signal caller stood among Notre Dame administrators in a side hallway, listening to Kelly speak to the media after the contest. He heard his coach talk about how much the quarterback needed to learn from this game. When Kelly stepped down, Golson shook hands with his coach and they exchanged quick pats on each other's shoulders. Then Golson stepped behind the podium and echoed Kelly's sentiments. He didn't offer many thoughts--and certainly no jubilation--on the record-setting mark: "When I think of this game I think of my play being sloppy."
What the defense did is undeniable. The Irish put the clamps on the Syracuse rushing game. The Orange's leading rusher on the night was punter Riley Dixon. He picked up all of his 42 yards on a fake punt. Syracuse rushed for 135 yards, 130 yards below the team's average and less than a hundred yards when the fake punt is subtracted.
Syracuse's leading ground gainer on the season, quarterback Terrell Hunt, picked up just 31 yards on seven attempts. Orange running back Prince-Tyson Gulley came into the game with an average yards per carry mark of 5.59 for his career, placing him third on Syracuse's all-time list, behind football icons Ernie Davis and Jim Brown. Against the Irish, Gulley managed only 3.6 yards per carry (eight rushes for 34 yards).
With six points coming off a Syracuse interception return for a touchdown, the Irish defense yielded only nine points. Overall, this Notre Dame team is only the third Irish squad to give up 17 points or less in the first four games of the season in the last 26 years. The two other teams to accomplish that: the 2012 edition that played for the national championship and the 1988 national champions.
But the superlatives mattered little to the defensive players who spoke to the media outside Notre Dame's locker room.
"We tried to play assignment-correct football tonight. We're not even close to being as good as we needed to be. We really need to get better for next week," said Joe Schmidt, a team captain and linebacker.
Both Schmidt and sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith said they were happy to get the win, and Smith agreed the performance was sloppy.
"We had a couple drives where we weren't successful in anything we were doing. It was just a matter of us not being very technically sound, a lot of mental errors," Smith said.
As far as shutting down the run, defensive lineman Sheldon Day said it was the main point of emphasis all week in practice.
Day said defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder challenged the front seven to stop Syracuse's run. Then VanGorder made sure his unit faced the run on nearly every single play in practice. "I wouldn't say (it was) frustrating, but it does make your body more natural to the feeling. You feel an O-lineman block a certain way, you know what play is coming."
Yet, the theme throughout the postgame was of a team that failed to meet its own expectations. Satisfied?
"Not at all," Day said. "We didn't have a dominating performance on both sides of the ball. We're striving for that."
-- by Jerry Barca, special correspondent