EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — DeShone Kizer flirted with a school record and Notre Dame’s defense came up with a handful of big plays. So at least for this week, the Irish were able to put their disastrous September in the rearview mirror.
Notre Dame sprinted past Syracuse, 50-33, Saturday afternoon at MetLife Stadium for their second win of the season, which ended a five-game losing streak to Power Five opponents. Kizer threw for 471 yards — 55 short of Joe Thiesmann’s record — and three touchdowns, powering the Irish offense to an average of nearly 10 yards per play.
Notre Dame and Syracuse combined for 33 points in the first five minutes of the game, with Kizer finding Equanimeous St. Brown for 79- and 67-yard touchdowns on Notre Dame’s first two possessions, which were sandwiched around an eight-play, 75-yard Orange scoring drive (Jarron Jones blocked the PAT, which Cole Luke returned for a two-point score). Syracuse’s Amba Etta-Tawo added a 72-yard touchdown of his own, which was immediately followed by C.J. Sanders dashing 93 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff.
Things settled down a bit from there, but Notre Dame wasn’t quite able to put away Syracuse when it had the opportunity. Dexter Williams’ fourth-and-goal try from the one-yard line was stopped short, and Kizer missed a wide-open Kevin Stepherson on Notre Dame’s next possession (he would’ve had a touchdown had he connected on the throw).
Syracuse converted its fourth-and-goal-from-the-one attempt in the second quarter to draw the Orange within three, but Kizer barged downfield for a 71-second scoring drive to put Notre Dame back up by 10. Led by Nyles Morgan and Isaac Rochell, Notre Dame’s defense dug in during the second quarter — though they were without safety Devin Studstill, who was ejected for targeting late in the first quarter — and Justin Yoon added a 31-yard field goal to put the Irish up by 13.
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But things came unraveled for Notre Dame late in the second half. Kizer took a sack on third down that knocked Notre Dame out of field goal range, and after Brisly Estime cruised through some poor tackling for a 74-yard return, the Orange scored a late touchdown. Kizer was picked off with about 30 seconds left in the half, but Syracuse missed a 40-yard field goal to end a wild first 30 minutes. The two teams combined for 727 yards of total offense in the first half.
As it turned out, that moment of panic was quickly washed away early in the second half.
Notre Dame’s defense dug in, playing decent enough coverage and pressuring Dungey (James Onwualu’s sack-strip of the Orange quarterback was Notre Dame’s first forced fumble of the season). Kizer found Stepherson — who, again, was wide open — for a 46-yard touchdown, and Wililams dazzled with a video game-like cutback for a 59-yard run for a score. That six-point halftime lead quickly ballooned to 20.
For the first time this season, Notre Dame’s defense had a number of players come up with big individual plays. Linebacker Nyles Morgan had a few, including a pass break-up, a sack and a tackle for a loss. Defensive end Isaac Rochell added a tackle for a loss, as did Onwualu (in addition to his sack-strip). Defensive end Jay Hayes made a few plays, and cornerback Donte Vaughn and linebacker Greer Martini broke up passes, too. And Jones’ blocked PAT — his sixth blocked kick of his career and second of the season — meant Notre Dame was in the lead of this game from the first play to the last.
Syracuse still racked up 33 points, but those individual efforts were a promising sign in the first game of the Greg Hudson era. Dungey’s five-yard touchdown run came with 6:52 remaining in the game and was Syracuse’s first score of the second half (the Orange botched the PAT attempt).
Yoon tacked on a 39-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to give Notre Dame 50 points, its highest total against a Power Five opponent since Oct. 11, 2014 against North Carolina.