No. 2 Notre Dame can’t overlook slumping Syracuse

Sports

No. 2 Notre Dame will look to remain unbeaten when it hosts Syracuse on Saturday afternoon in South Bend, Ind.

The Fighting Irish already have clinched a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game by virtue of a scheduling change this week. Notre Dame (9-0, 8-0 ACC) likely will face No. 3 Clemson (8-1, 7-1) in the Dec. 19 game.

A huge showdown on the horizon could lead the Fighting Irish to overlook this weekend’s matchup against Syracuse (1-9, 1-8), which sits at the bottom of the conference standings. But the Fighting Irish have proved so far that they can avoid letdowns, with seven of their nine victories coming by double digits.

Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams said he never would have expected a ticket to the ACC title game.

“It’s crazy,” said Williams, whose team joined the ACC as a full-time member this year as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the independent school to search for a conference partner. “You come to Notre Dame, and you don’t think that you are going to play in any conference games. But now look, we are in the conference championship for the first time in Notre Dame history and the first time ever in my career.

“This is a goal we as a team have been preaching on since we joined the ACC, that we were going to come in here and we were going to compete for an ACC championship no matter what it was. So I feel like now that we are at that goal — or not yet, because we’ve still got Syracuse — we see that goal in the future that we just can’t forget.

“We can’t forget that we’ve still got to keep working to get to that goal. We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”

Williams leads the Fighting Irish with 901 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns through nine games. Running backs Chris Tyree (350 yards, 2 TDs) and C’Bo Flemister (293 yards, 5 TDs) also contribute to a dominant ground game.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book is a dual threat who could challenge Syracuse’s defense. Book has thrown for 2,097 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception, and he has rushed for 412 yards and six touchdowns.

Wideout Ben Skowronek has five touchdown catches for the Fighting Irish, while tight end Michael Mayer and wide receiver Avery Davis have two touchdown catches apiece.

Syracuse has dropped seven games in a row, including a 36-29 defeat last week against North Carolina State. The Orange have allowed 30-plus points in six of the past seven games.

Syracuse quarterback Rex Culpepper will try to move on from an embarrassing gaffe a week ago in which he spiked the ball on fourth-and-goal with five seconds remaining.

“One mistake didn’t win or lose a game,” Orange coach Dino Babers said in defense of his quarterback. “There were other mistakes made during that game, and people need to realize that.”

On the season, Culpepper has thrown for 843 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Running back Sean Tucker leads the Orange with 525 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The top option in the passing game is wide receiver Taj Harris, who has 50 catches for 664 yards and five touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

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