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Syracuse Must Refocus After Notre Dame Loss

By Dave Holcomb
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It was a bad afternoon, but it would be even worse to let this linger. The Orange still has a great shot at its best record in 17 years and can end 2018 on a high note.

Hyped as the game of the week in college football, the Syracuse-Notre Dame matchup seemingly promised to be a memorable one, if for nothing else, but for the fact the game was at Yankee Stadium.

For the Orange, that’s about all they want to remember from Saturday, as Syracuse’s special season hit a massive roadblock in Week 12.

Notre Dame looked every bit of the Final Four contender it has been billed as all season, dominating one of the best offenses in the country. Syracuse scored just three points and accumulated only 234 offensive yards.

For the Orange, it was downright embarrassing. In fact, so much so that the Orange resorted to kicking a field goal with 15 seconds remaining to avoid a shutout. Notre Dame won, 36-3.

It was a bad afternoon, but it would be even worse to let this linger. The Orange still has a great shot at its best record in 17 years and can end 2018 on a high note. However, that’s only if Syracuse can quickly forget about its performance in Week 12.

Part of the disaster Saturday was losing senior quarterback Eric Dungey during the first quarter. He has been the heart and soul of the Orange for three years.

Notre Dame naysayers will likely point to that this week in the hopes of poking a hole in this resume-building victory. It won’t matter, though, because if the Irish defeat USC next week, an undefeated Notre Dame squad with a win against Michigan will not be let out of the College Football Playoffs.

But truthfully, Syracuse doesn’t have any excuses. Backup quarterback Tommy DeVito has looked great in limited action this season. Dungey left games against Florida State and North Carolina, and in both contests, DeVito came in to lead Syracuse to victory. In those two games, DeVito went 22-for-35 with 325 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.

Against the tough Notre Dame defense, DeVito didn’t look nearly as good, completing under 50 percent of his passes (14 of 31) for 105 yards and two interceptions.

Despite those numbers, it wouldn’t be fair to completely blame the redshirt freshman quarterback. Twice DeVito threw perfect deep passes that would have been touchdowns, but Syracuse wide receivers let Notre Dame defenders rip the ball from their hands.

And on his second interception, DeVito was once more on target, only to see the ball again torn away from his receiver and into the grasp of Irish safety Alohi Gilman.

The real truth is the Notre Dame defense was spectacular. DeVito couldn’t complete anything down the field and had to settle for short screens all day. He had to do that for two reasons - for one, rarely was anyone open. Secondly, the Irish featured a relentless pass rush Saturday, sacking DeVito six times.

There really wasn’t any facet of the game in which Syracuse played well. Playing the No. 3 team in the country on a national stage with high expectations, maybe the Orange simply didn’t handle the mental pressure well enough to stay in this game. Remember, this program hasn’t been in a situation as it was Saturday for about two decades.

With Saturday’s loss, Syracuse’s chances of getting to a New Year’s Six Bowl become slim to none. But that really shouldn’t be the focus.

Although nobody predicted it would be so lopsided, most analysts would have been shocked if Syracuse beat Notre Dame. As NBC announcer Mike Tirico put it during the broadcast Saturday, the Orange was sort of playing with house money.

And because it was a non-conference game, the blowout loss won’t hurt Syracuse’s hopes of finishing second in the Atlantic Division. Yeah, yeah, second-place finishes in a division don’t mean much to the college football powerhouses, but it should to a program such as Syracuse.

Defeat Boston College next week, and the Orange will do just that. Winning next Saturday or in a bowl game will also still give Syracuse its most wins since 2001.

Whether or not Dungey returns to play against Boston College, finishing strong has to be the team’s focus. One or two more victories, and this will still be a season never to forget.