Corey Robinson

Pregame Six Pack: Syracuse in the way of perfect September


Win September. Sounds easy enough, but Notre Dame has only started 4-0 a dozen times since 1970 and just twice since the turn of the century. But by beating Syracuse on Saturday night the Irish have a chance to enter the most difficult stretch of their season on a perfect role.

Brian Kelly utilized his bye week to practice his young team hard, a rarity for the head coach. But with position shifts along the offensive line and a beat-up roster forcing youth into action, Kelly and his staff were still evaluating their personnel, making the early week off an opportunity for self-assessment.

“I think we found out a little bit more about our football strengths and weaknesses,” Kelly said Thursday. “So, I think we addressed some of what we felt were some apparent weaknesses as we move forward and that we’re gonna play to some of our strengths.”

Notre Dame’s first road test is in familiar confines. Heading back to the New York metropolitan area to take on the Orange, they’ll play an away game in front of a crowd that very well could be pro-Notre Dame.

Here comes the Pregame Six Pack. As usual, here are six tidbits, fun facts, leftovers or miscellaneous musings before Notre Dame battles Syracuse in another primetime affair.


As Notre Dame and Syracuse reunite in 2014, 100 years ago their battle help put the Irish on the national map. 

With Notre Dame and Syracuse playing for the first time since 2008, it’s worth taking a quick look back at the six previous games between the two programs. While they’ve come mostly in clusters (a two-game series in ’61 and ’63, three games in ’03, 05 and ’08), the first meeting a century ago is a game of some historical importance.

Notre Dame historian Jim Lefebvre took a look back at the game, where Jesse Harper brought his team east looking for a battle, and emerged with a program-defining 20-0 win over a Syracuse squad that had  stomped Michigan.

From Jim’s research:

The 1914 Notre Dame team traveled to Syracuse and beat The Orange 20-0 to solidify ND’s place among the football powers.

Notre Dame’s trajectory as a team that would play anyone, anywhere was set in 1913. After his hiring from Wabash College as ND’s head coach and athletic director, Harper set about creating a schedule that would take his squad to faraway places that simply didn’t appear on the schedule of other teams from the Midwest…

Referee and Chicago sportswriter Walter Eckersall observed: “Notre Dame’s decisive victory over Syracuse, 20 to 0…gives the Hoosier eleven an equal claim to the western championship with Illinois and Nebraska….The South Benders played good football against Syracuse…Notre Dame’s victory over the New York eleven, the team which decisively defeated Michigan, entitles it to recognition.”

The game Saturday night might not be one of the red letter matchups on the Irish schedule this year, but it certainly carries a bit of significance.


Matching up Notre Dame’s receivers with a suspect Syracuse secondary might be a game inside the game worth watching. 

An early look at the matchup points your eyes to Notre Dame’s passing attack against the Syracuse secondary. But injury and depth issues for both teams could make this one of the defining matchups of the game.

Syracuse has lost defensive back Wayne Morgan for the game, the converted corner playing a key reserve role in all three games. Notre Dame will be without starting slot receiver Amir Carlisle.

On the Irish side, that opens the door for Torii Hunter Jr., who Kelly said had an excellent week of practice.

“Torii Hunter really progressed later in the week,” Kelly said, citing a breakthrough in playing through the injury. That should open up an opportunity for the skilled sophomore receiver to utilize a skillset that’s always excited the head coach.

“He’s got sure hands, great acceleration and he’s strong,” Kelly continued. “He’s gonna be a really good player. We’ve just gotta get him out there and get him going.”


In a football game that might be closer than many suspect, cashing in points in the red zone will be critical. 

Much has been made about Notre Dame’s improvement in the red zone. The Irish will need to continue that efficiency in the scoring area, a region on the field where Notre Dame has a decided advantage over Syracuse.

“We try to play our best red-zone defense possible but they are a great offense,” Orange head coach Scott Shafer said during his weekly teleconference. “They’ve been spectacular in the red zone.”

Syracuse’s offense is going to need to improve in the red zone, where they’ll be facing another stout Irish defense in the scoring area. It’s worth looking back at the success Notre Dame has had in the red zone defensively.

The Irish rank fourth nationally this year, giving up just four scores. But since Kelly arrived in South Bend, the Irish are second in FBS in the red zone, giving up just 3.7 points per red zone drive. They are the best defense since 2010 in allowing touchdowns, giving them up at just a 46-percent clip.

Shafer bemoaned a few missed scoring opportunities that tipped the scales against Maryland. He’ll be facing a tougher test this weekend.


Notre Dame’s rushing defense will face a stiff test. 

It’s good versus good on the ground, with the Irish defense facing a very good rushing attack in Syracuse. With quarterback Terrel Hunt running for 7.0 yards a carry and a deep running back depth chart behind him, the Orange will be the truest test this Irish defense has faced so far. Senior back Prince-Tyson Gulley’s career 5.59 yards per carry average trails only two guys named Ernie Davis and Jim Brown. So that’s a pretty convincing sign that he’s a big play waiting to happen.

There’s a rather elegant symmetry to it all with both Notre Dame’s rushing defense and Syracuse’s running offense ranked 19th in the country. But just as the Irish have done a great job playing defense in the red zone, the ability to stop the run has been a building block of Kelly’s program.

Even with a new system and a rebuilt front seven, the Irish defense is managing to live up to the reputation,  a group that since 2010 is eighth nationally in points allowed. With Syracuse’s primary offensive attack coming on the ground, it’ll be interesting to see if the Irish can live up to their stingy ways. Notre Dame trails only Alabama in rushing touchdowns allowed since 2011, making this a key early season test for a young group that’s played brilliantly so far.


A resolution is coming soon for the five suspended players. Or at least Brian Kelly thinks it is. 

There’s no official comment out of Notre Dame on the suspensions of DaVaris Daniels, Eilar Hardy, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams. But Kelly believes that there’s a chance all of this could be wrapped up by next Thursday.

“I think in talking with a couple of the players I think they have scheduled hearings next Tuesday and Wednesday,” Kelly said Thursday before leaving for New York. “I don’t have confirmation on all five. But I know from what I hear first hand I know Tuesday and Wednesday. I’m hearing second hand that they’re trying to get them all wrapped up by Thursday of next week.”

That’s not to say that all five would be made available to play football, or that they’ll be allowed to. But Kelly did give consideration into allowing them to practice and attend meetings before deciding it was better to have the whole thing behind them before opening that door.

With one of the season’s largest distractions almost behind, the conclusion of all of this has to be welcome for all parties involved.



Brian Kelly thinks the bye week comes at a perfect time. Now his team needs to play like it. 

We’ll see the fruits of two weeks of labor on Saturday night. The adjustments made to the offensive line are final; Ronnie Stanley will stay at left tackle while the rest of the line will be shuffled, with Nick Martin at left guard, Matt Hegarty at center, Steve Elmer at right guard and Christian Lombard at tackle.

But that’s not all that’s been accomplished. Expect the receivers to take a step forward and to see some more snaps for the young tight ends. The secondary had a chance to catch its breath as well, with captain Austin Collinsworth easing his way back on Saturday.

The potential influx of injured players and potentially seeing three assumed starters finally back in uniform late next week opens all sorts of possibilities. But none of those matter unless the Irish win this week, something Kelly knows all too well.

That’s why the head coach worked his team hard this week, delivering the following assessment.

“We are who we are. We’re a fairly young football team, we’re gonna be inexperienced in some areas,” Kelly said. “That’s not gonna change much. We’re gonna get better. But in the short term here are our strengths and weaknesses and let’s go to work on that. I think that’s what we tried to accomplish in the bye week.”

We’ll get a progress report Saturday evening.





Notre Dame, Texas A&M announce series in 2024-25

Kenny Hill

Notre Dame and Texas A&M have agreed to play a two-game, home-and-home series, starting in 2024. The Irish and Aggies will open the 2024 season in College Station before playing a late September game the following season. The two programs haven’t met on the football field since 2001.

“These two contests between Notre Dame and Texas A&M figure to be excellent intersectional attractions,” athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a statement. “We had set a goal of adding representation from the Southeastern Conference to our future schedules, and we’ve accomplished that with the addition of this series, as well as the one with Georgia.”

This is the second high-profile matchup Notre Dame has announced this season, with an upcoming Ohio State series announced just days before the Irish played Michigan.

As Notre Dame rebuilds previous scheduling agreements as they work to fulfill their obligation to the ACC, we start to see the focus of a restructured national schedule. While games with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue are slowly finding their way back, filling those voids with elite opponents like A&M, Georgia and Ohio State makes any disappointment rather easy to stomach.

Notre Dame and Texas A&M have played five previous times, the first three in the Cotton Bowl. Notre Dame is 3-2 overall.


Schafer prepares for challenge from Irish offense

Scott Shafer

Coming off a difficult loss to Rutgers, Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer doesn’t expect things to get easier this weekend. With the Orange giving up home field advantage as they’ve moved the game to MetLife Field, Syracuse enters the game double-digit underdogs as they prepare to take on a Notre Dame team that’s ranked No. 8 in the country.

The second-year head coach faces a familiar foe across the sidelines in Brian Kelly, who coached at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati when he faced off with Shafer as a Western Michigan defensive coordinator.

“Brian is a great football coach, done a nice job with all the offenses that I’ve seen him coach over the years.  Now he’s got some great weapons to make it even more difficult,” Shafer said. “It will be a great challenge for us.”

One challenge that stands out is quarterback Everett Golson. Through three games, Golson has yet to turn the football over, while throwing for seven touchdowns and running for four.

“Everett definitely has a ton of challenges he brings to the table,” Shafer said. “Throws the ball extremely well. Quick release.  Does a good job getting out of bad plays. If he gets caught in a bad play, he can take off with it and be extremely effective with his feet.  There’s numerous things we have to do a good job of.”

Looking back at old tape, Shafer has also marveled at the transition Golson has made from the quarterback he was in 2012 to the one he has been through the month of September.

“You see him making plays down the field with some of his creativity. He’s a phenomenal athlete,” Shafer noted. “You also see him play the game on time and on schedule. Coach Kelly and his staff there have done a great job. You do see that progression.”

Syracuse’s secondary has been susceptible to the big play this year, with the Orange also failing to convert any interception opportunities. Shafer spoke candidly about the threat Golson possesses in the big-play passing game, calling Golson’s long-distance pinpoint throw to C.J. Prosise before halftime of the Rice game “freakish.”

He also praised the evolution of a quarterback that’s been asked to do far more this season than in 2012.

“There’s some things as a quarterback, you want to be a game manager early on in your career, learn how to manage the game, not get your team beat,” Shafer said. “When you take it to the next level, you continue to do those things well, but you also give your team an opportunity to be a big play‑maker.  That’s definitely what Everett has become there.  He’s a hell of a football player.”

O-Line shuffles, Torii Hunter’s debut, and other Irish notes

Amir Carlisle

While Brian Kelly tried to downplay the finality of the significant adjustment to the two-deep depth chart along the offensive line, he talked about the rationale for flip-flopping Christian Lombard and Steve Elmer, as well as Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty on Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re still in the process of figuring out what the best five are on the offensive line. So you’re seeing an early glimpse of moving guys around on the offensive line,” Kelly explained. “The only guy that doesn’t have a lot of experience at the position he’s playing right now is Nick Martin, but we feel like he’s one of our strongest offensive linemen.”

Breaking camp, Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand seemed to put a premium on experience, choosing a platoon of Conor Hanratty and Hegarty at guard essentially over starting Mike McGlinchey at right tackle. While McGlinchey is still in the mix after three games, it appears the Irish are willing to sacrifice Elmer’s ideal length at tackle for some added push on the interior.

“With Hanratty and Hegarty at the guard position, we really like their experience, but we chose to go a little bigger, quite frankly, with the guys that we put in there,” Kelly said. “They’re really good football players, but we looked to get a little bit bigger at those positions. So it’s really very little that they did and more about a philosophical decision that we wanted to be bigger inside in terms of what we wanted to accomplish.”

The move isn’t permanent. And for those trying to look too far into the future, it doesn’t sound as if Kelly’s willing to look past this week.

“You know, you have to move some pieces around, you have to give something up to get something,” Kelly said. “We may find out that we don’t want to give up what we have to give up to get the more physicality… That’s where we are right now.  Next year maybe there are guys ready to play those positions and we move them back.”

Still, it was a move that needed to happen, Kelly said. Even though it came at a bye week, it would’ve happened regardless of schedule.



While there were hopes that Amir Carlisle‘s knee injury would be a minor tweak, the senior slot receiver is out this weekend. Kelly called Carlisle questionable for Stanford, meaning that it’ll be a surprise if Notre Dame gets him back, considering Kelly’s track record for being overly optimistic on just about every injury suffered during his four-plus seasons in South Bend.

But as one receiver exits, another returns from injury. And any hopes of easing sophomore Torii Hunter into action likely ended with Carlisle’s knee tweak, as Hunter will be thrown into the mix at slot receiver with C.J. Prosise.

“Torii is being pressed into duty. He practiced aggressively,” Kelly said, updating the status of Hunter’s nagging groin injury. “So it’s no longer an experiment, it’s going to be an experience for him.  It will be his first game experience on Saturday.”

The staff hadn’t fully committed to where it would play Hunter, providing perhaps the one silver lining for Carlisle’s injury. Asking the young receiver to find a home bouncing inside and out, all while fighting for playing time with Chris Brown, Corey Robinson and Will Fuller would’ve been too much to ask.

But giving Hunter an opportunity to be productive in the slot finally gives Irish fans a look at a receiver that many forgot was one of the rising stars of his recruiting class. Hunter was the MVP of The Opening before his senior season before a freak leg injury at the U.S. Army All-American game kept him on the shelf in 2013 before impressing the coaching staff during bowl prep.

We’ll see how quickly he makes his presence felt.


Senior captain Austin Collinsworth was listed on the depth chart, making his way back onto the two-deep. Collinsworth was listed behind Max Redfield at free safety, along with Matthias Farley. While Farley is still the emergency option with Nicky Baratti done for the year and Eilar Hardy still awaiting an academic conclusion, Collinsworth is finally getting back on the practice field after being injured 48 hours before the season opener.

“He practiced with us yesterday. We were very pleased with what we saw yesterday, and I think more importantly he was pleased,” Kelly said.

Notre Dame’s depth at safety isn’t ideal without Baratti or Hardy, and Farley’s inclusion at the position wasn’t the only move the Irish made in the past week to address it. Notre Dame’s coaching staff finally offered West Coast defensive back Frank Buncom.

A recruit that’s well regarded nationally, Buncom wasn’t an official offer because the Irish were already full at safety with Nicco Fertitta and Prentice McKinney. But as far as profile kids go, Buncom seems straight from RKG heaven, though the Irish will need to battle Stanford for his signature. Buncom is taking the Irish offer seriously, planning an official visit to watch the two teams battle next weekend.