Five things we learned: Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 15


Earlier in the week, Brian Kelly was asked about his last time in MetLife Stadium. He almost chuckled to himself, wondering when Notre Dame’s humbling, one-sided defeat to Navy in 2010 would be drudged up again this week.

“I knew it would be brought up sometime,” Kelly said with a laugh. “For me it’s about Syracuse and getting back to New York, more so than the horrors of that afternoon.”

In some ways, Notre Dame’s 16-point victory is a symbol of just how far Kelly’s Irish team has come. But in many others, it sure felt a lot like the disaster Notre Dame found itself in last time they played in the Meadowlands.

In the Irish’s first official road test, Notre Dame piled up 523 offensive yards, out-rushed Syracuse, and won a relatively stress-free game. But the ghosts of demons’ past tried their best to rear their head Saturday night, with the Irish coughing up the football early and often, committing five turnovers.

As Ivan Maisel pointed out after the game, that the Irish still won comfortably is a credit to the program. Over the past two seasons, teams with a -4 turnover margin have only gone 1-28 against Power 5 conference programs.

“You can’t turn the football over and expect to win all your games,” Kelly said through gritted teeth to ESPN’s Heather Cox after the game. “We did some good things tonight… but five turnovers is just not going to get the job done.”

With work to be done before the Irish take on Stanford, let’s take a look at the five things we learned in Notre Dame’s 31-15 victory over Syracuse.


The Irish front seven passed a very big test on Saturday night. 

There were legitimate questions as to how Notre Dame’s defense would handle the ground game of Syracuse. But Brian VanGorder’s unit passed the test with flying colors, playing relentlessly as they battering Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt and bailed out the Irish offense through much of the first half.

Everett Golson’s pick six doesn’t help Notre Dame’s lofty scoring statistics. Neither does punter Riley Dixon’s 42-yard scamper.  But against an experienced offensive line and a talented set of running backs, Notre Dame dominated the line of scrimmage.

The Irish front seven held the Orange to just 93 yards on 29 carries, just 3.2 yards a touch for a very talented group of runners. Leading the way up front was Sheldon Day, who made two tackles-for-loss. Jarron Jones was a load on the inside as well. Linebacker Jaylon Smith continues his ascent, leading the team with nine tackles. Not far behind him was Joe Schmidt, flying all over the field.

Notre Dame’s youth once again made a huge difference. Freshmen Andrew Trumbetti and Grant Blankenship got some productive snaps, each contributing big plays. Kolin Hill came in as a pass rusher, chasing Hunt nearly every time he was on the field. Sophomore Isaac Rochell flashed dominance from his strongside defensive end position, as VanGorder’s defense took away the Orange’s preferred offensive scheme, challenging Syracuse to throw the ball down field.


Everett Golson may have nearly broken an NCAA record for accuracy. But it was still his worst game of the season. 

Through three games, football looked pretty easy to Everett Golson. For people who find talking about the Heisman necessary in September, Golson’s name was rightly in the premature conversation. His pin-point accuracy and efficiency with the football showed total command of Brian Kelly’s offense.

And then Saturday night happen.

Golson started the evening on the wrong foot, turning a great play into a very bad one by carrying the ball lackadaisically as it was stripped deep in Syracuse territory. He nearly lost another fumble on an overload blitz he should’ve seen. His nightmarish first half continued with a misread and interception aimed to C.J. Prosise and ended with a lackluster two-minute drill that ended with a botched spike, the ball slipping out of his hands, throwing points away as a replay overturn gave the football to Syracuse.

In between the mistakes there was plenty of good, including the tremendous accuracy that saw him get within a throw of an NCAA record. So while Golson’s 32 of 39 for 362 and four touchdowns was the most prolific passing night since Dayne Crist in 2010, it was marred by the lost fumbles and interceptions — with his pick six late in the fourth quarter the biggest head-scratcher of them all.

“I know my team expects more of me so I’ve got to come out and be better from the get,” Golson told Cox on ESPN after the game. “I came out and had a very sloppy first half and I was lucky it didn’t cost us as much as it should have.”

Kelly was unfortunately prophetic earlier this week when he talked about his concerns about Golson’s ball security as a runner.

“He’s very careful with the football, very conscientious throwing the football, we worry about how he carries the football,” Kelly said Thursday. “He carries it like he’s dribbling a basketball.”

That’ll need to be cleaned up this week, with the tough Stanford defense coming to town. But before we get too rough on the senior quarterback, Golson’s record-setting night pushed his overall record to 14-1, statistically better than Johnny Lujack. Even during his struggles, he’s one of college football’s brightest stars.


Sophomores Will Fuller and Corey Robinson proved that their time is now. 

Both Will Fuller and Corey Robinson had monster games on Saturday night, with the sophomore duo seizing control of the wide receiver depth chart with Amir Carlisle out. Fuller’s six catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns was the breakthrough game many have been waiting for.

Meanwhile, across from Fuller, Robinson racked up eight catches for 91 yards, showing the type of versatility many hoped to see from the lanky pass catcher.  Not the receiver you’d expect to be showcased in the short passing game, Robinson still managed to be productive, galloping for some chain-moving first downs and building on his solid Purdue game.

Perhaps most promising was the way Notre Dame used both players. Fuller’s touchdown on the inside screen opened up the scoring, a nice reminder of the explosive burst that the sophomore from Philadelphia possesses. And the 75-yard touchdown pass should serve as a reminder to opposing defenses. Across from him, seeing Robinson targeted in the red zone on a well executed fade pass was music to the ears of many Irish fans clamoring for that since the 6-foot-5 receiver’s been been on campus.

After being largely anonymous through the season’s first three games, Chris Brown chipped in six catches for 57 yards, including a nice 23-yarder. But after be used mostly as specialist so far, Kelly opened up the passing game for Fuller and Robinson and the duo emerged as big time threats.


Welcome to Notre Dame, Torii Hunter Jr. 

Depending on how long Amir Carlisle’s knee keeps him out, the Irish might have found another option in the slot emerge. That’s because 634 days after breaking his leg at the U.S. Army All-American Game, Torii Hunter Jr. made his debut one to remember.

Hunter went largely unnoticed in the first half, with C.J. Prosise handling most of the slot receiver duties. But the Texas native finally got his chance in the second half, utilized in a different way than we’ve seen from either Carlisle or Prosise.

Kelly sent Hunter sweeping across the formation twice, getting two carries for 13 yards. But the highlight of his night was making a tough catch in traffic for a touchdown, spinning after the completion to finish a perfect play design.

After a year spent rehabbing a broken femur and the start of his sophomore season delayed after a serious groin injury, that Hunter was making an impact in more than just Trick Shot Wednesday competition was a sight acknowledged by more than just his head coach.

“[Hunter was] pretty good,” Kelly said, when asked to critique his play. “You can tell his teammates like him, too. They were pretty excited.”

We shouldn’t get too excited about modest production like the numbers Hunter put up. But it’s worth noting how Kelly used him, finally giving the slot receiver the football as a runner, really the only receiver to do much of that.

So as Stanford prepares for Notre Dame and Carlisle works his way back to health, the Irish might have one more weapon that needs to be accounted for.


There’s plenty of good to take away from this win. But as the Irish head into the most difficult month of their season, let’s hope Saturday night was a wakeup call. 

If there’s anything disappointing about Saturday’s sloppy performance, it’s that it was so utterly predictable. Most Notre Dame fans were looking past Syracuse, a team that may have been 2-1 but struck zero fear into the hearts and minds of many looking forward to next weekend and the trip to Tallahassee.

But if Notre Dame wants to be the team that it believes it’s capable of being, mediocre performances like Saturday night need to be erased quickly.

We’ve hammered Golson enough. But an early fumble from the offense’s leader got the game off on the wrong foot. A fumble by Greg Bryant, who danced far too much trying to make something happen on Saturday night, does nothing to get him more reps. And let’s not forget Tarean Folston’s fumble, a play that Syracuse could’ve taken back for points if Will Fuller didn’t make a silly presnap penalty.

If doing the little things right is key to a team’s success, expect most of this week to be spent perfecting the finer points. Notre Dame’s two-minute offense was a complete fire drill. That the Irish weren’t able to get their receivers lined up in a proper formation makes zero sense.

Again, that Kelly’s team was able to shake off all the mistakes and still breeze to an easy victory says quite a bit about the emerging talent on this football team. But for Notre Dame to stake a claim at a spot in the College Football Playoff, mistake-filled Saturdays like this just can’t happen.

Georgia OL prospect the first commit for new Notre Dame OL coach Joe Rudolph


New Notre Dame offensive line coach Joe Rudolph pulled in his first recruit by continuing to chase a prospect he initially wanted at his last job. Three-star offensive lineman Anthonie Knapp (Roswell High School; Ga.) committed to the Irish on Wednesday afternoon, picking Notre Dame over Rudolph’s former employer, Virginia Tech, as well as Georgia Tech and North Carolina.

In total, more than half the ACC offered Knapp a scholarship. The Irish offer came only this past weekend with Knapp in South Bend catching up with Rudolph, who was the first Power Five coach to offer a scholarship to Knapp back at Virginia Tech.

“The hospitality and the heritage it kept made the school stand out,” Knapp said to Inside ND Sports in a text message.

At 6-foot-5 and less than 270 pounds, Knapp will need to put on weight at the next level, though that can be said of most high school juniors. He played left tackle last season, but unless the weight piles on quickly and consistently, Knapp will most likely play guard at the next level.

His footwork already looks more fundamentally sound than most high schoolers display, all the more impressive because Knapp could simply rely on overpowering his opponents as most offensive line prospects understandably tend to do. Knapp is content to use his length and footwork to let a pass rusher charge upfield, well past the quarterback.

Strength and mass will come with age and entering a collegiate conditioning program, and Knapp needs both of those, but length is uncoachable and footwork fundamentals hold up early careers as often as lack of strength does.

He is the second offensive lineman in the class, joining four-star offensive guard Peter Jones, also a preps tackle that is expected to move inside in college.

Leftovers & Links: Notre Dame’s biggest offensive progressions this spring will be smallest to spot from afar

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When Marcus Freeman was first hired as Notre Dame’s head coach in December of 2021, it was widely expected he would retain three-fifths of his offensive coaching staff. Instead, promotions elsewhere awaited two of those coaches, leaving only Tommy Rees as a constant.

Then Rees and one-year returnee Harry Hiestand departed this offseason, meaning Freeman’s entire offensive coaching staff turned over — and the offensive line coach twice — within 15 months of that supposedly being a piece of stability he could lean on as a young first-time head coach. Yet, one thing has not changed about Freeman’s relationship with the offensive coaches: He is trying to stay out of their way.

“Most of the [newcomers] are on the offensive side of the ball, so really I just try to stay out of the way and let those guys meet,” Freeman said last week at the start of the Irish spring practices. “Give them time to be together. They’ve been together a lot and met a lot and really, you have to meet to get everybody on the same page. A lot of that is cohesion, that ability to view these guys as teammates.

“… I’ve been in there a bit, and then we have our staff meetings to make sure everybody understands our culture, understands our expectations. It’s not where it’s a finished product, but it’s definitely progressing to where we want to see it.”

A year ago, the cohesion Freeman was most worried about on the offensive side of the ball was between Rees and a pair of inexperienced quarterbacks. Now, it’s the collaboration between an offensive coordinator, a quarterbacks coach and an offensive line coach who had never worked together before a month or two ago. Freeman, of course, knew offensive coordinator Gerad Parker for more than a decade, quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli for seven years and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph since Freeman’s playing days at Ohio State beginning in 2004.

That has been a common theme in Freeman’s hires, tying to former Notre Dame special teams coach Brian Mason, current cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens and defensive line coach Al Washington.

“There’s nothing more important than experience with somebody,” Freeman said. “I don’t have to wonder what this person is like when I’m not around. … When I can find a quality coach that I know can be the best at his profession, but also I have personal experience with them — I’m not saying we’re friends, but we’ve worked together. Coach Rudolph was at Ohio State when I was a player, but I knew what type of person he was.”

That is the commonality between those three new offensive hires, though a few pieces of similar backgrounds can be found between Parker and Guidugli. At 42 and 40, respectively, they both grew up in the Ohio River Valley and played college football along the same Kentucky-Ohio Interstate corridor. Parker then went straight into coaching while Guidugli knocked around the Canadian Football League and various iterations of short-lived secondary leagues in the United States until he went into coaching in 2010.

At the least, though, their formative years should have shared enough to lay a foundation now, the foundation upon which Freeman is counting on them to build an offense. That progression may be as important as any other made on the offensive side of the ball this spring.

After just one practice, Freeman saw value in a quarterbacks coach who can somewhat ignore the rest of the offense. Rees’s focus was assuredly on the quarterbacks, but Sam Hartman, Tyler Buchner & Co. are quite literally all Guidugli needs to concern himself with each day.

“When you take some of that responsibility off their plate, and it’s just coach the quarterbacks and see if they made the right decision because there’s so much that falls on [the quarterback’s] plate that isn’t really his fault,” Freeman said. “I know he gets the praise and he gets the criticism, but my biggest thing, did you make the right decision? That’s so important at the quarterback position.”

Parker thinks there may be more to the gig than the right decision. Wake Forest graduate transfer Sam Hartman should have little trouble with any intangibles of acclimating to a new campus and a new roster, even if he did not have to run many huddles with the Demon Deacons, but there will be one tangible shift to his quarterback play that Hartman might need to work on.

“Just in its simplest form, just taking snaps under center,” Parker said this weekend. “As simple as that. Just being able to secure a football under center.”

Parker wants to emphasize that because even as Notre Dame presumably opens up its offense a bit more with a deeper receivers room chasing passes from a stronger-armed quarterback, the Irish offense will still hinge on its veteran offensive line and trio of proven running backs.

Finding that balance can come in August. For now, finding that snap will be Hartman’s focus while Parker, Guidugli, Rudolph and a litany of offensive analysts strive to learn the same shorthand.

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Thomas’ leadership, freshmen arrivals already improve Notre Dame’s receivers room

Notre Dame v North Carolina
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As much criticism as Drew Pyne and Tommy Rees received for Notre Dame’s ground-bound offense last season, much of that approach was due to a reality beyond their control. The former Irish quarterback and offensive coordinator could not run the routes or catch the passes.

Notre Dame had few who could run the routes and among them, it seemed even fewer who could catch Pyne’s passes. Thus, the Irish threw for fewer than 200 yards in six games, not even reaching triple digits in the 35-14 upset of Clemson to start November. They threw 21 or fewer passes four times; raise that to 26 pass attempts and three more games qualify.

Of Notre Dame’s 192 completed passes in the regular season, 35 percent of them landed in the hands of tight end Michael Mayer. Another 22 percent found running backs. Six Irish receivers combined to catch 94 passes for 1,306 yards total last year. Seven receivers across the country caught 94 or more passes on their own in 2022, and three topped that yardage tally.

There simply were not ample options among the receivers for Rees to draw up plays with Pyne targeting them, particularly not after Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins were injured in the preseason, Deion Colzie was hampered in the preseason and Tobias Merriweather’s season would be cut short by a concussion.

The Irish moving running back Chris Tyree to at least a part-time role at receiver this spring will help solve that dearth but not nearly as much as the arrivals of Virginia Tech transfer Kaleb Smith and a trio of early-enrolled freshmen will. With them, Notre Dame has nine receivers on hand this spring, though who exactly leads them is a vague wonder.

Smith has the most collegiate experience with 74 career catches, and his size should place him into the starting lineup, but he is just as new in South Bend as early enrollees Rico Flores, Jaden Greathouse and Braylon James all are. Of the three rising juniors on the roster, each had a moment or two of note last season, but Jayden Thomas’s may have been the most consistent, finishing with 25 catches for 362 yards and three touchdowns.

“That’s the challenge I’ve had for that entire room,” Freeman said of finding a leader in the position group. “Guys that have been here. … I hope Jayden Thomas continues to excel on the field and then in his leadership roles.

“What he’s done in the weight room, I think he’s matured and said, okay, I can play at a higher level when I take care of my body or I’m at a weight I feel really comfortable at.”

Those were mostly generic platitudes, but Thomas’s 2022 stats alone are impressive enough to garner a leading role when dug into a bit. Of his 25 catches, 18 of them gained a first down. Of those 18, eight of them came on third down and another two were on second-and-long. If Notre Dame needed a chunk gain and Mayer was covered, Thomas was the most likely outlet.

That should give him pole position to be the boundary starter heading into 2023, with Colzie and/or Merriweather pressing him forward. Smith’s experience and size should pencil him in as the field starter, leaving the slot the question on the first unit for the next 14 spring practices.

Tyree could emerge there, but he is more likely to be a utility knife type of option, concealing any offensive alignment until the snap. Instead, rising junior Lorenzo Styles may get a chance at the slot. He has the tools if he has the focus.

Styles dropped six passes last season, more than anyone else on the roster and a bothersome number regardless of his final stats, but one that stands out in particular when realizing he caught only 30 passes for 340 yards and a score.

“It became I think mental last year,” Freeman said Wednesday. “Lorenzo Styles is a talented, talented football player, really talented. With him last year, it almost became a mental struggle, even just the basics of catching the ball.”

Last year, those mental struggles were enough to somewhat undo Notre Dame’s offense, because the Irish had no choice but to play Styles through his missteps. Now, whether it be injury or some headspace frustrations that Chuck Knoblauch could relate to, the Irish have some depth at receiver if needed. As the season progresses, that depth will become only stronger with the freshmen rounding into form.

“The young wideouts caught a couple balls, and it’s going to be good to see the progression of all those freshmen,” Freeman said. “They’re all going to be in different places on the road. That’s what I spend a lot of time talking to our team about, we’re all freshmen, you can’t compare your journey to this guy’s journey.”

Wherever those journeys are, they are welcome additions to Notre Dame’s offense. As much as newly-promoted offensive coordinator Gerad Parker will relish the luxury that is veteran quarterback Sam Hartman, simply having options on the perimeter for Hartman to look for should be an Irish improvement.

Sam Hartman’s practice debut features Notre Dame veteran Chris Tyree move to receiver, at least for now

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Marcus Freeman’s second spring as Notre Dame’s head coach has begun. As he pointed out Wednesday, it is quarterback transfer Sam Hartman’s sixth spring practice. Both are still looking around a bit for their proper cues, though Hartman’s hesitance now should be short-lived.

“He’s like a freshman, it’s new,” Freeman said. “I was joking with him, this is his sixth spring ball, but you’re at a new place, a new system, still figuring out where to go, what a drill is called, so you can see him at times just trying to say, ‘Okay, where are we going, what’s the drill, what are we doing, how many plays?’

“But he’s got some natural ability when he throws the ball and when he plays the game of football. You’ll see the leadership traits that he possesses grow because I know he has them. He’s a leader the first time you meet him. You can tell that he really commands respect.”

Freeman mentioned a “quarterback competition” between Hartman and rising junior Tyler Buchner only once, something that will reoccur throughout the next month, though more in name than in reality. Whoever takes the lead at quarterback, and it will be Hartman, will have a new target to get comfortable with in rising senior Chris Tyree.

Tyree spent the first spring practice working at receiver after lining up at running back the vast majority of the last three years. Freeman would not commit to that being a full-time shift for Tyree, but given the Irish depth at running back — led by rising juniors Audric Estimé and Logan Diggs, with rising sophomore Gi’Bran Payne the next in line for the spring while classmate Jadarian Price continues to “progress” from a torn Achilles last summer — Tyree working at receiver for the long-term should make some sense.

“He’s a guy that has multiple skill sets, and we know Chris Tyree is a guy we have to have on the football field,” Freeman said. “The ability to put him at wideout, we know what he can do as a running back, to really be a guy that can do multiple different things.”

Tyree took 100 rushes for 444 yards and three touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 138 yards and two more scores last year. The ball-carrying was a step forward compared to his previous seasons, but he caught 24 passes for 258 yards in 2021. In three games in 2022, Tyree gained more than 20 yards through the air. He was one of the more reliable pass-catchers on Notre Dame’s roster last season, finishing tied for fourth in receptions, one behind Jayden Thomas’s 25 catches and just six behind Lorenzo Styles, the leading returning receiver.

“You’re seeing more of that in college football and in the NFL,” Freeman said. “Guys that can play multiple different skill positions on offense, so do you treat him as a running back, do you treat him as a wideout? That’s what we have to do, and gain confidence in the quarterbacks in him as a wide receiver.”

Tyree’s shift was the most notable on the field on the first day of spring practices, but a handful of absences also stood out.

Junior linebacker Will Schweitzer, junior safety Justin Walters and junior quarterback Ron Powlus III have taken medical retirements, while junior cornerback Philip Riley, junior offensive lineman Caleb Johnson and junior kicker Josh Bryan are all no longer with the program, presumably each pursuing a transfer following this semester.

With those departures, Notre Dame’s roster now has 87 players on scholarship, two more than the NCAA maximum allowed when the season starts.

In hiring Marty Biagi from Mississippi, Freeman strayed from his usual habit of hiring coaches he has previous experience with. He did, however, have some mutual connections to reach out to about Biagi.

“I remember when we were playing Purdue when I was defensive coordinator (at Notre Dame in 2021), I was sitting in a special teams meeting, and they did some unique things on special teams.

“I still know some people back in West Lafayette from my time there, and he does, too. Somehow his name got brought up, so I was interested in interviewing him last year before I hired [former Irish special teams coordinator Brian Mason]. I didn’t know [Biagi] personally, but I had talked to him before, I knew enough about him. It’s important because you need to know when you’re not around, you can trust those guys that you’re working with.”

Defensive backs Cam Hart and Thomas Harper will both be held out of contact for at least the near future as they recover from winter shoulder surgeries, while early-enrolled defensive lineman Devan Houstan Will Likely miss all springtime work due to his own recent shoulder surgery.

Tight ends Eli Raridon and Kevin Bauman will not take part this spring due to ACL injuries in the fall.

Freeman expressed some optimism about Price’s timeline, but even that was measured.

“I don’t know if he will be full go, but he has done a lot of running and I see him progressing to more and more actual football practice.”

Given Price is still less than a calendar year from a ruptured Achilles, it is most likely he is limited well into the summer.