And In That Corner … No. 16 Syracuse Orange and sold out Dome host Notre Dame


Notre Dame and Syracuse have met every two years since 2014, a streak that will end after this season, suffering a one-year delay before they meet up in both 2025 and 2026. Games played every other year seem to come just short of developing enough rhythm. If there is not an excessive amount of roster and coaching staff turnover between two games, there certainly is between three games covering a five-year span.

Thus, while the Irish have won all four of these even-year meetings (by an average score of 40.5 to 18), not much of what was seen in 2020 can be applied to 2022 and absolutely none of 2018’s result should be pertinent this weekend (12 ET; ABC). To fill in those gaps, let’s chat with Emily Leiker of The Post-Standard, more commonly known in the internet age as

DF: From afar, this could be a tough week for Syracuse to refocus after its unbeaten season came to an end with a fourth-quarter collapse at Clemson. In the immediate aftermath of that 27-21 defeat, what was the mood around the Orange? There are no such things as moral victories, but also, they nearly beat the best team in the ACC and perennial national title conter.

EL: You’re right about the moral victories piece – that was something Syracuse head coach Dino Babers was asked about postgame and immediately shut down. That said, I do think there were some positives the team took away from the game, the biggest being the way they responded to the loss. We heard from Babers and several players that the team had a great film session Sunday without any finger-pointing or negativity. The way that game ended, it could have been really easy, in my opinion, for a team to get down on itself for letting a win slip away due to what were mostly self-inflicted wounds. But that’s not what we’ve seen or heard out of this Syracuse program this season, which I think bodes well for how they’ll respond on the field against Notre Dame.

Syracuse built its 21-10 lead on the back of turnovers, forcing four. In its first six games this season, the Orange had forced only nine takeaways, so it is not like this is a defense thriving on interceptions and fumbles. Was there a change in scheme or approach that led to those four turnovers, or merely Clemson sloppiness? Fortunately for these purposes, either answer sheds light on Notre Dame’s next two weeks.

There weren’t any scheme changes from what I could tell or that I was told offensively. It was certainly a standout game for the defense, but I do think once Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei threw that first pick, his head was a little scrambled for the rest of time he played. He might have had a little bit of last year coming back to haunt him: He had more interceptions than he did touchdowns last season and had drastically improved that ratio in 2022. Saturday’s game was just the third time he’s thrown an interception this year, and he hadn’t thrown more than one in a single game until Syracuse picked him off twice.

From the moment that game ended, Syracuse running back Sean Tucker’s lack of usage has been a hot topic. One of the best backs in the country, he ended with five rushes for 54 yards, also catching five passes for 18 yards and a score. Clemson claimed his so few rush attempts was a result of the Tigers’ defensive intentions, encouraging Orange quarterback Garrett Shrader to keep the ball more often on zone-reads. Shrader did end up with 21 carries for 71 yards, a distinct uptick from his average of 13 rushes per game in the first six this season. I realize gauging the success or failure of such schemes is a fool’s errand, but where do you assign fault or credit for Tucker’s reduced role? Is there any version of this weekend that sees it repeated?

Tucker’s reduced role was I think mostly at the fault of the coaching staff. It’s hard to say whose call exactly it was because the only coach who speaks with media is Babers, but the head coach did admit his running back should have had more carries and said the issue was addressed. Personally, I think a little bit of blame can also be attributed to Shrader just for pulling the ball as often as he did on his reads. That said, it’s obviously not his fault that the reads were what Syracuse had schemed up and didn’t change, nor was it his fault that Clemson’s defense was getting as much pressure as it was and forcing him to make quick decisions.

With all the criticism the program received over the matter since Saturday, I don’t expect it will be something that’s repeated this weekend. I would assume we’ll see more designed runs for Tucker called or at least him getting the ball more on reads.

On the other side of the ball, Clemson had a ton of success running the ball, gaining 293 yards on 60 carries. While an extreme, that was not the first time someone ran through Syracuse’s defense this season. Virginia took 29 rushes for 149 yards, and Louisville gained 137 yards on 31 attempts. Obviously, this stands out given the one thing Notre Dame tends to do well offensively is run the ball. Have these ground gashings come as a result of Syracuse selling out to stop the pass or is this just a faulty front?

I wouldn’t call Syracuse’s defensive front faulty per se, but it is young and has been the most affected by injuries this season. So that’s definitely hurt them in defending against high-powered rushing offenses. Looking at Notre Dame’s kind of three-pronged rushing attack and what that means for how they’re able to rotate players through that position to keep them fresh, I’m definitely assuming there will be at least a couple occasions where Syracuse gets burned on the run.

Speaking of stopping the pass, Orange cornerback Duce Chestnut appeared to suffer an injury against Clemson. I know he came back in, but what is the report on that injury? If the Irish are going to have any successful downfield passing, I do not expect it to be in Chestnut’s direction. While we’re at it, are there any other injuries that Notre Dame fans should make note of?

He did go out briefly with what seemed like a knee injury in the second quarter, but returned after that and played well for the rest of the game. Babers is pretty reserved when it comes to talking about injuries, so we really don’t know anything about Chestnut or any of the other players who had minor issues against Clemson.

One player who sat out the Clemson game and could be making his return this week is Syracuse’s other star cornerback, Garrett Williams. He suffered a thigh bruise early in Syracuse’s game against North Carolina State (on Oct. 15) and has not played since. Babers did say it wasn’t a season-ender, and Williams went through all of the team’s warmups and was suited up for the game against Clemson. He looked pretty close to 100 percent to me, but as of Wednesday, we haven’t heard officially whether he’ll be on the field against Notre Dame.

Let’s turn to the more abstract for a moment. This is a 6-1 Syracuse, currently ranked No. 16, coming off a blown chance at what may have been the biggest win in program history. There are competing momentums there. The Carrier Dome—errr, this is so dumb—the JMA Wireless Dome can hold nearly 50,000 fans and when in the right spirit, can be very loud. What kind of atmosphere should Notre Dame expect this week?

The game sold out of general tickets early this week, the school announced. There are still some student tickets left and some on reseller sites, but it will be packed and it will be loud. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly small number of fans that fit in the Dome; the fact that it’s an indoor venue means the noise echoes off every surface. Syracuse also sold out its game against N.C. State, and the Wolfpack offense was clearly affected by that.

Do you agree with me that renaming a building after a different corporate entity is bafflingly dumb when the former name has become so synonymous and entrenched with the arena? JMA Wireless cannot be getting enough publicity out of this to justify what is widely thought to be more than $3.25 million per year. And my disparaging this lunacy right now cannot be helping. I’ll stop. At least, until I repeatedly refer to a running back as a “carrier” on Saturday.

Haha. I barely made it here before it switched to the JMA Wireless Dome and I still had trouble remembering it wasn’t the Carrier Dome for about a month. You’re not the first out-of-towner I’ve heard complain about the name change.

Syracuse is favored by 2.5 as of late Wednesday night, only the fourth time Notre Dame has been a regular-season underdog against an ACC opponent in the last six seasons and just the eighth time in the nine years of this scheduling arrangement. The Irish won the last three such moments, including once this year and once last year. What are you expecting to see Saturday?

I think it will be a close game for sure. That said, I do think Syracuse will cover the spread handily with the home-field advantage and a drive for its offense to prove that it actually is good against a top-tier defense. Should be a good matchup either way.

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.