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Notre Dame Football

Scouting Report | Syracuse

December 2, 2020

This season couldn’t be more of a nightmare for Dino Babers and Syracuse. They went 10-3 in 2018, but things have unraveled since then. The Orange finished 5-7 in 2019 and are the worst program in the ACC in 2020 with a 1-9 record.

At this point, they are just trying to get to the finish line. They deserve credit for battling in games where they were clearly outmatched and almost pulled off upsets against Clemson, Boston College, and NC State. I would expect they will play hard again at Notre Dame to finish the season.

But this is not a good team and they have massive holes on the roster at more than a few positions. It would be surprising if the score ended up being close.

They are 116th in SP+. Kansas and Vanderbilt are the only Power 5 teams ranked lower.

Injuries and Opt Outs

Syracuse had their top two backs opt out before the season in Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard. Linebacker Tyrell Richards and defensive lineman Cooper Dawson also opted out.

Starting quarterback Tommy Devito is out for the season with an injury.

Stud safety Andre Cisco is out for the season. Defensive back Trill Williams might have been their best player on defense and he is out for the season too.

Quarterback Jacobian Morgan suffered an injury versus Louisville and did not play last week. It’s uncertain if he will be available against Notre Dame.

Freshman running back Sean Tucker was banged up against NC State and his status is uncertain.

They have suffered a ton of injuries this season, especially on the offensive line, and it’s shown up with their record.


The Veer n Shoot has been brutal this season. 123rd in FEI, 124th in SP+, and only 4.24 yards per play. WOOF.

This is the worst offense Notre Dame will have faced in 2020.

Expected strengths

There are none. It’s really that dismal for them on offense. They do have some skill talent that could play on a lot of ACC teams, though.

Taj Harris is their WR1. He has explosive potential and is coming off of a 13 catch and 146 yard day against NC State.

Nykeim Johnson has the kind of speed that can break open a game. His two big plays against Clemson were the main reason why the Orange hung in for so long against the Tigers. He’ll be used as a runner and in the passing game.

Freshman back Sean Tucker has been a bright spot as well. He’s had three games with over 90 yards rushing.

Potential Weaknesses

They only have eight scholarship players on the offensive line and one of them is a converted fullback. This offensive line has been overwhelmed for most of the season.

The running game has been brutally inefficient. They are 121st in Stuff Rate and average 2.75 yards per carry.

The pressure on the quarterbacks has been consistent. They are 120th in sack rate. The quarterbacks are only averaging 5.6 yards per attempt.

Rex Culpepper has had to step in after Devito was injured and he’s completing less than 50% of his passes and only 5.2 YPA.

They are 124th on 3rd down and dead last in the country in red zone touchdown percentage.

Weaknesses? It’s a yes or no question in this circumstance and all signs point to yes. They are 126th in the country in 1st downs per game.


It used to be about playing fast for Syracuse, but they have had to adjust with so many personnel losses. They are 118th in plays per game in college football. It’s still a pass-heavy offense, though. They are 111th in run play percentage.

Notre Dame will still have to prepare for the quick screen game, which are essentially running plays with Syracuse attempting to mix in deep shots, but the protection hasn’t held up for as many as they’d like.

Expect RPOs and wide splits with their receivers.

Key Players

WR Taj Harris - Had touchdowns of 40 yards or more against Pitt, Georgia Tech, and Duke.

WR Nykeim Johnson - 142 yards of total offense against Clemson on only three touches.

RB Sean Tucker - If he’s not healthy, their running game becomes even more anemic.

QB Rex Culpepper - Completes 17.9% of passes when pressured. Not great, Bob.

Key Matchup for Notre Dame

Syracuse O-line vs Notre Dame’s D-line - This is going to be a massive mismatch in favor of Notre Dame.


Babers was known for being an offensive guru when he came on the scene at Syracuse, but it’s been the defense that has allowed them to be competitive at times this fall. They are 85th in SP+, but 59th in FEI and 61st in YPP. That might seem average, but consider that they get zero help from the offense and it’s much better.

New coordinator Tony White has done a good job without elite personnel. He’s from the Rocky Long coaching tree and his 3-3-5 defense has been one of the only positives for Syracuse. They went from one of the worst defenses in the ACC to sixth in YPP this season.

Expected strengths

They have been great at creating turnovers. They have 22 total, 12 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles. The defense is able to cause confusion with multiple looks and that has helped them.

They are 23rd in red zone touchdown percentage. They bring pressure in the red zone and make decisions more difficult with tighter coverage windows and less space.

There are a lot of young players contributing who have blossomed. Linebacker Mikel Jones has four interceptions and eight total Havoc plays. Freshman safety Garrett Williams gets his hands on the football and has a pick six.

They aren’t going to roll over for Notre Dame.

Potential Weaknesses

The young talent is exciting for them, but they don’t have the players up front or the discipline to consistently stop the run.

They are 111th in Stuff Rate, 103rd in opportunity rate (runs that go four four yards or more), and they give up too many explosive plays on the ground.

It’s a defense that is supposed to thrive on 3rd down, but they are ranked 107th in that category. When you have to rely on confusion rather than talent to win rushing the passer, that seems almost inevitable.

They have seven freshmen or sophomores starting for them and are undersized across the board.


The 3-3-5 is a very malleable defense that can look very different from week to week. Notre Dame has to prepare for multiple fronts and pressure packages. It’s not something that they will be used to seeing each week so it’s almost like going against a triple option team on offense.

They play a lot of stack with the three down linemen head up and it’s unclear what gap they have before the snap. They will slant a lot.

White has blitzed a lot in some games and played more passive in others, but I would expect him to be aggressive attacking the center and right guard combination in this game.

Key Players

S Garrett Williams - He leads the team with 12 total Havoc plays.

LB Mikel Jones - The best player at their strongest position on defense.

DB Ifeatu Melifonwu - Exciting athlete and legitimate NFL prospect.

Key Matchup for Notre Dame

Interior O-line vs Syracuse Blitz - We don’t know the status of who might be playing this week, but we can be sure that White is going to attack the A-gap with blitzes to disrupt Notre Dame’s passing game.

Special Teams

This is one area where Syracuse is very good. They are 10th in SP+.

Andre Szmyt is one of the best kickers in the country. Punter Nolan Cooney is in the top-20 in punting.

Kick returner Trebor Pena took one to the house last week and punt returner Nykeim Johnson is one of the best in the country. Oh, they have also blocked two kicks.

If they are going to keep this game close early on, it will likely have to do with turnovers and special teams.

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