Maybe we’re not quite as lost as we think. Maybe there’s still a light at the end of the tunnel. Well, after SU’s 24-23 stunner in South Bend yesterday, I think it’s safe to say SU and its fans have seen the worst of times (namely, a home loss to Akron) and there’s plenty of reasons to be excited for the future.
In the interest of deviating from the norm, we won’t wax poetic with a game recap, but instead will try to make (semi) insightful observations about the game and its long term impact. But first, let’s break for this commercial…err, reminder to vote for the ‘Cuse. Cameron Dantley’s 11-yard touchdown strike to Donte Davis in the final minute of yesterday’s win has been nominated for a Pontiac Game Changing Performance. Without further ado, let’s get intimate with the box score.
1. Arthur Jones: The senior defensive tackle played his tail off in the Golden Dome. Jones finished with a whopping 15 tackles (for him to finish with that total when Notre Dame had 39 passes and only 28 rushes, is astounding to say the least). King Arthur wasn’t done there. He finished with four tackles for loss and a sack and a half. A truly monstrous game for someone whose NFL draft stock just skyrocketed this weekend.
2. Antwon Bailey: So I’ll shut up and take my medicine now. I was one of G-Rob’s most vocal critics earlier this year when he used him as the primary backup for Brinkley in critical game situations (see WVU and Pitt games). The freshman has proven the doubters wrong, however. He finished with 126 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries (a whopping 7.9 ypc) in the triumph over the Fighting Irish. Bailey even threw a 25-yard pass! If SU’s offensive line can continue to improve, we could see this stable of backs take off next year, even with Brinkley graduating.
3. Donte Davis: The young wideout totals 34 yards and a touchdown on two receptions. Not gaudy numbers, but when you look inside the numbers, it’s still impressive nonetheless. With two receptions, Davis finished tied as the team’s leading receiver on the day. He caught two passes out of the 14 completed and both of his catches had a paramount impact on the outcome of the game.
4. Paul Chiara: This is the same man who, earlier this year, was a running back for the Orange. He approached the coaching staff about switching to the secondary and his team reaped the benefits on the football field Saturday. The senior made his presence felt, tallying seven tackles (five of them solo).
5. Cameron Dantley: The ‘Cuse signal-caller was calm when it mattered most and managed the game effectively for the Orange. Dantley finished with just a whisker over 120 passing yards, but don’t let the low yardage total or mediocre completion percentage fool you. He threw the ball away when necessary, but was still able to fit some quality throws into tight spots. Most importantly, Cam was not intercepted once by the Irish defense.
1. Curtis Brinkley: Sure, the senior stud was gracious and accommodating after the game, repeatedly praising youngster Antwon Bailey’s breakout game. But what better spot could Brinkley have picked to go off for 150 plus? The truth of the matter is, Brinkley struggled a bit in the national spotlight (whether it was because of that or the Notre Dame defense remains to be seen). Hopefully, the Brink can get back on track and continue his assault on the SU record books next week at Cincy.
2. Ryan Howard: The young return man lacks the home run power of his namesake, the Phillies’ slugger. This Ryan Howard fumbled a punt early on, putting SU behind the eight ball once again. Fortunately for Howard, the gaffe came in the first quarter and only led to three points.
3. Greg Robinson: In this column more for how things had to work out at Syracuse. In case your head has been in the sand, G-Rob has been a consummate professional at Syracuse (more on that later), and like he himself said, may have just ‘run out of time.’ The improvement, while sporadic and inconsistent at best, is evident amongst this team. Robinson is a nice guy who was handed an extremely tough situation. In this case, the nice guy does finish last though, as he gets the unceremonious boot out the door.
4. Patrick Shadle: Okay, so I admit it: I’m nitpicking here. But Shadle, once hailed as one of the better kickers in the country, has disappointed quite a bit this year. While yesterday’s miss wasn’t costly in the end (especially when his counterpart went 3 for 6), Shadle has been on a downward trend all season. This was capped by his miserable 0 for 3 effort right before the half against Rutgers.
5. Rob Long: Maybe it would’ve just been easier to say the special teams unit, in general, was lacking yesterday. This, of course, a stark contrast, as special teams play has been one of this team’s high points this year. Back to Rob Long; he finished, averaging just 29 yards a punt yesterday with just one punt pinning the Irish inside their own 20.
10 Reasons Why SU Won
1. It was karma. The game after SU rids itself of the ‘supposed cancer’, the team goes out and wins one for the aforementioned gipper. Not only that, but we also see Greg Robinson as a great guy, always professional. One of the most memorable things I’ve seen in a while was Robinson cutting off the NBC reporter mid-interview and gathering his team around to pay respect to Notre Dame while the Irish band played their fight song after the game. For that G-Rob, you deserve a tip of that hat and much more. (Perhaps another chance at a program that wasn’t quite in as dire trouble as us).
2. Antwon Bailey: The Heir Apparent. While SU’s backfield is littered with quality running backs, this one has risen above the rest. He hasn’t been slowed by the injury bug yet, and despite his small stature, he comes up big in the clutch.
3. They ran the Wildcat formation. SU was like the nerdy kid wearing suspenders, corduroys and Coke bottle glasses at the school formal, while the Wildcat was the newest, hippest thing on the block. Finally, SU unshackled its suspenders and embraced the Wildcat, which has seen alarming rates of success across all different levels of football recently.
4. Red zone defense. Like great defenses before them (Ohio State’s 2002 squad that won a national title), the Orange D saved its best for when it counted. Not that I’m comparing the two defenses, but this bend-but-don’t-break mentality is one of the reasons why SU won. Six field goal opportunities for the Irish yesterday…really all that needs to be said about that.
5. Because Notre Dame is incredibly overrated. The Irish are an overhyped, media-driven machine (yes, I’m pointing fingers at ESPN’s Lou Holtz and NBC’s decision to air every Irish game on national TV). In reality, the Irish have not beaten a quality opponent this year (see the schedule, with precisely zero wins over teams with a winning record). And it’s not just this year. The Irish have, in recent years, been known to sneak off to Tempe, Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl (a place they had no business being). The evidence comes in the form of two blowout losses: 41-9 to Oregon State in 2001 and 34-20 to Ohio State in 2005.
6. Because the seniors stepped up and yet, there was a mix of the new involved as well. I’ve already touched on Arthur Jones, Brinkley and Chiara’s days…all of which played big roles in the victory. Some unexpected contributions came from redshirt freshman tight end Nick Provo (two catches for 28 yards), Da’Mon Merkerson and Mike Holmes.
7. This team respects Greg Robinson, even though few others do. They came out motivated to prove the naysayers wrong on the national stage. Quite honestly, this was a tempest brewing for quite some time.
8. Because the fantasy football league I played in this year was named ‘Syracuse will beat ND.’ Unfortunately, I can’t link you since it’s a private league but I can assure you that the league had this name since its inception in late July. We, as fans, had this game marked on our calendars for much of the year and I’d assume the players and coaches did as well.
9. Because SU enjoys sticking it to Bill Belichick and his disciples. Now, I know this one’s a bit of a stretch, but I’m sure you remember David Tyree’s incredible catch in the Super Bowl last year. Yes, Tyree is indeed a SU alum and Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is indeed a former Belichick assistant. Tyree cast the Patriots into infamy forever (18-1, anyone?), while SU’s win will only intensify the pressure on Weis’ job security in South Bend. I, for one, wouldn’t fancy hobbling away from that one with one of my ACLs on the mend.
10. Because we’ve got miles and miles of heart and, really, could it have gotten much worse this season? If any fan base was due for something positive, it was the rabid Orange faithful.
...And one last observation
A certain Dan Sheeran appeared in the box score yesterday with one catch for 25 yards. The same junior wideout who broke his leg during an August practice. The same wide receiver that hadn’t played in a single game before Saturday. The same man who could have redshirted this season. So the question is: why did Dan Sheeran play?