Saturday’s 36-3 stomping of Syracuse was the kind of win bound to make UCF-homers furious. The day was for them, with GameDay in the bounce house and giving full play to the story lines as pretend as their claim to a national championship. Earlier in the week, their quarterback took to the 1’s and 0’s to pop off about his team being every bit better than Ian Book’s. When the night ended, and crows covered Cincinnati’s corpse, UCF had its statement win over a top twenty-five team.
Except no one with an ounce of sense cared. Notre Dame’s performance over Syracuse’s super-prolific offense was so complete that any argument that Notre Dame did not belong in the top four was exposed as the sad ranting of a scorned bro put from the klerb. Syracuse were the twelfth-ranked team, the fourteenth-ranked offense, and averaged 44 points per game.
And Notre Dame took them apart. Physically. They knocked ‘Cuse’s QB, Eric “I’m Not Tony” Dungey, out of the game in the first quarter, Alohi Gilman had his way — he just abused #80 on an interception in the second quarter, and Julian Okwara did such things to Syracuse’s left tackle, Cody Conway, Caligula would have blushed. In all, Notre Dame sacked Syracuse’s quarterback seven times.
The country’s twelfth-best offense didn’t manage a point until ten seconds left. In the game. Here’s how their possessions went: punt, interception (Jalen Elliott), punt, interception (Gilman), punt, interception (Gilman again), punt, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal (from twenty-three years) (I mean honestly), field goal. This, from a team that passed for 192 yards and ran for 326 against Louisville — I know — the week before.
This, from a team that gave Clemson all it could handle in a 23-27 away loss in week five. Against Notre Dame, Syracuse were limited to 115 passing yards and just 119 yards on the ground. Their O-line was simply no match for Okwara, Tillery, Tranquill, et al. To a Notre Dame fan of a certain age, it was a qualitative difference reminiscent of the 2012 national championship game, when our boys just couldn’t compete against wave after wave of stronger, better, faster, and longer Alabama defenders.
Ian Book ran the offense well, but there were some problems. His O-line allowed two sacks and had more false starts than Trump’s Infrastructure Week. Early in the game, they left points on the table like emptied trays of crabmeat ravigote and champagne glasses after Friday lunch at Galatoire’s. Still, he threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns. Chase Claypool caught six passes for ninety-eight yards and a score, and Miles Boykin caught seven for seventy-six yards. Alizé Mack and Cole Kmet made big catches to exploit what defense Syracuse could manage.
Syracuse defenders will make a lot of Dungey’s absence. But Notre Dame was man-handling his offense before he went out. Look at their first three drives, all under Dungey. Punt, punt, interception. Jalen Elliott picked off the drive’s first pass — its first play — with such solidity it was as though his blue or black helmet and shirt and his pinstripe pants turned the color of frost-tinged grass. Dungey never saw him. Danny DeVito, Dungey’s second, had put in serviceable performances before.
The Irish came into the weekend ranked third in the country and should either stay there or move up to second, after Clemson didn’t exactly dominate Duke the way you’d expect — they “only” won 35-6. At home. To the unranked, 7-4 Blue Devils. Regardless, Notre Dame stamped its ticket, again, into the playoffs and are a win against a dumpster fire program in South Central away from locking up the program’s first CFP appearance.