Or­ange has chance vs. reel­ing Ir­ish

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By John Kekis

Syra­cuse failed its big­gest early sea­son chal­lenge, which in ret­ro­spect shouldn’t have been a big sur­prise. Louisville ap­par­ently is that good.

Now the Or­ange (2-2) have a chance to make some amends for that 6228 home loss to the ris­ing Car­di­nals in early Septem­ber when they meet Notre Dame (1-3) on Satur­day at MetLife Sta­dium in East Ruther­ford, New Jersey.

The game gives Syra­cuse an op­por­tu­nity on a na­tional stage in an NFL sta­dium to show that firstyear coach Dino Babers has the Or­ange pointed in the right di­rec­tion. They’re com­ing off a 31-24 road win over UConn that snapped a two-game skid.

“It felt good,” said Or­ange wide­out Amba Et­taTawo, who had 12 catches for a school-record 270 yards and two touch­downs against the Huskies and leads the na­tion in re­ceiv­ing with 40 catches for 706 yards. “A lot of peo­ple can breathe now. We just have to keep build­ing upon that.”

Play­ing at this par­tic­u­lar neu­tral site might not be the place. Since former ath­letic direc­tor Daryl Gross de­cided to sched­ule a se­ries of games against top-flight teams at MetLife Sta­dium in­stead of the Car­rier Dome in an effort to spread the Syra­cuse brand in met­ro­pol­i­tan New York City, the Or­ange have lost the first three games at the home of the Gi­ants and Jets — to South­ern Cal (42-29 in 2012), Penn State (23-17 in 2013), and Notre Dame (31-15 two years ago).

This Notre Dame team was ranked 10th in the pre­sea­son and quickly fell flat. The Ir­ish have al­lowed more points through four games (134) than any other team in pro­gram his­tory. The de­fen­sive slide prompted Ir­ish coach Brian Kelly to fire de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brian VanGorder af­ter last week’s 38-35 home loss to Duke. “I al­ways like to play teams when they’re at their best be­cause I don’t want to win on Satur­day and have peo­ple say, ‘Oh, you guys beat Notre Dame, but that’s when they were go­ing through X, Y, and Z,” Syra­cuse line­backer Zaire Franklin said. “I would like to play the Notre Dame that’s fifth in the na­tion and headed for a play­off.”

The Syra­cuse of­fense has leaned hard on Et­taTawo, a grad­u­ate trans­fer from Mary­land in his last sea­son of el­i­gi­bil­ity, and he has re­sponded in a re­mark­able way. Af­ter a sum­mer of work­ing closely to­gether, it’s no sur­prise he’s be­come the fa­vorite of quar­ter­back Eric Dungey.

Seem­ingly lost in the dizzy­ing ar­ray of balls thrown by Dungey — he’s 117 for 179 for 1,367 yards — is last sea­son’s go-to guy. Steve Ish­mael, who started all 12 games and led the Or­ange with 39 re­cep­tions for 570 yards and seven touch­downs, is fourth on the team this sea­son with 17 catches for 171 yards and zero TDs in the Or­ange’s new up-tempo of­fense.

So far, Ish­mael is tak­ing it all in stride.

“He (Babers) has told me my time is go­ing to come,” Ish­mael said. “I’m re­ally go­ing with the flow of things. I’m so glad Amba’s been mak­ing a lot of plays. When other teams see that, when they do dou­ble him, it’s go­ing to open up ev­ery­thing for ev­ery­body.

“The of­fense should be a lot more ex­cit­ing when that hap­pens be­cause it’s go­ing to leave a lot of vul­ner­a­ble spots.”


Syra­cuse quar­ter­back Eric Dungey (2) passes dur­ing the first half of an NCAA foot­ball game against the Con­necti­cut, Satur­day in East Hart­ford, Conn.

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