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Syracuse Ignoring Outside Noise Leading Into Matchup With Notre Dame

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Head coach Dino Babers has guided the No. 12 Orange to its highest ranking since 1998. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse will face a top-four opponent away from the Carrier Dome for the second time this season, when it travels to the Bronx, N.Y., to take on Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium.

The Orange nearly upset then-No. 3 Clemson on the road Sept. 29, leading for much of the game and holding a lead with less than two minutes to go before falling 27-23.

Another test awaits head coach Dino Babers and company in the form of the current No. 3 team in the country. The Fighting Irish defense is the best unit the Orange have faced since the Tigers, who held the Orange to just 311 total yards (61 on the ground).

Notre Dame currently ranks 25th in total defense (330.1 yards allowed per game) and 15th in scoring (18.7 points allowed per game) heading into the top-15 matchup with Syracuse.

“Their defense is doing really, really well,” Babers said of the Irish. “Their new coordinator, Clark Lea, I believe used to work here and I knew him when he was one of our graduate assistants at UCLA before he became full-time. He’s doing a fabulous job with that defense that Mike Elko handed down to him, who is now at Texas A&M, which both of them started at Wake Forest the first year we played them.

“I have some knowledge of it, but the players they are playing with on defense are really, really good and really, really long, and they have a really, really good scheme. It’s the main reason why I’m sure a lot of teams had a lot of difficulty scoring points.”

The Fighting Irish offense, which is averaging 453.7 total yards (26th) and 34.5 points (30th) per game, is set to get back junior quarterback Ian Book after a one-week hiatus due to injury. Book has thrown for 1,824 yards with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions this season.

“The offense is so good,” Babers said. “You’re trying to match suit with them and then before you know it, you’re behind and then the floodgates open and the game is over. You’ve got to kind of find a way to see if you can get into the second half, and get into the third and fourth quarter and make it a tight game.

“I think they’ve been playing really loose, but they’ve normally had leads and comfortable leads, so their players could play loose.”

Babers and the Orange are ignoring the noise about this Saturday being one of the biggest games in program history over the past decade-plus. The head coach does feel his team is in a better spot at multiple positions in comparison to the last time the two programs met in 2016, a 50-33 Irish victory.

“We’ve played on TV before,” Babers said. “The stage is no different than playing in Clemson’s stadium or playing in some of the other stadiums we’ve played in. I’m not sure. … We’re probably in a better situation than we were in two years ago.

“… I think the teams are different, and I think the stage is different. We’re going to have to see if we’ve matured enough to handle the situation.”

A win by Syracuse against the Irish would give the program its first nine-win season since a 10-3 finish in 2001.

“I don’t see this like one of the biggest games since 2001," Babers said when asked if Saturday was like any other game for the Orange. "I think about the Virginia Tech game being a conference game, two years ago the Clemson game being a conference game, one year ago the Clemson game being a conference game, this year how valuable the Pitt game is.

“To me, this is like a freebie. We’re 4-0 in the second part of the season and we have a non-conference opponent and we’re playing them. It doesn’t effect our conference standings, but it does effect our overall record, so I look at this one a little bit different than our conference games.”


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