There shouldn't be any more boxes that need checking for No. 3 Notre Dame after beating No. 12 Syracuse 36-3 in Yankee Stadium. The Irish, now at 11-0, proved their championship caliber in a wire-to-wire domination of a quality opponent, establishing an edge even before Orange quarterback Eric Dungey left the game with an injury.
The game was a showcase for an Irish defense that is led by veterans and has consistently performed at an elite level throughout the season. The Orange have put up 40 points or more four times this season, but against Notre Dame the offense was held to less than four yards per play.
Alohi Gilman had two interceptions and eight tackles, Te'Von Coney had 12 tackles and Drue Tranquill was flying around the field all afternoon. The Irish kept everything in front of them, and when opportunities presented themselves -- like a deflected ball that falls into the hands of Gilman -- they made the most of the opportunity.
There's no doubt that Dungey's injury played a huge part in the game, and Syracuse fans will be concerned about his status moving forward, but the Orange have gone to backup quarterback Tommy DeVito before this season with success and on Saturday afternoon ran into a team is destined to compete for the national championship. The selection committee is sure to take Dungey's injury into consideration when it adjusts the rankings for Syracuse after the loss, but it shouldn't shade the impression of the win for Notre Dame.
On Tuesday night, College Football Playoff Selection Committee chair Rob Mullens indicated that the entire room was in lock step on No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson, mentioning Notre Dame as one of three teams in that argument for No. 3 and No. 4 with Michigan and Georgia. Saturday's performance in Yankee Stadium gives weight to the argument that Notre Dame belongs more in that first group, with the other undefeated Power Five teams, as one of the locks for a spot in the playoffs should it win next week against USC.
Here are three things to know about the win.
1. Chip Long has done a great job managing the Notre Dame offense in 2018: Long, 35, has had a heck of a challenge this year as a coach. The shuffling of quarterbacks, both because of injury and performance, has put the Irish in some difficult spots this year and, yet, here they stand undefeated heading into the last game of the regular season. Ian Book's impressive accuracy numbers on the season are reflective of an offense that is set up to put the skill players in position to create explosive plays, so even when Brandon Wimbush was in the lineup against Florida State the production did not dip.
2. The Orange defense got it done in the red zone: This will go unreported and overlooked by many, but the Orange defense really did a great job of holding with its backs against the wall, particularly in the first half. Two field goals and an interception in the end zone can all be attributed to Syracuse's ability to hang tough even after Notre Dame had hit on an explosive play or turned the Orange over. Alton Robinson and the rest of the defensive line also had Book on the run early, forcing him to make plays out of the pocket and stuffing Irish rushing attempts in the backfield.
3. Fans of chaos will be locked in to Notre Dame-USC: The power of the Notre Dame brand is what leads to home games getting rescheduled to Yankee Stadium and keeps the Irish independent in football with a partial tie to the ACC. The College Football Playoff is weighted in favor of Power Five conference champions thanks to the "championships won" criteria for the selection committee, and Notre Dame making the College Football Playoff is going to make history and have significance for both the program and the playoff.
The game of musical chairs for the Power Five with four playoff spots was thrown a curve ball last year as the SEC became the first conference to get two teams in, and the potential inclusion of the Irish would again leave two Power Five conference champions out, and maybe three depending on Alabama-Georgia. Brian Kelly and his team only has to worry about winning by any margin against the Trojans, but the rest of the college football world will be watching closely with interest in the opportunity for chaos should the Irish lose.
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