BRONX, N.Y. — If the Notre Dame offense led by Ian Book has been the story of the 2018 Irish season so far, it took a back seat Saturday in the Bronx.
No, it was the Irish defense — a quietly staunch unit throughout the year — that made the biggest statement in No. 3 Notre Dame’s 36-3 victory over No. 12 Syracuse in their Shamrock Series showdown at Yankee Stadium.
Notre Dame (11-0) stymied a Syracuse attack that had averaged 44.4 points and 482.2 yards per game entering the contest, holding the Orange (8-3) to a mere field goal — scored with 10 seconds remaining in the game — and 234 yards. Syracuse had scored in all but two non-consecutive quarters all season.
The Irish defense tallied three interceptions — two from free safety Alohi Gilman and one from strong safety Jalen Elliott — which ultimately resulted in 10 points. The unit also registered six sacks — two by linebacker Drue Tranquill — and 11 tackles for loss.
Linebacker Te’von Coney racked up a team-leading 12 tackles, followed by Gilman’s eight and Tranquill’s seven.
Book went 23-for-37 for 292 yards and two touchdowns, while junior receiver Chase Claypool hauled in six passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. Dexter Williams led the Irish rushing attack, amassing 83 all-purpose yards (74 rushing) with both receiving and rushing touchdowns.
Brandon Wimbush, who made an appearance at running back in the third quarter and stepped under center late in the fourth, recorded 44 yards on four carries.
How It Happened
After trading punts with the Orange to start the game, the Irish began their second drive at their own 45-yard line. Six plays and 2:11 later, Book found Williams on a 9-yard touchdown connection, Williams’ first scoring reception of the season.
Notre Dame was quick to regain possession. After the kickoff, Irish safety Jalen Elliott snagged an interception on Orange quarterback Eric Dungey’s first pass attempt, returning it 24 yards to the Syracuse 15-yard line. A Justin Yoon field goal made it 10-0 with 7:49 left in the first quarter.
After another Syracuse punt — this one to the Irish five-yard-line — the Irish offense hummed down the field as Book completed a 33-yard pass to Chase Claypool to midfield and a 47-yard pass to Alize Mack to the Orange three. An apparent two-yard touchdown rush by Tony Jones Jr., was negated, however, when a holding call went against the Irish, who settled for a 29-yard Yoon field goal to stretch a 13-0 first-period lead.
The Irish looked to extend their lead midway through the second period, driving 73 yards to the Orange one-yard line. But after completing passes of 24 and 18 yards to Boykin, Book found himself intercepted in the end zone for a Syracuse touchback.
With Dungey out due to an apparent upper body injury suffered in the first quarter, the Irish defense came up big after the interception, snagging another one of its own thanks to Gilman. The Irish safety knocked Tommy DeVito’s pass to Taj Harris and corralled the jump ball before charging 54-yards on the return to the Syracuse nine-yard line. Sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong punctuated the sequence, registering a nine-yard touchdown rush to extend the lead to 20-0 with 4:52 remaining in the half.
It was Gilman’s second interception of the day after opening the second quarter with his first of the season.
After halftime, the Irish forced a Syracuse three-and-out to open the third quarter, scoring on the next drive as Yoon hit his second 29-yard field goal of the afternoon and gave the Irish a 23-0 lead at the 9:30 mark of the period.
The ensuing Orange drive summed up just how dominant the Irish defense was Saturday. The series yielded a loss of 13 yards for Syracuse thanks to a tackle-for-loss credited to Drue Tranquill and Jayson Ademilola and sacks by Tranquill and Julian Okwara.
Taking possession at their own 49-yard line, the Irish took advantage of a pass interference penalty against Syracuse, as well as a 17-yard pass from Book to tight end Cole Kmet on fourth and one to set up their third touchdown of the day. Book found Claypool on a 10-yard pass, making it 29-0 in favor of the home team with 3:35 remaining in the quarter.
The Irish held Syracuse to -8 yards in the third quarter, marking Notre Dame’s best defensive quarter since limiting Stanford to -13 yards in the fourth quarter on Sept. 29.
Williams logged a 32-yard touchdown run with 4:05 remaining in the game for his 12th score of the year.
Syracuse only scored in the game’s final seconds when Andre Szmyt hit a 28-yard field goal.
The Irish will look close out an undefeated regular season next weekend, traveling to the West Coast to face USC at 8 p.m. ET Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ABC.