SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Ian Book made sure he would end his career as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback without ever losing at home. The Irish did not need every one of his five total touchdowns, but they needed more from the three-year starter than expected in a 45-21 win against Syracuse on Saturday.
Book led a Notre Dame flurry ending the first half to turn a 7-3 deficit into a 24-7 lead and ease any unnecessary tension in both the Irish locker room and the sparsely-attended stands. The two-time captain began the surge with a 28-yard scramble into the end zone before finding fifth-year receiver Javon McKinley on the next drive for the first of his three touchdown catches. The two would connect once more before the half, a leaping touchdown seconds before the break, to seal the game’s result even if the Orange (1-10, 1-9 ACC) seemingly hung around a bit longer.
Book finishes his career at Notre Dame Stadium at 16-0 as the starter, leading the crux of a 24-game home winning streak and a 16-game overall winning streak, both active. A 285-yard passing performance, somewhat matched by his 53 rushing yards on eight carries, put the finishing touches on his last afternoon in South Bend and pushed the senior class’ record at home to 25-1.
“If we look at the entire season, this was obviously special,” head coach Brian Kelly said to NBC. “Our guys and what they overcame this season to go undefeated, and over four years to go 25-1, is just an incredibly consistent performance week-in and week-out.”
The turnover-riddled contest — even usually ball-secure Book lost a fumble and threw an interception, both plays involved in moments of immediate reciprocity between the two teams — also featured dropped passes and more penalties than would normally be expected from the No. 2 team in the country with a berth in the ACC championship game already secured.
But perhaps that ACC assurance played a part in the Irish (10-0, 9-0 ACC) starting slowly against undermanned Syracuse. In due time, though, talent shined through. McKinley more than made up for his dropped touchdown pass on the first drive. Sophomore running back Kyren Williams eventually found enough running space to break 100 yards on the day and 1,000 yards on the season. Freshman running back Chris Tyree broke loose for a 94-yard score late in the fourth quarter when Notre Dame actually intended to simply milk clock.
Though the defense gave up two long runs, and one blown pass coverage, for scores, the underlying stats indicated the Irish dominated throughout the day. Even the halftime score of 24-7 was misleading, given Notre Dame had outgained Syracuse 311 yards to 174 at that point, had controlled possession and averaged 8.4 yards per first down. The play was sloppy, but once the mistakes were in the rearview mirror (such as McKinley’s recurring case of the drops), the Irish cruised to their second unbeaten regular season in the last three years and fourth consecutive 10-win season.
Notre Dame has next week off after the ACC canceled the Irish makeup trip to Wake Forest. The Irish will face either Clemson or Miami in the conference championship game on Dec. 19. If the No. 3 Tigers win tonight at Virginia Tech, they will seal the rematch of the Nov. 7 double-overtime classic Notre Dame victory.
9:32 — Notre Dame field goal. Jonathan Doerer 25 yards. Notre Dame 3, Syracuse 0. (12 plays, 73 yards, 5:28)
9:55 — Syracuse touchdown. Anthony Queeley 18-yard pass from Rex Culpepper. Andre Szmyt PAT good. Syracuse 7, Notre Dame 3. (10 plays, 62 yards, 4:07)
3:18 — Notre Dame touchdown. Ian Book 28-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 10, Syracuse 7. (5 plays, 72 yards, 2:18)
1:30 — Notre Dame touchdown. Javon McKinley 21-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Syracuse 7. (1 play, 21 yards, 0:08)
0:06 — Notre Dame touchdown. McKinley 28-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 24, Syracuse 7. (6 plays, 68 yards, 0:32)
11:20 — Syracuse touchdown. Sean Tucker 40-yard rush. Szmyt PAT good. Notre Dame 24, Syracuse 14. (5 plays, 57 yards, 2:14)
6:32 — Notre Dame touchdown. Book 18-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 14. (8 plays, 53 yards, 3:23)
1:07 — Notre Dame touchdown. McKinley 26-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 38, Syracuse 14. (3 plays, 68 yards, 1:03)
6:25 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chris Tyree 94-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 45, Syracuse 14. (2 plays, 87 yards, 0:52)
5:33 — Syracuse touchdown. Cooper Lutz 80-yard touchdown rush. Szmyt PAT good. Notre Dame 45, Syracuse 21. (2 plays, 81 yards, 0:52)