Notre Dame wins in rout as Syracuse loses QB to injury

If the Yankees can’t find enough starting pitching this offseason, they should consider the Notre Dame defense. The Irish pitched the football equivalent of a one-hitter Saturday afternoon, spearheaded a near-flawless performance in what was supposed to be their final hurdle before the College Football Playoff.

Living up to its No. 3 ranking, Notre Dame was dominant on both sides of the ball and rode the accurate right arm of Ian Book to a 36-3 flogging of 12th-ranked Syracuse in front of a sellout crowd of 48,104 at Yankee Stadium.

The showdown, part of The Shamrock Series, never came close to living up to the hype, in part due to Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey leaving the game in the first quarter with what looked like a back injury. Instead, the biggest college football game in decades to come to New York City felt like a regular Sunday afternoon around here. Syracuse was as competitive as the dismal Jets or disappointing Giants. Coach Dino Babers even channeled his inner Todd Bowles, kicking a field goal down 36 points with 10 seconds remaining.

Notre Dame played the part of the out-of-town dynamo that beats up on the weak local team. It moved to within one win, next Saturday at reeling USC, from an almost certain invite to its first trip to the playoff after defeating a ranked opponent for the fourth time this season. Coach Brian Kelly’s team improved to 11-0 for the first time since 2012, the last time it played for a national championship. This group seems more equipped than that one, which was destroyed by Alabama in the title game.

Book, who replaced Brandon Wimbush under center in Week 3, has given Notre Dame’s offense much-needed balance to match an elite defense. After missing last Saturday’s rout of Florida State with a rib injury, the junior looked like himself, completing 23 of 37 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns. The nation’s leader in completion percentage, he made quick decisions, delivered accurate throws and sliced apart a soft Syracuse secondary with precision.

The Irish defense shutdown Syracuse’s fourth-ranked scoring offense that entered the supposed showdown averaging 44.4 points per game, allowing just 110 yards through the air. Midway through the first quarter, Dungey went down, and his replacement, Tommy DeVito, was overwhelmed, sacked six times and picked off twice, continuing a lost few days for Syracuse. Its 15th-ranked basketball team went 0-2 in the 2K Classic Thursday and Friday at the Garden.

It was 20-0 at halftime, and Syracuse (8-3) was fortunate not to be down more than three scores. Notre Dame (11-0) outgained them 305-130, yet scored touchdowns on just two of four trips into the red zone. Book threw an interception after slipping on fourth-and-goal from the 1. It was one of few bright spots for the Orange, who lost Dungey nine minutes into the game. Between Dungey and DeVito, they threw three first-half interceptions, which turned into 10 Irish points.

Linebacker Alohi Gilman delivered the play of the game, drilling Syracuse receiver Taj Harris on a well-thrown pass, then grabbing the ball as it popped free and returning it 54 yards. Jafar Armstrong scored from nine yards out on the following play to make it 20-0.

Book carved up the Syracuse defense on Notre Dame’s second possession, completing four of five passes for 60 yards, capped by a 9-yard scoring strike to Dexter Williams. Dungey was picked off on the ensuing drive, leading to a 26-yard Justin Yoon field goal.

The game turned for good the next time Syracuse had the ball. Following a 4-yard run, as he was walking to the line of scrimmage, Dungey hit the turf abruptly. He stayed down before being helped off the field, never to return. It was termed an “upper-body” injury, a rough break for the senior quarterback who has battled injury problems his entire career.

Even before he went down, Notre Dame looked like the better team. Without Dungey, Syracuse didn’t belong on the same field as the Irish.

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