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Notre Dame faces Syracuse with maturing Golson

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NEW YORK (AP) — The offense Brian Kelly ran when he was coach at Cincinnati, the one that pushed the pace and regularly rung up 30-point games, has finally arrived at Notre Dame.

The return of quarterback Everett Golson and his development from game-manager to playmaker has allowed Kelly to unleash his spread attack. The result is an offense on pace to be the most productive in the coach’s five-year tenure in South Bend, Indiana.

The eighth-ranked Fighting Irish (3-0) have reached 30 points in each of their first three games. They’ll try to make it 4 for 4 on Saturday night against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium, the New Jersey home of the NFL’s Giants and Jets.

The last time a Notre Dame team scored at least 30 in the first four games of the season was 1943.

Golson, the junior who missed last season due to an academic suspension, looks like a very different player from the one who helped — though didn’t lead — the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game in 2012.

“We really tried to find ways not to put him in difficult situations offensively (in 2012),” Kelly said. “We controlled the game by running the football, play-action shots down the field, punting the football, that was probably the extent of our offense. This year, we’ve got to score points. So maturity, understanding of the offense and really putting him in that role to be a playmaker is the biggest difference from two years ago.”

Golson is completing 65 percent of his passes, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. The Irish have been especially effective in the red zone, an area that was spotty last season, scoring in all 14 trips inside the opponents’ 20, including 10 touchdowns.

Still, there is plenty of room to grow. Notre Dame’s averaging 418 yards per game, a number in this era of high-powered offenses that ranks in the lower-half (73rd) of FBS.

Syracuse (2-1) counters with a defense that thrives on creating negative plays, they rank 25th in the nation in tackles for loss at 7.0 per game, and an up-tempo offense of their own.

The Orange haven’t been nearly as efficient in the red zone and careful with the football as Notre Dame, which is tied for the national lead in turnover margin.

“We need to pay attention to the little, small details,” said Prince-Tyson Gulley, who is averaging 7.8 yards per carry. “We’re hurting ourselves.”

Some other things to watch for when the Irish and Orange meet for the first time since 2008.

ABOUT THAT LAST GAME: There were more than a few low points in Charlie Weis’ five-year tenure at Notre Dame, but it could be argued that rock bottom was the loss to Syracuse in South Bend. Syracuse coach Greg Robinson had been fired six days earlier and was just coaching out the string. Notre Dame was favored by 20, but the Orange rallied in the fourth quarter for a victory.

GO ACC: This game was scheduled before Notre Dame and the Atlantic Coast Conference agreed to a five-game per year scheduling arrangement and when before Syracuse left the Big East for the ACC. Still, it counts as one of Notre Dame’s ACC games this season. Because some scheduling deals couldn’t be reworked, Notre Dame will play only three more ACC teams (North Carolina, Florida State and Louisville) this season.

As for why this game is being played at MetLife, Syracuse Athletic Director Daryl Gross has said the Irish would not agree to a trip to the Carrier Dome when the deal was made and playing in New Jersey made financial sense, especially when the school was making about $13 million a year less than it is making now in the ACC.

It’s the third straight season Syracuse will play a marquee opponent at MetLife. The Orange lost to Southern California in 2012 and Penn State last season in New Jersey.

IN THE HUNT: Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt gives the Orange a dual-threat much like Golson gives the Irish, though Hunt is more likely to run. Hunt is completing 58.7 percent of his passes, with one TD pass. He’s run for a team-high 273 yards and five scores. “We understand he can make plays,” Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “He’s their best player.

*Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Michael Conroy

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