Notre Dame sits firmly at No. 3 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings but will face a stiff test against Syracuse on Saturday night. The No. 12 Orange possess the right blueprint to pull off the upset, and it starts on the edge.
Quarterback Ian Book will be facing one of the best pass-rushing units in the country and doing so while coming off an upper-body injury.
Syracuse is second in the ACC in sacks and is on pace to threaten the school record of 41 sacks set in 1985. In the past two contests alone they have tallied 11 and lived in opponents’ backfields. Cuse gets pressure on the opposing quarterback on 40 percent of dropbacks, the fourth-highest rate in FBS (behind only Alabama, Clemson and Miami).
Leading their pass-rushing havoc is sophomore defensive end Alton Robinson. He checks in at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds but looks even bigger, with the speed of an outside linebacker.
He’s still somewhat raw but plays with an extremely high motor and has first-round-caliber get-off quickness, excellent bend and closing explosiveness. His reactive burst is similar to a former Syracuse pass rusher, All-Pro Dwight Freeney.
Robinson is the main reason 37 percent of plays against Syracuse go for zero or negative yards, the third-highest rate in the ACC. His disruptive play has also contributed to the Orange forcing 25 turnovers this season, tied for second-most in FBS.
Something will have to give, as Notre Dame has gone three straight games without allowing a sack, its longest streak since 2013. It will come down to matchups on the edge, namely Notre Dame sophomore right tackle Robert Hainsey against Robinson.
Here’s a look at Robinson and Hainsey in action, and what it could mean for Saturday’s game.