No. 3 Notre Dame slams Syracuse at Yankee Stadium
New York — The band was an Aaron Judge moon shot away from the field, way up in the right-field bleachers of Yankee Stadium.
Still, the Fighting Irish lined up in the outfield and sang the alma mater — just as they would have at Notre Dame Stadium — after dispatching No. 12 Syracuse and putting themselves a step away from the College Football Playoff.
Ian Book returned to the starting lineup for No. 3 Notre Dame and threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns as the Fighting Irish routed the Orange 36-3 on Saturday to stay unbeaten.
The Irish will head West next week to face struggling rival Southern California, with a spot in the playoff in their grasp.
"I don't know that if we win our last game that we're going to the playoffs, but that's not in our control," coach Brian Kelly said. "What we can control is how we prepare. If we do a good job there and win our game then we would have won all our games and we'll let people decide who should go to the playoffs."
Notre Dame held out Book from last week's home game against Florida State with a rib injury. He wasn't missed as the Irish (11-0, No. 3 CFP) rolled with Brandon Wimbush at quarterback.
They clearly wanted to be cautious with Book ahead of their trip to the Bronx to face high-scoring Syracuse (8-3, No. 12 CFP), averaging 44 points per game. Book, the junior quarterback who took over as the starter four games into the season, looked good as new.
"The ribs feel good," Book said. "Wasn't even thinking about them during the game."
Donning pinstripe uniforms in a tribute to the usual residents of the ballpark, Notre Dame went up 7-0 on its second possession on a 9-yard pass from Book to Dexter Williams.
The Subway Alumni, along with the bridge and tunnel crowd, packed Yankee Stadium on a 45-degree day in the Bronx. The sellout crowd was announced at 48,104.
That the Fighting Irish were playing such an important game away from South Bend, Indiana, did not sit well with most of their fans. Even Kelly said it was not ideal. Part of the Shamrock Series, the off-site "home" games Notre Dame plays almost annually, the Irish's second trip to the new Yankee Stadium had been in the works for several years.
Adding to the anxiety of playing a Syracuse team having its best season in more than a decade was Notre Dame's unusual stretch schedule. Notre Dame has played only one home game since mid-October and the trip to USC will be its second to the West Coast in five weeks.
Turns out, there was nothing to worry about in New York. The most significant college football game at Yankee Stadium since No. 1 Army and No. 2 Notre Dame played a 0-0 tie in 1946 was no Game of the Century.
"We've played in California, Chicago and New York," Book said. "I think it's awesome. I think it's great experiences for us. We might have to fly a little bit more than other teams but I don't think it hurts anyone."
The Orange played most of the game without starting quarterback Eric Dungey, who left in the first quarter with what the school said was an upper-body injury. Coach Dino Babers said they would know more about Dungey's condition when he was examined upon return to Syracuse.
Tommy DeVito, who came off the bench earlier this season to relieve Dungey against North Carolina and lead the Orange to an overtime victory, stepped in but looked overmatched. The redshirt freshman was sacked six times and picked off twice.
Only a field goal with 10 seconds left denied the Irish their first shutout since Sept. 6, 2014, when they beat Michigan 31-0 in South Bend.
Syracuse has played both No. 2 Clemson and Notre Dame this season, losing a close game in Death Valley.
"I will tell you this: Notre Dame is better than what people think they are," Babers said. "That's a really, really good football team. All I'll say is this: Clemson is extremely talented. So I think there's no doubt those two teams are in the top four in the country."
Notre Dame improved 17-6-3 all-time at Yankee Stadium, including 2-0 at the newest version and 3-0 since Kelly took over.