EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — This is was the best type of learning experience for Everett Golson and Notre Dame.
Golson offset a four-turnover performance with some pinpoint passing, setting a school record for consecutive completions and throwing a career-high four touchdown passes to lead the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish to a 31-15 victory against Syracuse on Saturday night.
Golson threw his first two interceptions of the season, including one returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter by Durell Eskridge. He fumbled the ball away deep in Syracuse territory and bumbled an attempt to spike the ball late in the first half into another giveaway.
“Pretty weird for me,” Golson said. “Definitely got to get better. Got to clean up a lot of things.”
A total of five turnovers by the Irish (4-0) allowed Syracuse (2-2) to linger. Terrel Hunt’s 7-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter cut the lead to 21-9.
“You could tell in the locker room there was not the normal chatter, excitement. They knew they did not play the kind of football necessary to win each and every week,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “This game will get you beat week in and week out. We made enough big plays to overcome it.”
Golson came right back with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Torii Hunter Jr., son of the major league outfielder, for his 25th straight completion. Golson was 32 for 39 for a career-best 362 yards, coming one completion short of matching the FBS record for consecutive completions in a game set by Dominique Davis in 2011 with East Carolina. Though Notre Dame officials were claiming it was 26 straight, unsure about whether a penalty had wiped out one.
Corey Robinson, the son of former San Antonio Spurs star David Robinson, caught eight passes for 91 yards a touchdown.
For the first time since 1943, Notre Dame has scored at least 30 points in each of its first four games.
Syracuse has tried to turn MetLife Stadium into a home-away-from-home, but it’s not working out so well for the university that calls itself New York’s college team.
The Orange have played Southern California, Penn State and Notre Dame at the home of the Jets and Giants over the past three seasons, and lost each time.
“We want our kids to understand that they played hard, gave good effort, but still gave up 517 (total yards),” Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. “We can’t misunderstand effort for victories. The only ones that count are the ones that end up in the win column.”
The Irish’s fourth turnover, a fumble by Greg Bryant inside the Syracuse 30 late in the third quarter, led to the Orange’s first touchdown. After Hunt’s TD run, Jarron Jones blocked the extra point for the Irish.
A nice start to the season has put Golson in the Heisman Trophy discussion, for what it’s worth in September. This uneven performance in a win probably didn’t hurt the cause too much. Golson had two turnovers in the first quarter, losing a fumble after a nifty scramble and throwing an interception on a pass that sailed badly.
The junior got it together in the second quarter, when Notre Dame when to its “now game” to combat Syracuse’s blitzes. Zipping quick screens from side to side and working underneath, Golson directed a 95-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a 23-yard pass to Will Fuller, who took a screen into the end zone to make it 7-0.
“He did a lot of really, really good things,” Kelly said. “He threw the ball on target down the field and his perimeter throws were outstanding.”
Golson showed off his long-range game next. Fuller beat cornerback Corey Winfield to the inside and Golson hit the receiver in stride. Fuller skipped past the end-zone pylon for a 72-yard touchdown to make it 14-0.
Fuller had six catches for 119 yards.
After a Syracuse field goal, the Irish had a chance to add to the lead with a late first-half score, but Golson bobbled the ball away while trying to kill the clock with a spike. He slapped the ball to the ground and it bounced a few yards away with most of the players just standing around, watching it roll. Syracuse’s Julian Whigham raced in, picked the ball up and took off toward the end zone.
Syracuse thought it had a fumble return for a touchdown. Notre Dame figured it was an incomplete pass.
After a review, the officials split the difference. Golson’s goof was ruled a fumble, but because officials had blown the play dead the ball was given to the Orange with no advancement.
“He experienced some things tonight that are going to make him a better quarterback,” Kelly said.