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Book leads No. 2 Irish past Syracuse 45-21; Clemson next up

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Matt Cashore

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (12) celebrates after running for a touchdown in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in South Bend, Ind. (Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Ian Book’s final game at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday was one for the record books — both for him and the second-ranked Fighting Irish.

“Bittersweet, definitely a little emotional but I just took it all in,” said the fifth-year senior quarterback after throwing three touchdown passes and running for two more as the Irish rolled to a 45-21 victory against Syracuse. Next up is a rematch with No. 4 Clemson in the ACC title game.

It was Book’s 30th victory as a starter, the most ever for a Notre Dame quarterback. The Irish (10-0, 9-0 ACC, CFP No. 2) ran their winning streak to 16 games, best in the country, and their home winning streak to 24.

“It’s hard doing any 24 things consecutively — I have trouble doing two in a row,” coach Brian Kelly joked after his team provided him with his 102nd victory in South Bend, three behind all-time Irish leader Knute Rockne. His last four Irish teams have won at least 10 games a season and are 43-6.

“It was about finishing for our seniors with a win at home and getting Ian into the record books as the winningest quarterback at Notre Dame,” added Kelly, who said it wasn’t Book’s best effort during his 30-3 run as a starter, leaving former Irish quarterbacks Tom Clements, Ron Powlus and Brady Quinn in his wake.

Book was 24 for 37 for 285 yards, with touchdown passes of 21, 28 and 26 to Javon McKinley, who had seven receptions for 111 yards. The Irish quarterback also scored on runs of 28 and 17 yards.

“It’s a dream come true to be able to attend Notre Dame and have a good career,” Book said. “To be able to never have lost at home (15-0 as a starter), it’s really a team award rather than an individual one. I want to win a national championship, and if you hear my name, that is what you think of.”

A national title, Notre Dame’s first since 1988, is perhaps three victories away. Next up for the Irish, who are playing this season in a pandemic as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, is the Dec. 19 league championship game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It will be a rematch against the Tigers, who beat Virginia Tech to clinch a spot. The Irish outlasted Clemson 47-40 in double overtime last month as Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was sidelined with COVID-19.

No matter that outcome, the Irish hope to be one of four teams chosen to receive a berth in the College Football Playoff.

Kyren Williams added 110 yards on 20 carries, giving him 1,011 for the season, and freshman Chris Tyree had a 94-yard TD run for Notre Dame’s final touchdown and finished with 109 rushing yards as Notre Dame totaled 283 on the ground and 568 total.

“I think our guys got to measure themselves up against one of the better teams in the country ... I was proud of the way they competed,” said Syracuse coach Dino Babers, whose Orange (1-10, 1-9) managed 414 yards on the Irish defense, ranked 10th nationally coming into the game, and took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter.

Notre Dame started its run thanks to a roughing the passer by Syracuse that Book later turned into a 28-yard TD run. Linebacker Marist Liufau’s fumble recovery and return to the Syracuse 21 was followed by Book’s first TD pass to McKinley.

Then Book engineered a six-play, 68-yard scoring drive that took just 32 seconds, finishing it with a 28-yard TD pass to McKinley and the Irish were up 24-7 at half.

THE TAKEAWAY

Syracuse: Babers’ young team, which was a 33½-point underdog and with 71.6 percent of its roster either freshmen or sophomores, moved the ball on the Irish defense in closing out the season. The Orange finished their final game of the season with 229 rushing yards against Notre Dame’s No. 4 rushing defense.

Freshman Sean Tucker rushed for 113 yards, including a 40-yard TD, and sophomore Cooper Lutz ripped off a 80-yard TD run late in the game.

“Lutz was really good — I didn’t know he was that fast — and Sean’s been steady all year,” Babers said. “I want them to understand that we didn’t finish this thing the way we wanted to from a won-loss record. You’ve got to turn a negative into a positive.”

Notre Dame: Book’s string of pass attempts without an interception, dating back to the season opener against Duke, ended at 267 when Ja’Had Carter picked off an underthrown long pass early in the third quarter.

Book finished with 348 total yards, becoming only the second Irish player to move past 10,000 yards (10,008) in total offense. Quinn, who played for Notre Dame from 2003-06, is the leader with 11,944.

“He throws dimes,” Williams said. “Every throw is a dime, so it’s just crazy to see what Ian’s doing. I know he’s got a lot more left in him. He hasn’t shown his best yet.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Don’t expect Fighting Irish to fall when AP announces its rankings Sunday and CFP rankings come out Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Syracuse: Season complete.

Notre Dame: The Irish have an extra week to rest up for Clemson after the conference adjusted the schedules earlier this week, canceling their last game.

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