By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND -- In a decade full of embarrassing disappointments, Notre Dame has hit another new low.
The last-minute 24-23 defeat Saturday to Syracuse, squandering a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead, was the first ever by the Fighting Irish to an eight-loss team. Even worse, the Orange, who had scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns all season, had two against the Irish to rally from a double-digit deficit and win for the first time since coming back from 17 down to beat North Carolina in 2003.
For the Irish (6-5), it was the third time this season they had blown second-half leads of at least nine points, and they also allowed Stanford and Navy to each score two fourth-quarter touchdowns to turn blowouts into nail biters.
"I'd like to say that's our youth, but at the end of the day, we just have to finish. I wish I had the answer," linebacker Toryan Smith said.
The biggest problem appears to be Notre Dame's inability to run the ball. The Irish managed just 41 yards rushing against a Syracuse defense that entered the game giving up 209 yards per game and hadn't held an FBS opponent to less than 137 yards this season. It was the fifth time this season the Irish were held to fewer than 100 yards rushing.
"You have to be able to run the ball more consistently, especially when you get an opportunity to finish a team out," coach Charlie Weis said Sunday.
The loss to Syracuse (3-8) is just the latest in a growing list of humiliating defeats Notre Dame has suffered in the past two years under Weis. It ranks up there with a pair of 38-0 losses to Michigan and Southern California last year, which tie for the eighth-most lopsided losses in Notre history, and a triple-overtime loss last season to Navy, ending an NCAA-record 43-game winning streak over the Midshipmen.
That's not to mention its sixth straight loss to Boston College or needing to rally in the fourth quarter to beat San Diego State.
So after starting the season 4-1, the Irish are in danger of posting back-to-back losing records for just the third time in the school's storied history. Weis, with a record of 28-20, is a loss away from falling behind the .583 winning percentage his two predecessors, Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie, posted.
Still, Weis remains convinced he's the man to turn the program around, saying the Irish have gone from a "crummy" team last year that had to depend on freshmen and sophomores and other first-time contributors to a "decent" team this season that has been competitive.
"If you take a step from three wins to six or seven wins, not including a bowl game, going to the next year, you should expect the progression to be at least as good if not better," he said.
Before he gets to next year, though, he's got to finish this year. The Irish are 9-14 over the past two years, the most losses ever in a two-year span by Notre Dame. Davie's worst two-year total was 10 losses. Willingham's was 13.
Next up for the Irish is No. 5 USC, which has beaten Notre Dame six straight years.
"We'll have to play our best game ever to beat them," Notre Dame defensive tackle Pat Kuntz said.
A loss to USC and in a bowl game would give Notre Dame its fourth losing record this decade, the most of any decade. Notre Dame has only had 13 losing seasons: three in the 1980s, two in the 1960s and two in the 1880s.
Still, Weis remains confident.
"I think that the team has a chance of being pretty darn good next year," he said. "I can't worry about my job status. I'm the head football coach, and that's what I intend to be."