Notre Dame at FSU: Five Things to Know About This Game
This isn’t 1993. This isn’t about Charlie Ward or a stinging defense or Matt Frier crying after the game – begging pollsters to give the Seminoles one more chance at a national title. This isn’t about South Bend or Lou Holtz or changing history or losing the following week to Boston College.
This is 2014. This is about FSU trying to remain undefeated. This is about Everette Golson having a chance to do the unthinkable and end a 22-game losing streak. This is about the Fighting Irish proving they are as good as their No. 5 ranking says they are.
This may not be the “Game of the Century” as the contest 21 years ago was promoted as, but it is pretty important for both teams and their chances of winning a national title.
And for the Florida State Seminoles, who are arguably the most hated team in college sports today, their star quarterback cannot have a poor game. That would only magnify the issues the redshirt-sophomore has faced in recent weeks, both on and off the field.
Here are five things to know about this contest.
THE LAST ONE STANDING
It is a potential Playoff elimination game. Both teams are flawed but undefeated, with FSU (6-0, No. 2) dealing with injuries and inconsistency (and a tendency to only look good when it absolutely has to) and Notre Dame (6-0, No. 5) flirting with disaster before getting bailed out by quarterback Everett Golson.
WHERE DO THEY STAND?
This game will help us figure out the narrative for the second half of the season. Is this where FSU finally finds its groove? Is this where we figure out exactly how seriously we should be taking Notre Dame? Are these teams what we thought they were two months ago?
FINDING HIS TARGETS
Due to either strengths (Jameis Winston to Rashad Greene) or weaknesses (Karlos Williams averaging just 4.8 yards per carry), Florida State has passed with a higher frequency this season than in 2013. The Seminoles have been pretty good at it, though Winston got a little bit careless with the ball against NC State and Oklahoma State (five touchdowns, four interceptions).
On standard downs, Winston has targeted Greene frequently (37 targets, 23 catches, 337 yards) while still feeding efficiency targets Nick O'Leary (21 targets, 17 catches, 187 yards) and Jesus Wilson (18 targets, 13 catches, 124 yards). On passing downs, it's been Greene or bust -- his 30 passing-downs targets (with 21 catches and 346 yards) are more than that of the next three targets (O'Leary, Wilson, Travis Rudolph) combined.
THE DOUBLE EDGE SWORD
Basically, Notre Dame is on average worse against the pass than against the run, and Florida State is more than happy to pass 60-plus percent of the time if it needs to. FSU will occasionally try to run, and the 'Noles will have Williams back after he missed the Syracuse game with injury. (His backups, Dalvin Cook and now-injured Mario Pender, were actually more efficient and explosive than Williams had been.)
That probably means a lot of passes to Greene, the best receiver Notre Dame has faced this year, but if Notre Dame blankets him like it did Montgomery, that will put pressure on not only Winston, but also O'Leary, Wilson, and others in a high-ceiling, low-experience receiving corps.
HOPE FOR THE IRISH
if Notre Dame wins, it will be because Everett Golson had a lovely game with his arm.
In the absence of suspended former leading receiver DaVaris Daniels, sophomore William Fuller has emerged as a quality No. 1 guy, averaging 10.0 yards per target over about 8.3 targets per game. If the run is working at all, he and Corey Robinson can provide play-fake threats on standard downs, and Fuller, Robinson, and C.J. Procise have combined to average a decent 8.0 yards per target on passing downs.
FSU's pass defense has been a bit unstable. Four of six opponents have produced passer ratings under 130.0, and in the last two weeks, Wake Forest and Syracuse found little to no success through the air. But both of those teams stink at passing, and two offenses that don't (Clemson and NC State) found a little success: 54-for-83, 665 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions, albeit with five sacks.
TROUBLE WITH THE LEGS
Because you can run on FSU, and because FSU can't always run on you, the Seminoles are vulnerable to field flipping, and while Beatty has improved (FSU ranks a mighty 89th in Net Punting), he still leaves something to be desired. Punting is the primary reason why FSU ranks just 57th in special teams efficiency despite having an incredible place-kicker in Roberto Aguayo.
As a whole, Florida State's offensive stats look worse than they should -- Jameis Winston missed the Clemson game, and FSU has faced solid run defenses. The Seminoles have advantages to exploit, but if they're working on a field that is 10 yards longer than the one on which Notre Dame is working, it will be difficult to make up the advantage. FSU doesn't have to win the field position battle, but the 'Noles can't lose it too badly.
FSU 34 NOTRE DAME 27