The Daily Nole

FSU Football: First Look at Notre Dame

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Florida State’s toughest road game of the season is on tap for Saturday night. In addition to the difficult match-up against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Seminoles will be battling temperatures below freezing in a hostile environment involving an undefeated team. FSU will need to show something it has not shown all year.

Notre Dame has been one of the more confusing teams in the nation. It has one truly impressive victory over the Michigan Wolverines at the beginning of the season, but has not replicated that same performance. The Fighting Irish’s other eight wins have been against mediocre opponents who seem to always take them down to the wire. What’s the deal with the Fighting Irish? How do they compare to FSU? We give a first look below.

2018 Record: 9-0
2018 S&P Offensive Ranking: 27th
2018 S&P Defensive Ranking: 3rd
2018 S&P Special Teams Ranking: 64th

On Offense

Head coach Brian Kelly made a quarterback decision that may have saved his future in South Bend. The Fighting Irish benched Brandon Wimbush three games into the season for Ian Book, who has elevated the offense with quality play from the pocket. Book has thrown 15 touchdowns to four interceptions, with over 1,800 passing yards and four more touchdowns on the ground.

He’s helped out by an explosive running game led by Dexter Williams. The senior tailback out of Orlando averages over six yards per carry and has ran for 568 yards with eight touchdowns. Behind him in carries are Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong, who have combined for seven touchdowns and over 600 yards.

Book’s main target in the receiving game is Miles Boykin. Boykin is a serious mismatch at 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds, and his seven touchdowns exemplify it. He dominates the production with 40 receptions and over 600 yards. The next most is Chase Claypool, who is also 6-4 but not near as cool as Boykin apparently. He’s totaled 36 receptions for 448 yards and three touchdowns.

Notre Dame has an efficient and productive offense. That being said, there are no true game changers here besides Boykin. The Fighting Irish offensive line is also a notch above average, so getting pressure on Book should be easier this time around.

On Defense

This is where the Fighting Irish have built their undefeated record on. Notre Dame lost defensive coordinator Mike Elko in the offseason, which prompted many to predict a decline under new defensive coordinator Clark Lea. Instead, Notre Dame improved and looks genuinely great.

It begins in the trenches. Notre Dame’s front seven has turned into an elite unit, registering some of the most quarterback hurries in the nation. Defensive lineman Jerry Tillery leads the way with seven sacks and is followed by lineman Julian Okwara with five. Both Khalid Kareem and linebacker Te’von Coney have 8.5 tackles for loss as well, so the effort is spread across the entire front.

The secondary is where the “weak” spots lay, but it should be noted that Notre Dame still ranks highly in pass defense.

Starting cornerbacks Julian Love and Troy Pride Jr. have performed well and provide a tough challenge for opposing wide receivers. Safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliot have been a mixed bag, though both are living up to preseason hype as impact players. They’ve combined for three interceptions and two forced fumbles, but can sometimes be lacking in coverage.

The biggest weakness lays in Notre Dame’s nickel position. As part of the 4-2-5 scheme, the Fighting Irish have an extra defensive back that can be a hybrid cornerback/safety. That was intended to be manned by Shaun Crawford, but Crawford tore his ACL in the preseason and depth in the secondary is somewhat lacking. They turned to true freshman Houston Griffith, who was a highly ranked defensive back in the 2018 class that de-committed from FSU and went to Notre Dame. Griffith has struggled throughout the season, but he is getting better each week.

On Special Teams

Punter Tyler Newsome is a strong point of the special teams unit. He averages over 45 yards per attempt and somehow managed to down 12 punts inside the 20-yard-line. He’s also booted 13 punts of 50-plus yards.

Kicker Justin Yoon is fine when put into manageable situations. Yoon is 10-for-14 on field goals, but he’s had to attempt eight kicks of 40-plus yards. He made five of those, including a long of 48 yards. Yoon has been perfect on extra point attempts.

Nothing pops out looking at the returners. Chris Finke averages nine yards per punt return, and a trio of players average 20 yards per kickoff return.


This game is very similar to the Clemson match-up. The biggest strength for the Fighting Irish is their defensive line, who will now go up against an FSU offensive line that might be the worst in the Power 5. Their quarterback is not prone to mistakes and appears comfortable in the system. That is no comparison for Trevor Lawrence, but it might not matter all that much.

The change to James Blackman sparks some interest in Florida State’s offense. If the Seminoles can buy enough time in pass protection, the NC State game showed how Tamorrion Terry and Nyqwan Murray can always gain separation. Expect the Seminoles to try and pick on Griffith, or at the very least make Love and Pride Jr. win 1-on-1 battles. Chances of a run game emerging for FSU are slim to none.

Most discouraging development from last week involves the defense being unable to defend the run. Notre Dame is pretty similar to NC State, and the Wolfpack showed a formula for beating the Seminoles last week. However, NC State also had an offensive line that is considerably better than Notre Dame’s. Do not expect Book and his receivers to control the game, but they will take advantage of the FSU linebacking corps and safeties enough to score consistently.

Most of Notre Dame’s games have been surprisingly close. It should remain so on Saturday, but the potential for a blowout is still there.

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