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One Foot Down Game Day Countdown: Notre Dame vs. Florida State

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Two undefeated and top 5 teams meet this weekend in northern Florida. Someone has to lose.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports


Notre Dame (+12.5) at Florida State

Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida

Kickoff: 8:00 PM ET

Television: ABC

Series: 5-2-0 Florida State

Here is the One Foot Down preview for this weekend's game against the Seminoles.

5 Factoids

  • 8-6-2 vs. No. 2

Saturday will mark Notre Dame's 17th game against the AP No. 2 team in the country, going 8-6-2 in school history. The last No. 2 team the Irish faced was Alabama in the 2012 National Championship Game, however, the last regular season matchup was a 29-20 win over Miami in 1990.

  • 19-10-3 Top 5 vs. Top 5

For more historical facts this will be the 33rd game in Irish history with both opponents ranked inside the AP Top 5. If you want to measure up to some of the game's greatest coaches take a look at someone like Lou Holtz' record in these games: 8-2 during his career at Notre Dame and he won his first 6 in a row. Even better, check out Frank Leahy's insane 7-0-1 record in these matchups. Ah, the burden of history.

  • 22-Game Winning Streak

The Seminoles bring the nation's current longest winning streak into this game at 22 in a row. That is currently the best in school history for Florida State and just one short of Notre Dame's own record of 23 straight wins from 1988-89. The last Seminoles loss was back on November 24, 2012 when 5 turnovers and 24 points in the 4th quarter helped Florida to a 37-26 victory. Notre Dame has played the spoiler to some of college football's longest winning streaks, though. The Irish ended Oklahoma's NCAA-record 47-game winning streak in 1957, stopped Texas' 30-game winning streak in 1970, and put a halt to Army's 25-game reign of terror after World War II in 1946.

  • Tackles for Loss & Sacks

This game will be interesting because both clubs have good defenses but neither are explosive at wreaking havoc in the backfield. Through 6 games the Seminoles are averaging 6.3 tackles for loss per game while the Irish are sitting at 5.5 TFL over the same amount of games. Florida State has been struggling to get after the quarterback with just 8 sacks while Notre Dame has been a little better but still not great at 12 sacks.

  • 34 for 35 Field Goals

Notre Dame has a fine kicker in Kyle Brindza but he may meet someone better this weekend in Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo. The redshirt sophomore is the reigning Lou Groza Award winner and All-American. He broke the record for points in a season by a kicker in 2013 and set the NCAA record for most PAT's in a season without a miss. Through a year and a half Aguayo has made 34 of 35 field goals in his career, with a 43-yard attempt last year against Wake Forest as his lone miss. He is 20 for 20 from 39 yards and less, 11 for 12 from 40-49 yards, and 3 for 3 from 50+ yards.

4 Players to Watch

  • WR Rashad Greene

Back in 2011 during the Champs Sports Bowl a skinny 175-pound redshirt freshman Rashad Greene scored the go-ahead touchdown and would be named the game MVP after finishing with 99 receiving yards. This past Saturday the 5th-year senior became Florida State's all-time leader in receptions.

It's pretty amazing given some of the talent that has cycled through Tallahassee but Greene is well on his way to leading Florida State in reception and yards for the fourth straight year. His 44 receptions are the most in the ACC and his 683 yards are currently 6th most among Power 5 wideouts. To put Greene's importance into perspective, he has 20 more receptions and 408 more yards than the next best Florida State leaders in those categories.

  • TE Nick O'Leary

That next best pass catcher is Nick O'Leary, he of the "I don't need any receiving gloves" school of thought. The senior from Palm Beach played right out of the gate in 2011 and has turned into perhaps the country's top tight end.

Although a little under-sized (6-3, 247) compared to Notre Dame's tight end standards, O'Leary is equal parts playmaking receiver and strong blocker. Through this past Saturday his 24 receptions are tied for 2nd most among Power 5 tight ends and his 275 yards are 3rd most among major conference players at his position.

  • DB Jalen Ramsey

The former 5-star recruit was the first corner to start as a true freshman since Deion Sanders and played at that position for a few games until being moved to free safety on the Seminoles run to the title. This season he's playing primarily nickel corner which gives FSU three starting corners (P.J. Williams and former Irish commit Ronald Darby being the others) who many believe have the potential to be picked in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Needless to say, Ramsey has been a devastating defender from the nickel spot totaling 45 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 pass break-ups, 1 quarterback hurry, and 2 forced fumbles. Keep an eye on him because at 6-1, 204 Ramsey has the size and speed to disrupt Notre Dame's screen game and be a strong blitzer.

  • DE Mario Edwards

The Composite top defensive tackle and No. 2 overall player in the country from the 2012 class is now in the middle of his junior, and possibly final, season with Florida State. A jumbo-sized defensive end at 294 pounds (and maybe over 300 in actuality) Edwards is one of the best at setting the edge but also being disruptive in the backfield too. He missed the NC State game with a concussion but has played well since his return. Over his last 8 games with the Seminoles, Edwards has 10 tackles for loss and will be a load to deal with for Stanley and Lombard, plus the interior linemen when he stunts or lines up on the inside, as well.

3 Concerns

  • Turnovers

Let's get it out of the way right now. If the Irish lose the turnover battle there's almost a zero chance they win this game. Golson does only have 4 interceptions on 216 attempts but all four have come over the past 3 games, including a pair of pick sixes. More concerning is Golson's 5 fumbles lost over the past 3 games.

  • Giving Winston Too Much Time

Last season one of Florida State's storylines on their National Title run was how effective Jamies Winston was when faced with a blitz from the defense. Actually, effective doesn't do his 2013 production in this regard enough justice.

While the stats are not readily available the consensus this season appears to be that Winston is not as good against the blitz in 2014. The causes of that range from missing the towering Kelvin Benjamin to throw the ball up to, a pair of veteran running backs who were great blockers and are now gone, plus an offensive line that hasn't quite lived up to enormous expectations. Nevertheless, the worst thing Notre Dame can do in this game is blitz Winston and not get any pressure.

  • Missing Scoring Opportunities

Notre Dame has greatly improved their play in the red zone this year converting 20 out of 28 opportunities into touchdowns, good for a tie at 23rd nationally. The Seminoles have converted 19 out of 29 red zone opportunities into touchdowns, however, they're scoring points on 96.5% of all red zone attempts (2nd nationally), while the Irish are sitting at 89.2% (33rd nationally). This is not the game to turn the ball over in Florida State's territory, settle for field goals deep in FSU territory, or miss field goals. Remember, Aguayo likely isn't missing any field goals.

2 Sides of the Line

When Notre Dame last matched up with Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl the Seminoles were playing a few very young linemen. Now, those linemen are all grown up. At left tackle is fifth-year senior Cameron Erving (6-6, 308) who will be making his 35th career start on Saturday. At left guard is senior Josue Matias (6-6, 325) also making his 35th career start. On the other side of the line FSU has senior Tre Jackson (6-4, 330) also making his 35th career start. At right tackle senior Bobby Hart (6-4, 320) is making his 30th career start this weekend.

The only non-returning starter from last year's title team is senior Austin Barron (6-3, 293) but he did have 5 starts prior to 2014. However, Barron injured his arm and won't be playing against Notre Dame. In his place the Seminoles will have redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefeld (6-3, 290) who made his first career start last week against Syracuse.

Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly was promoted from special teams coach to add continuity on defense once Jeremy Pruitt left for Georgia during off-season and primarily teaches a 4-2-5 defense with the aforementioned Jalen Ramsey moving into the nickel corner spot.

Redshirt junior nose guard Nile Lawrence-Stample (6-1, 314) started 6 games last year and then the first two this season before tearing his pectoral muscle. That moved up redshirt junior Derrick Mitchell (6-4, 303) who had 5 tackles and 1 quarterback hurry before missing last week's game. He should be healthy this week and aided by true freshman Derrick Nnadi (6-2, 303) and his 8 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss.

At end the Seminoles have Mario Edwards (mentioned above) with redshirt sophomore Chris Casher (6-4, 250) and true freshman Jacob Pugh (6-4, 236) chipping in some minutes mostly as linebackers in 34 looks. On the other side senior Desmond Hollin (6-3, 285) has moved up from a backup into a starter with 18 tackles and 2 for loss. Sophomore Demarcus Walker (6-3, 277) made 3 starts last year and is playing a strong-side linebacker and pass rushing role with 17 tackles, 3 for loss, and 1 sack this season. Lanky true freshman Lorenzo Featherston (6-7, 220) has started the last couple games as FSU tries to find some speed rushing off the edge. At tackle former 5-star and true junior Eddie Goldman (6-4, 320) is one of the best in the country at his position. He's making his 20th career start on Saturday and has 20 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and 2 sacks in 2014.

1 Prediction

The first thing that is obvious in 2014 is that Florida State is not the same team as they were last year. At this point last year the Seminoles were averaging 53.1 points per game (that average would only drop slightly after the BCS Title Game, ridiculous) and were +245 in point differential. Right now FSU is averaging 39 points per game and is +110 in point differential.

The important point to remember is that almost no football teams can do what FSU did last year on the field, even more so a program that was tasked with repeating such a difficult task. The Disease of More, a natural sense of letdown, perhaps some entitlement, plus the loss of great players were all bound to combine and take a toll on Florida State. From a purely statistical domination standpoint there was only one way to go this year and that is down.

However, let's not fool ourselves into thinking that the Seminoles aren't a great team, or have the potential to be a dominant championship-level football club. While a championship hangover and resulting slow start (to say nothing of the continuing drama surrounding Jameis Winston) may be affecting FSU the flip side to that argument is that teams that have experienced so much winning often fight through such obstacles and simply keep defeating opponents, even if it's ugly at times.

Football Outsiders' Advanced Stats for Week 8

S&P 22 21
S&P Offense 19 16
S&P Defense 22 26
F/+ 13 14
FEI 17 12
GE 10 13

Obviously, the Seminoles have recruited really well under Jimbo Fisher but with some injuries, graduation, and NFL early entrants, they've been dealing with a lot of roster turnover. The school lost 11 NFL Draft picks (including 7 defenders, 3 first rounders, and 2 second rounders) prior to last year's title run. That they did overcome that was pretty amazing but it's awfully difficult for lightning to strike twice. Florida State lost 7 more draft picks this past spring--including 6 in within the first 4 rounds--and with a couple starters out with injuries and other assorted banged up players their depth is being tested a lot more than in 2013 when they barely had any players miss time.

So can Notre Dame win this game?

Well, the advanced stats are about as dead even as I've ever seen for a Notre Dame game. As are a lot of the traditional stats, like for example, Notre Dame being +104 in point differential right near Florida State. Emotionally and psychologically I like where the Irish are at heading into the weekend too. They should be pissed off about last week's game, have a chip on their shoulder as a double-digit underdog, plus Kelly has done a good job instilling the confidence in the players to believe they'll win these big games, something that was laughably missing with his predecessor. There's also that whole history thing that lingers in the background--winning 20 straight is a long streak and this could very well be Florida State's most difficult game of the regular season with the Irish known to be Giant Killers.

Both teams have good defenses and looking at them in a vacuum things look ridiculously close. I like Florida State's secondary a little better with Darby, Williams, and Ramsey but I'd give Notre Dame the edge in the front seven especially with VanGorder's schemes and the Seminoles' loss of Lawrence-Stample.

For some reason Florida State's offensive line hasn't been as awesome as expected with 4 returning highly experienced players from a National Championship season. They've given up 13 sacks--although 5 of them came against a very good Clemson defense able to tee off on an inexperienced backup quarterback--while the run game has been okay but not terribly explosive. If the Irish are victorious I believe it'll be because they win a lot of battles against this line.

However, I still think this is a very good offensive line. As Kelly said it's "one of the best lines he's seen in quite some time." He also mentioned how much balance the Seminoles offense has and with Winston behind center I think this will be a difficult offense to stop consistently. I am sure Florida State is going to step up and not sleepwalk through this game and we'll get their best effort of 2014.

I like a close game, an Irish cover, but the Seminoles to win at home.

Notre Dame 23

Florida State 32