HAPPY HUMP DAY, IRISH FANS!!!!
Your 9-0, #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish will host the 4-5 Florida State Seminoles this Saturday evening at Notre Dame Stadium, featuring Senior Day, super cold weather, and hopefully the entrance into double-digit win territory for the Irish.
The Seminoles were considered a big opponent when this game was scheduled, but FSU has been a nightmare this season for a few reasons. However, with the Irish trying to preserve an unblemished record late in the year, ND fans have every reason to fear an upset this weekend — recent history necessitates that kind of anxiety.
Sorry about triggering your PTSD.
So, what do we need to know about the downtrodden blue blood program that will look to get a big, momentum-changing win this weekend? I spoke to Dylan Kidd of Tomahawk Nation to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Seminoles, along with much more information about karaoke, names, and offensive line issues.
Let’s get to it and get to know the latest obstacle on the journey to 12-0.
1. It’s not news that this has been a really rough year for Florida State. What’ve been the big issues that have led the Seminoles to their 4-5 start, and are fans already getting restless with Willie Taggart after less than a season at the helm? Do you believe he can be the guy to get FSU back to the top of the CFB world?
Dylan Kidd: Primarily, it’s been a perfect storm of unfortunate events along the offensive line. The Seminoles have dealt with injuries, attrition, and recruiting misses in this position group, and the result has been a unit that simply can’t block FBS defenders with any consistency. The ‘Noles don’t have tackles, and that’s not an exaggeration. Their best lineman, Landon Dickerson, had moved to tackle and immediately got hurt. It’s just been a complete cluster, and it’s prevented the team from growing in Taggart’s system this year.
This version of his Gulf Coast Offense is completely neutered. The GCO is a run-heavy attack premised on power, and the Seminoles just can’t do that this year. So we’ve seen Taggart (and now play-caller Walt Bell) throwing much more than I’m sure he’d like, and it’s unclear how much this year’s attack will translate to what he ultimately wants to do in years to come.
There are plenty of folks in the fanbase who are unhappy with Taggart, I’m sure for myriad reasons. There’s no chance FSU walks away from him before at least three, and almost certainly four, seasons. I do believe Taggart was a good hire and can be the guy to get FSU to where it wants to go. He’s had success everywhere he’s been, and he faced some significant and unique challenges in his first year in Tallahassee. He’s got to recruit his way out of the offensive line issues and the overall culture change that needs to happen, which I think he can do. It’s just too early to say for sure, and Florida State doesn’t have the financial resources to make hasty decisions when buyouts are on the line.
2. Let’s talk about QB Deondre Francois vs. James Blackman. What do they do well that ND should be worried about stopping, and what are their weaknesses that you’re worried the Irish defense will exploit?
Dylan Kidd: Francois is probably better in the intermediate passing game, but that’s about it. He can’t really move, routinely misses zone and RPO reads, and hasn’t improved over the course of the season. I wish he’d been benched earlier, but there are other considerations in play there.
Blackman is much more mobile, throws the ball better down field, and can set up the screen game effectively. The problem they both face, again, is the offensive line in front of them. They just can’t open holes in the running game for FSU’s talented backs, and each might as well be on the ground already in obvious passing downs.
I think you should be more concerned with Blackman because he can make big plays down the field if, by some miracle, he gets the time to do so. He’s proven quite proficient in finding Tamorrion Terry, FSU’s best deep threat. I don’t see Florida State moving the ball consistently on Notre Dame, so if they’re going to score and stay in the game, it’ll probably come from hose one-off big plays.
3. FSU has no shortage of skill position talent, thanks to years of top-notch recruiting. Who are the most dangerous guys that the Irish defense needs to key on and why?
Dylan Kidd: The aforementioned Terry is certainly one. I would also submit D.J. Matthews, who returns punts and also plays slot receiver. Nyqwan Murray is a good football player, but he is also quite frustrating from an effort and decision-making standpoint.
Cam Akers is always a threat. Tre’ McKitty is a big, athletic tight end. And finally, freshman TreShaun Harrison is electric with the ball in his hands.
4. The prevailing public opinion is that Florida State’s offensive line is not very good. How true is that, and do you think they’ll be able to give Francois/Blackman any time to pass or be able to clear any room to run for Akers, Patrick, etc. this Saturday?
Dylan Kidd: Super true! And no, not with any consistency.
Brady Scott and Derrick Kelly are not tackles, Arthur Williams was a defensive tackle until spring ball, Alec Eberle has been injured forever and has forgotten how to snap, and Cole Minshew just got hurt again last week. It’s not going to meaningfully improve this season. The only hope for FSU is for its defense to keep them in the game and to score off of some combination of short fields, big plays, or special teams.
5. The Seminoles defense looks like another solid FSU defense (29th in S&P+). What are the strengths and weaknesses of that group, and who are the names to know? How do you think they match up with ND’s offense?
Dylan Kidd: Generally speaking, they’ve been quite good this year despite frequently being hung out to dry by the offense. They’re talented and pretty deep, save for the linebackers.
However, I’m hoping we didn’t see things starting to unravel against NC State last week. They got out-schemed and whipped up front, which hadn’t really happened yet. The Wolfpack were able to pick on FSU’s linebackers very effectively. Notre Dame is quite capable of doing similar things, which is worrisome. It’s also hard to tell how much of the defensive performance last week was a failure to respond after the Clemson debacle. Hopefully they bounce back, because as I mentioned, they’re going to have to be excellent for FSU to have a chance in South Bend.
As far as individuals to watch, Brian Burns is an excellent pass rusher. Demarcus Christmas and Marvin Wilson can dominate on the interior. Stanford Samuels III is a good, physical player on the back end, and Asante Samuel, Jr. will be an excellent defensive back for Florida State. Freshman Jaiden Woodbey has a bright future ahead of him as well. Dontavious Jackson is the lone quality Florida State linebacker this season, and I expect to see Notre Dame go after his counterpart DeCalon Brooks. We’ll also have to see if corner Levonta Taylor returns this week.
I think they actually match-up okay with Notre Dame because I think they can handle the running game and force some obvious passing downs. However, I think they’ll run into the same issues over the course of this game that they have all year: losing the field position battle because they can’t move the ball on offense, and finally breaking down after facing a bunch of plays against a good offense.
6. If you had to pick one X-factor each on offense, defense, and special teams — the guys whose performances are CRITICAL to Florida State upsetting Notre Dame -- who do you choose and why?
Dylan Kidd: On offense, I’ll say Terry because I think he’ll have to make multiple big catches for FSU to score points.
On defense, Demarcus Christmas, who can take over a game from his defensive tackle spot when he wants to. I’m just not sure he will.
On special teams, it’s either D.J. Matthews to give FSU points by taking a punt back, or Logan Tyler who could help the ‘Noles stay in the field position game if he hits the punts of his life.
7. Looking at this ND team, which players, if any, scare you the most?
Dylan Kidd: On offense, Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool. Florida State’s corners are pretty small, so I don’t like the idea of the two 6’4” wideouts in a really good passing game.
On defense, I really don’t even know where to start. Tillery and Kareem will put together some nice draft tape on Saturday evening in tossing around FSU linemen. And Te’von Coney’s numbers are insane. You could probably throw a dart at Notre Dame’s defensive roster and hit a guy who will have a great night.
WE INTERRUPT THIS VERY GOOD Q&A FOR SOMETHING INCREDIBLY STUPID: TIME FOR A WORD FROM PAT’S PERSONAL PANEL OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL FANS, AKA SOME BUDDIES OF HIS IN A GROUPME CHAT!!!!
Pat Rick: Alright boys, lemme hear it on Florida State
Hux: I’ll tomahawk chomp to this
Serglock Holmes: I’m having difficulty coming up with funnier jokes than the state of their program and their season *shrug emoji*
Hux: Musburger says take FSU at +17.5
Serglock Holmes: Really tempting to go down that rabbit hole of FSU coeds. I don’t need this temptation right now
Hux: I’ve been trying to keep this discussion PG but...*laughing crying emoji*
Hux: And @SerglockHolmes and I will leave it at that
Very informational, per usual. Thanks guys! Now, back to my Q&A with Dylan...
8. Notre Dame has a freshman RB named C’Borius Flemister. What are the best/funniest/most ridiculous names on the Florida State roster, and do any of them measure up to my guy C’Bo?
Dylan Kidd: We’ve got a Dontavious, Janarius, Adonis, Baveon, Ontaria, and probably our winner, Hamsah Nasirildeen. I’m not sure we can top C’Bo, though.
9. Karaoke battle between Brian Kelly and Willie Taggart - what song(s) does each coach sing, who has the better stage presence and charisma, and who ultimately wins?
Dylan Kidd: For Kelly I’d go with “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weekend, cause I have to imagine that’s somewhat true given the frequent, massive rushes of blood that discolor it. He’s definitely a salesman so I’d think his charisma and stage presence aren’t bad.
I think Taggart goes with something by South Florida legend and his own supporter, Plies. I’ll say “On My Way” as a hopeful choice. I’ve got to tell you, while Taggart is pretty quiet and reserved in press conferences, I don’t think Kelly is any match for Slick Willie’s swag.
I mean, come on.
10. Anything else ND fans should know about FSU’s team, program, fans, traditions, etc.?
Dylan Kidd: Well, Florida State will be wearing white jerseys and white pants against Notre Dame. This is obviously important information, as FSU fans love to talk about uniforms, usually in critical terms.
I know many FSU fans were looking forward to heading to South Bend for this one, but we’ll see how much of a damper this season has put on those plans. Not to mention the weather. You’ll have some bewildered Floridians up there.
11. Prediction time: give me the final score, who wins, and your reasoning why.
Dylan Kidd: I’d like to give you something exciting and unexpected, but I feel we’ll see more of the same from Florida State in this one. I expect the ‘Noles to be unable to move the ball with any consistency, and while they may put up a fight on defense for a while, they’ll eventually succumb to the better opposition.
I think the Seminoles lose the field position battle pretty handily, yet again, and after the Irish cash in, they’ll be unable to play from behind. I like Notre Dame 29-10.
I wanna give a big ole shout-out to Dylan for answering all the questions I threw at him with aplomb, and encourage all of you to head on over to Tomahawk Nation to check out all the great content they’ve got going on over there, including a Q&A with yours truly tomorrow.
Finally, my usual thanks go out to my personal panel of college football fans, AKA Hux and Serglock Holmes, for the undeniably useful answers they provide every week. Bravo!
That’s it for this episode, folks — see you all in my game preview on Friday!