While Saturday night’s 42-26 victory over the Florida State Seminoles was hardly a clean performance, diehard Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans should have found the victory to be a thing of beauty.
Coming into the contest, many assumed Notre Dame would be rusty on both sides of the ball. However, many did not expect the rust to be on display as quickly as it was. Kyren Williams fumbled the ball 2 plays into the first drive of the night, providing the Seminoles the opportunity to put Notre Dame into a deep hole. Instead, Clark Lea’s unit responded by holding the Seminoles to 8 yards and forcing an early field goal. The Irish offense returned to the field and quickly moved 75 yards in 3 plays, scoring a touchdown on an 8-yard touchdown reception by Michael Mayer. The defense held the Seminole offense in check on their 2nd possession, forcing a punt after 5 plays. Notre Dame’s 3rd possession of the night ended in a 46-yard touchdown run by Williams.
Midway through the 1st quarter it appeared as if Notre Dame could put it in cruise control for the remainder of the evening. Feeding off the momentum, the Irish defense forced a quick 3 and out. Unfortunately, Lawrence Keys III fumbled the ensuing punt, allowing Florida State to recover the ball on the Irish 19-yard line. Three plays later, Jordan Travis kept the ball on an option play and punched the ball in for a 4-yard touchdown. After a quick 3 and out by the Irish offense, the suddenly resurgent Seminoles pounced on the Irish defense. Travis launched a deep pass 48 yards to a streaking Tamorrion Terry for a touchdown, helping the Seminoles grab a 17-14 lead.
The flurry of activity in the 1st quarter struck me at the time. Although the Irish went from being up 11 to down 3 within the blink of an eye, there did not seem to be any sort of panic along the Irish sidelines. When Keys fumbled the punt, NBC cameras panned to Kelly on the sideline calmly speaking with him. Following the long touchdown pass, I did not see any Irish player slump his shoulders or hang his head as he trotted to the sideline. In years past, two turnovers in the 1st quarter would have sunk this team. The team would have most likely surrendered 2 touchdowns and compounded the issues by having short offensive possessions. Instead of that, the offense answered the bell on the next drive. Tommy Rees demonstrated his masterful play-calling as he kept the Seminole defense off balance. Ian Book hit Javon McKinley for gains of 5 and 36 yards. Mayer added a 17-yard reception, and Kyren Williams added 13 yards on the ground, capping the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to push the Irish back in front at 21-17. Notre Dame would control much of the action the remainder of the evening, entering halftime with a 35-20 lead and exiting the stadium with a methodical 42-26 win.
Ultimately, the Irish leaned on their offensive line for much of the evening with outstanding results. Despite Liam Eichenberg having to exit for part of the 1st half with an eye injury, the line did not miss a beat as they slid Aaron Banks to left tackle and brought Dillan Gibbons in at left guard. The two-headed ground attack of Williams and Chris Tyree produced 353 yards, averaging 8.4 yards per rush. Book went 16/25 and threw for 201 yards and 2 touchdowns. While the stats aren’t gaudy, Book was efficient and kept the chains moving. An encouraging takeaway was the number of downfield passes that the offense attempted. If the Irish can continue to push the ball downfield, Book is bound to begin connecting more often with Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, and Javon McKinley.
Surprisingly, the defense looked to be rustier than the offense. There were several blown assignments in the secondary, and the tackling was not up to standard. However, when considering the 3 week layoff, the absence of Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa ,and the fact that Cam Hart, Nick McCloud, and Clarence Lewis all did not return to practice until Thursday, the sloppiness can be partially explained. Despite the uncharacteristic 1st half, the unit stiffened in the 2nd half per usual and only allowed 6 points over the remaining 2 quarters.
Although not a trap game, this game had all the makings of an upset when considering the defensive talent the Seminoles possess and the 2 early turnovers by Notre Dame. The most impressive aspect of this matchup to me was the way the team responded to adversity. In years past, the team would have crumbled and allowed a couple of miscues to snowball into an insurmountable deficit. The poise of this veteran-laden team is an underrated aspect that will continue to come in handy and could help propel the 2020 team to heights we haven’t experienced in a few decades.