Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team is back at it again.
After a lovely two-week vacation, the Irish will host the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday evening, hoping that they’ll be able to ease back into action against an FSU squad that is STRUGGLING in its first season under the command of head coach Mike Norvell.
The Seminoles are 1-2 on the season to-date, losing a close one to Georgia Tech in the opener and then getting absolutely obliterated by Miami in game 2, losing 52-10. Week 3 was just barely better, as Florida State needed a comeback to defeat Jacksonville State.
So, what should we know about this FSU team that still has some serious talent but lacks any sort of clear direction right now?
I reached out to Jon Marchant of Tomahawk Nation to get the skinny on the Seminoles, asking him all my hard-hitting questions about Mike Norvell, the quarterback situation, punkin’ chunkin’, and much, much more.
Let’s have a look at what he said, shall we?
1. It’s been a rough start for Mike Norvell in Tallahassee. Is it just too early to be expecting signs of a turnaround, or are Seminoles fans already getting worried? How do you feel about Norvell and the FSU program right now?
Jon Marchant: It’s definitely the former, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t always worried Seminole fans out there. Some are already calling for the head of defensive coordinator Adam Fuller, who pretty much came out yesterday and said he doesn’t have the talent. Which, he doesn’t.
How do I feel about Mike Norvell and the program? I am encouraged. I think I have the correct perspective of the program right now, which is that they’re a bad team in need of a rebuild and last week we saw the beginnings of said rebuild. It’s going to take multiple seasons to turn it around. In my opinion this staff has already proven they can coach. Hopefully they can sell that rebuilding vision to recruits; that’ll be the next step.
2. Jordan Travis was just named the starter for FSU this week after leading the Seminoles in their comeback win over Jacksonville State last weekend. What does he bring to the table at QB, and do you think he’s the answer after some rough performances from James Blackman and Tate Rodemaker?
Jon Marchant: Travis is a good athlete; he’s got burst and wiggle to make defenders miss. He’s not a good passer at this point; in particular he’s not a very accurate thrower which will hurt him against better teams, but he can be adequate. We thought his arm wasn’t healthy to start the season but it finally came alive against Jacksonville State. His threat to run on any play brings everything to this offense right now, especially and including finally finding an identity. Norvell likes to stretch defenses out horizontally with the run and pass game, setting up deep play-action shots. Right now, Travis is clearly FSU’s best option.
James Blackman is a great kid and a leader in the locker room, but he’s not the answer at QB and it’s clear his time as the starter is over. It wasn’t his fault he had three head coaches and four offensive coordinators in four years, but his play wasn’t what you need from a fourth-year redshirt junior. They put Rodemaker in against JSU because you had to see what you had with the true freshman as the youth movement gets underway, but it’s clear he’s not ready to play.
They also have fellow true freshman Chubba Purdy, who is finally healthy off of a broken collarbone suffered in fall camp. He can run this same run-based offense Travis is doing, and his arm is better. But we may not have seen him yet because he doesn’t have the offense down. So Travis is the answer for now. Despite being a redshirt sophomore, he may not be the starting quarterback next year.
3. Who are the skill position players ND fans should be aware of heading into this match-up, and is the Seminoles offensive line capable of pulling themselves together into a respectable unit for this game, or will the Irish defensive front likely do what they want on Saturday?
Jon Marchant: Number one has to be wide receiver Tamorrion Terry. He’s a mismatch against all but the elite of college cornerbacks. The other two main receivers, Keyshawn Helton and Ontaria Wilson, can both create after the catch. But I’m especially excited about FSU’s young duo at running back, Ladamian Webb and Lawrance Toafili. Their blend of burst, power, balance, and patience is fun to watch.
The offensive line is the key, though. They are far from where they were at just a couple seasons ago as the worst OL in the Power 5. I think we all remember that time in 2018 ND put just four defenders in the box haha. Far from that doesn’t mean they’re good, they’re just below-average to average, so maybe a 5-man box will get it done this time.
This staff is still trying to find the best five, and true freshman Robert Scott did very well last weekend in his first opportunity with meaningful snaps. So, I would definitely lean toward the Irish front doing what it wants, but it’ll be a good test for FSU and an opportunity to use the experience to get better. Like the rest of the team, we’re identifying pieces that can be the foundation for the future. That’s where this unit is at.
4. How strong is the FSU defense this year, and how do you see them matching up with a Notre Dame offense that’s not super proven yet, having struggled against Duke in Game 1 and then most recently having blown out a very bad South Florida squad two weeks ago?
Jon Marchant: It’s not, unfortunately and perhaps most disappointingly. We expected the defense to be the strength of the team, and the defensive line to lead the way as one of the best in the country. But to this point we haven’t seen that, at all, and the defense as a whole isn’t good. Hence, like I mentioned earlier, some fans not being big fans of Fuller.
The defensive line is the best part of this squad, but the real issues lie at linebacker and along the boundary. Simply put, the linebackers are young and right now are major liabilities in coverage. They have poor eye discipline or just can’t play in space, and will get chewed up by the RPO game. And I’m going to tell you right now that you’re going to see the Notre Dame offense attack FSU’s boundary over and over and over. Florida State has tried to find a solution there but so far they haven’t gotten really any closer to getting it figured out. Hence, Fuller saying they don’t have the players. Because they don’t. It should be a good matchup for the Irish offense.
5. Question from the One Foot Down Audience:
What are your thoughts on reverting back to a BCS postseason scoring system where # of covid cases per student is factored into score? How would the two schools match up?— Hew Dorf (@hiztory_boi) October 5, 2020
Jon Marchant: I was a huge fan of the playoff system but I always thought it should go to auto-bids of the Power 5 conference champions and one Group of 5 at-large; definitely not to a group of old people who don’t watch the games, much less understand the game. So, I now wish we would have just expanded the BCS system to the top 4 teams.
If we were just going off of COVID cases per student, I have a feeling both FSU and ND would be in the playoffs haha. I mean, it seems like the student bodies of both schools already think we have that system. Both schools have made the news for the wrong reasons over the past couple months; I believe a 1,000 person party was broken up off campus at FSU just the other week. I remember reading how the ND students had to be sent remote. Smh.
6. Question from the One Foot Down Audience:
Can we make a wager with FSU?? If ND wins by 50+, can we retroactively become the 1993 National Champions? Like we should’ve been IN 1993. Seems fair to me ♂️☘️— PALK (@mjpalk21) October 5, 2020
Jon Marchant: Request denied! How y’all gonna beat THAT FSU squad and then drop a game to two-loss Boston College?! You were in a Holy War, after all, which sounds like a huge step up from a measly old Game of the Century.
Also, you guys already claim 11! titles, y’all are good for at least another century. Can’t give you one of FSU’s three titles after smashing what is probably one of the worst FSU teams since before Bobby Bowden took over in the 1970s. That math doesn’t add up. I respect you asking politely though, thank you. (Also, Bobby Bowden recently tested positive for covid, so any prayers y’all can spare would be appreciated!)
7. Notre Dame has a junior running back by the name of C’Bo Flemister. What are the best names on the FSU roster, and do any of them top my guy C’Bo?
Jon Marchant: Haha no I just went through the roster and can’t find any that would top C’Bo. They’re all pretty normal names actually. We do have a Chubba, who I mentioned earlier. Some of my favorite names are Kentron Poitier, a freshman wide receiver, Zane Herring, a freshman OL who I’m just going to assume is named after Billy Zane, and DeCalon Brooks, the son of legendary FSU linebacker Derrick Brooks.
8. Festive question time: if you were to choose 3-5 current FSU players to represent the team in a ”Punkin Chunkin” contest, whom would you choose? We’re looking for guys to design, build, and operate a machine to toss pumpkins a great distance, so please think carefully about this.
Jon Marchant: Haha that’s a great question. First would be edge rusher Joshua Kaindoh, who is a very smart kid. Then we have Josh “Big Country” Griffis, who definitely seems like he’d know the physics of a potato gun. And if you can build that, you can build something to chuck pumpkins. I’d also take defender Jaiden Lars-Woodbey, who is a really smart guy.
To round out the team let’s go with Aussie punter Alex Mastromanno, because I feel like Austrailians probably launch deadly animals for fun, or they’d use such a contraption to kill said deadly animals for fun. I think honorable mentions tight end Wyatt Rector and safety Hamsah Nasirildeen would be alternates.
9. Alright, prediction time: tell us who wins, what’s the score, and give your reasoning why.
Jon Marchant: I think Notre Dame runs away with this one, unfortunately, in something of a repeat of 2018’s 42-13. I believe in Coach Norvell and his staff, but this roster is a couple years away. Maybe they can use the transfer portal and JUCO route to kick it up to a 7 to 8 win season next year, but a lot of the kids they have now all seem to be a year away. In some spots, they don’t really have anyone.
There were good things to take away and build on in their win last week against Jacksonville State, but it was still just 34-24 deep into the game and they didn’t hit garbage time until really late in the 4th quarter. So it’s still not a good team, and I think asking them to upset a consistently good Notre Dame team is far too much to ask at this point.
I want to give a massive shout-out to Jon for being such a good sport and answering all our ridiculous questions, and would like to implore you all to head over to Tomahawk Nation to obtain any and all FSU insights you may want prior to the game — including reading my ramblings in answering Jon’s Q&A for them!
Finally, shout out to our readers who submitted questions to ask — I really appreciate you helping me do my job!!!
That’s all I’ve got — GO IRISH!!!