The return of game-week content scheduling here at OFD means the return of the weekly Three Things column, but the lack of a game for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish puts me in something of a pickle. So for this week only we’re going with three things to watch going into Notre Dame’s opener against the Florida State Seminoles. I expect the Irish to win in a competitive, but not nail-biting game in Tallahassee, but I also know this game could turn several different ways. These are the three areas where I expect those turns to happen.
Blake Fisher vs. FSU Pass Rush
It’s a tremendous vote of confidence for Fisher to be given a premium starting position on Notre Dame’s line in his first-ever college game, and he will be challenged right out of the gate. In addition to the noise from what should be a raucous crowd at Doak Campbell - that kind of thing has given many a Notre Dame left tackle trouble in years past - Florida State has brought in a pair of potentially high-impact transfers at defensive end in Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas. Johnson in particular is a physical and experienced player who has flashed in camp for Florida State, and is surely relishing the opportunity to welcome the young Fisher to the college game.
If Florida State is going to challenge Notre Dame in this game, they will have to disrupt the Irish in the passing game. With the ‘Noles secondary and linebacking corps likely in trouble against Notre Dame’s receivers and tight ends, that will fall on the pass rush - and Johnson might be able to cause some trouble. How well Fisher responds and protects Jack Coan’s blind side could be the difference between a close game and an easy Irish victory.
The New Mayer of Tallahassee
If there’s one player I expect to feast for the Irish in this game, it’s Michael Mayer. I like Amari Gainer a lot, but coverage is not his strength, and the rest of Florida State’s starting linebacking corps consists of DJ Lundy - a thumper without the athleticism to be a reliable coverage ‘backer - and Kalen Deloach, who has made all of ten tackles in two seasons. It doesn’t look much better at safety for the ‘Noles, with a pair of relatively undistinguished starters in Brendan Gant and Akeem Dent - neither of whom is a physical match for Mayer.
All of this is to say that Florida State does not have the athletes at these positions necessary to slow down a lock future first-round draft pick and absolute physical nightmare of a tight end with elite size and athleticism, who was getting open and making an impact against the linebackers of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers in his true-freshman season.
Expect Mayer to move the chains early and often in this one and find the end zone, especially early in the game as the Irish look to open up the downfield passing attack.
The Irish Corners Need to Lock Things Down
Although Florida State will likely be improved on the offensive line and has some decent athletes at running back, I don’t expect them to make much headway running against a nasty Irish front seven. If the Seminoles are going to keep things interesting in this one, they will have to get over top of Notre Dame’s defense and make some plays against Notre Dame’s corners. Marcus Freeman’s defense will frequently put Cam Hart and Clarence Lewis in 1-on-1 situations, so look for some early shots targeting those two guys.
Lewis and Hart aren’t facing any overwhelming perimeter talent from the ‘Noles, but if they slip up or miss their assignments, Florida State’s receivers are good enough to make them pay. Look for an extra level of focus and discipline from these two; if they show out, Florida State could be in for a long night.