Florida State Seminoles at #5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Game Preview

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This year some bowl games have been canceled; most notably the Redbox Bowl. It’s going to be a challenging year without the prestige and excitement of the Redbox Bowl, but this Saturday, Notre Dame and Florida State will play in another obscure bowl game: the COVID-19 Recovery Bowl. 

Florida State’s new head coach, Mike Norvell, tested positive for coronavirus on September 19, and was thus unable to attend the shellacking Miami put on his Seminoles in person. While sitting at home, Norvell watched the Miami Hurricanes coast to a 52-10 victory over his team.

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On Saturday, having recovered from the coronavirus, he’ll lead his 1-2 team to South Bend to take on the No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Game Information

Location: Notre Dame Stadium | South Bend, IN 

Date: Saturday, October 10, 2020

Time: 7:30 PM EST 

TV: NBC

Discourse between ND Media Member/Sports Bank Owner Paul M. Banks (@paulmbanks) and FSU Grad and Tallahasse Media Member Danny Aller (@dannyaller): go here

Historical Information 

Florida State is 6-3 all-time against Notre Dame, Last Meeting (2018) Notre Dame 42, Florida State 13

The Irish are no strangers to coronavirus either. From September 22nd to September 29th, Notre Dame had to suspend all football activity following an outbreak of COVID-19 that involved 39 players (25 testing positive and 14 quarantined because of contact tracing). 

Notre Dame had to postpone its September 26th game at Wake Forest, rescheduling the game for December 12th. But the Irish are back and ready to live up to their namesake. Coach Brian Kelly wouldn’t reveal how many players are still recovering, “We’ll continue to test during the week,” he said. “The roster is a fluid situation. But we’re in a very good place relative to our two-deep.”

Kelly leads his convalescent team into a game where they are three-touchdown favorites, but don’t be surprised if the players don’t sing the alma mater following a victory over the Seminoles. 

The Coach is attributing the spread of the illness to celebrating post-game: “when guys want to sing the fight song, it’s hard to keep their mask up. It’s so hard to win that when you do, the first thing out of my mouth has to be: Hey, stop celebrating, put your mask on.” 

Like most people, Kelly doesn’t know precisely how the virus spread amongst the team. It wasn’t just from singing the alma mater; the coach has also attributed the spread to an asymptomatic player at a pregame meal and a player vomiting on the sideline. 

Whatever the cause, this week, Notre Dame will need to shake off the rust from missing another game and having limited practices for Florida State prep.

FSU Offense 

Following the 52-10 defeat at the hands of Manny Diaz and Miami, coach Mike Norvell said “you learn from every experience, and there are certain things that occurred on the first trip of the season that we absolutely need to make sure we get corrected and respond on a much higher level here in this contest upcoming on Saturday.”

To translate his coachspeak, “I won’t last long in Tallahassee if we keep losing like that on the road.”

A new coach means a new system, and for Willie Taggert’s recruits at FSU that meant it was time to hit the road. On offense, the Seminoles have ten players in the transfer portal (three running backs, three wide receivers, two tight ends, and two offensive linemen). While not uncommon for a new head coach, this has certainly contributed to the team’s offensive woes. 

WILLIE TAGGART

The strength of any offense starts with its line.

At Florida State, this is the weakest unit on that side if the ball. Norvell has brought in offensive line coach Alex Atkins (fourth offensive line coach at FSU in four seasons), who has an excellent reputation, producing NFL caliber talent like Cam Clark (fourth-round pick in 2020). But it takes time to recruit and develop talent. Coach Atkins has his hands full with the group at FSU, which could be the worst offensive line in the entire ACC. 

The proverbial captain of the offense, redshirt sophomore Jordan Travis doesn’t provide much hope for the Seminoles at quarterback either. The dual-threat quarterback was 13 of 20 for 222 yards, one touchdown, and one interception against FCS opponent Jacksonville State. On the ground, he added another 48 yards and a touchdown, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. 

FSU is hoping Travis can revive their pedestrian offense. This year, the Seminoles are completing roughly 59% of their passes with the average attempt traveling six yards. Between Travis and the now benched James Blackmon and Tate Rodemaker, the Seminoles quarterbacks have accounted for just three touchdowns and five interceptions through three games.  

Jordan Travis poses his biggest threat on designed runs and when plays break down. As a passer, he doesn’t instill much fear. Against Jacksonville State, he drastically underthrew wide receiver, Keyshawn Helton, who had the defenders badly beat and should’ve been able to walk into the end zone. Instead, he had to come back for the ball and broke a tackle while falling into the end zone. 

On the ground, FSU will lead with Travis and a committee of running backs. In the Seminoles only win against small school opponent JSU, the Seminoles rushed for 263 yards. Look for a mix of Lawrance Toafili, La’Damian Webb, and Jashaun Corbin to split carries. 

Of the group, Toafili seems to be the next name in a long line of great Florida State running backs. The ACC Rookie of the Week turned in a 99-yard performance against Jacksonville State and led the team in rushing with 163 yards.

FSU Defense 

The team that took the field against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks didn’t look like the typical Florida State defensive unit people are used to seeing in years prior. 

In the first half, the defense gave up 6.4 yards per play and 21 points to the Gamecocks. JSU’s quarterback, Zerrick Cooper, was 10 for 11 for 93 yards as FSU was unable to stop receivers from getting open on the boundary. 

On the defensive line, long gone are Josh Sweat (Philadelphia Eagles), Brian Burns (Carolina Panthers), and DeMarcus Walker (Denver Broncos). With just three sacks registered this year (two against JSU), there is no consistent pass rush or tenacity along the Seminoles’ defensive line.  

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In the second level, the linebackers for FSU struggled against the run-pass option offense of JSU. They were often out of position, leading to Gamecocks quarterback Zerrick Cooper completing 73% of his passes for an average of 10.5 yards per attempt in a losing effort. 

Were it not for an interception on a bad pass by Cooper, FSU might be 0-3. JSU was trailing by ten with seven minutes to go when Cooper attempted an inaccurate 30-yard pass to wide receiver Ahmad Edwards. 2021 NFL Draft prospect, Asante Samuel Jr., in zone coverage, basically had the ball placed into his hands by Cooper and picked it off to seal the game. 

Apart from Samuel Jr., there are no standouts in the FSU secondary. 

Notre Dame Offense and Defense 

FSU is an inferior opponent across the board. Notre Dame needs to worry about its players’ conditioning, the lack of practice since USF, and the lack of reps at game-speed. Notre Dame has the talent, but as previously mentioned, repetitions are the eighth wonder of the world. The Seminoles have spent more time together as a unit, communicating and playing at game speed. It’s the only advantage, if any, they have over the Irish.

This game will mark the return of Kevin Austin, but his play will be limited. In regards to Austin’s playing time, Kelly said, “Obviously, Kevin is going to be the guy we modify for Florida State.” A fractured foot for a wide receiver is the second-worst injury they could have behind only a pulled hamstring. 

Similar to Duke, Florida State will look to confuse the Irish on offense and defense. Without the same amount of practices and reps at game speed, Notre Dame will inevitably have communication breakdowns. The Seminoles will take advantage of this by either scoring quickly or creating turnovers for a short field.

Final Score: 28-24. The Irish narrowly win to improve to 3-0

Join me on Twitter @iiiatkins14 every Saturday

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