2011 Season Archive
Eric Prister | Wednesday, January 18, 2012
ORLANDO, Fla. – Capitalizing on a turnover and offensive inefficiencies from Notre Dame, Florida State overcame a 14-point third quarter deficit to win the Champs Sports Bowl 18-14 on Dec. 29.
“I’m proud of my team,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We have the motto, ‘the pride and tradition of Notre Dame football will not be left to the weak, the timid or noncommitted.’ Our kids are strong mentally; they love to compete. They’re a committed group. I’m disappointed we lost the football game today.”
Neither offense could put points on the board in the first half, but the Irish defense picked up the slack early in the first quarter. Junior linebacker Manti Te’o forced freshman running back Devonta Freeman to fumble, and junior safety Zeke Motta scooped up the loose ball and took it into the end zone from 29 yards out.
“It’s nice to be able to talk about a Notre Dame football team that plays championship defense because they did that today,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Now we’ve got to get our offense obviously to play that level, as well, and that will be the next step for our football program, is getting our offense to play at the same level that our defense is evolving to.”
Notre Dame came out strong to start the second half, capping an eight-play, 62-yard drive as senior receiver Michael Floyd bobbled but then hauled in a five-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees to give the Irish a 14-0 lead.
“It was a great catch,” Rees said. “I tried to put a jump ball up there for him, but it looked like it got out of his hands as he was coming down. But he’s such a good player that with his concentration to find it and secure it was great.”
Floyd finished the game with five catches for 41 yards, but was injured on the play. Floyd, who finished his Notre Dame career as the school’s all-time leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns, was forced to sit out most of the second half.
“He’s just an incredible competitor,” Kelly said. “This is my 22nd year and I’ve had great players, guys that have gone on to great careers in the NFL or are doctors and lawyers, and you remember the guys that overcome, the guys that compete in battle, and he did that today.”
But the Irish were unable to add to their total, throwing two interceptions along with three punts on their next five drives. Kelly said it was mistakes that cost his team the game.
“We turned the ball over,” he said. “We had miscues with special teams, we had some penalties that really hurt us. When you play quality opposition – and we do that week in and week out – you have to clean up the little things, and that is what I concern myself more with than whether we’ve got a good lead and we’ve got our hands around the opponent.”
Meanwhile, Florida State took advantage, scoring on its first four drives of the second half on the way to the victory. Junior quarterback E.J. Manuel connected on 20 of his 31 passes, including two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, leading the way for the Seminoles.
“I think defensively we did pretty good,” Te’o said. “We still allowed the opposing offense to put points on the board, and that’s not something that we want to do, but we just have to keep building off of this year. It starts with the winter and winter conditioning, and we’ll start to get better as a team, not only as a defense because we’re going to win or lose as a team. It doesn’t matter, and we just have to stay together and just focus on the little things.”
After Floyd’s touchdown put the Irish up two scores, sophomore safety Lamarcus Joyner returned the kickoff 77 yards, setting up a field goal, Florida State’s first points of the game. Then, after Rees was sacked and the Irish forced to punt, the Seminoles drove 84 yards in 10 plays to cut the lead to three after they failed on a two-point conversion attempt. Manuel connected with receiver Bert Reed from 18 yards out for the score.
Sophomore quarterback Andrew Hendrix, who split time with Rees under center for the Irish, was intercepted on the next drive, which set up another Seminoles touchdown.
“I think [Kelly] does a good job communicating with us, letting us get warmed up and get our arm ready,” Rees said of splitting snaps. “But it kind of hurts the rhythm to come in and out. But it’s something coach thought would help our team win, so it’s something I’ve got to play with.”
Notre Dame was forced to punt yet again on the following drive, and Florida State marched down the field in nine plays, a drive which ended in a field goal, giving the Seminoles an 18-14 lead.
“We had situations when we had the ball and the lead and we gave it away and we came up short,” Rees said. “We’ve got to get better closing out games, and it starts with the quarterback position. You miss some things here and there and you’ve got to move forward, but we definitely let this one go.”
After a botched Florida State punt, Notre Dame took over with 3:56 to go on its opponent’s 28-yard line. But on the third play of the drive, Rees was intercepted in the end zone on a pass intended for senior receiver John Goodman, effectively ending Notre Dame’s chances.
“It’s a high-low on the safety, and you miss a couple reads and try to force one to try to get six,” Rees said. “That’s something that I’m committed to getting better at and something I can work on in the offseason. You’ve just got to try to keep your head up after that.”
Rees finished the game 16-of-27, throwing for only 163 yards and two interceptions to go along with the touchdown pass. Despite some rotation at quarterback, he said he did not see the bowl game as a try-out for the starting job next season.
“I don’t treat a game like that,” he said. “I’ll come into the offseason and I’ll battle and work hard and see where that takes me.
“It’s the most frustrating [to struggle when the defense is playing so well]. When the defense is playing so well, you want to do your part and make sure they know you have their back. And when you’re unable to come up with a lot of points, especially when they’re playing so well and so hard, it’s not great. But it’s a team game and the offense has to be better than that.”
After a second-straight 8-5 finish, Kelly said he is going to have to go back and reevaluate his approach heading into the offseason, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
“I’m going to have to evaluate everything that I do and how we do it because we have to get our offense better,” Kelly said. “And when I say better, I’m not talking about the way our guys compete. I’m talking about we turn the ball over, and we cannot win football games at the highest level if we continue to turn the ball over, so the coaches have to get better. The players have to get better, and we have to solve this issue if we’re going to be in an elite football team.”