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Top-Five Throwdown: Notre Dame vs. Florida State

| Thursday, October 16, 2014

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21 years ago, Florida State came to South Bend as the No. 1 team in the nation to play the No. 2 Irish. But to this Notre Dame team, that game is history. 

“Was it a good game? Did we win?” Irish head coach Brian Kelly asked at his press conference Tuesday. “I have no recollection of that game.”    

Notre Dame won 31-24. 

Many of the present-day Irish shared the same sentiment as their coach. Senior safety Matthias Farley said he was aware of the game but beyond that he didn’t know much about it. 

“It’s a historic game,” Farley said. “But I can’t say I have researched it. I was one [year-old].” 

In 2011, the Irish faced Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. Both teams came into the game with 8-4 records. Notre Dame left 8-5. Florida State left 9-4. Both teams in that game were soon on the rise. In 2012, the Irish went to the BCS National Championship Game. In 2014, Florida State won a national title in that same game. 

“When we both played, you could tell that both teams were definitely ascending, and that better things were definitely in front of us,” Kelly said. “It was definitely going to be what’s next for these programs moving forward in a positive way. That’s kind of how I saw it after that game. I remember meeting with [former Irish linebacker Manti] Te’o and talking to him about the next step, and of course we played for the national championship a year later, and Florida State won one.”

Irish graduate student lineman Christian Lombard said the Irish blew their chance at a Champs Sports Bowl victory, but they came out of it with a hunger to compete at the highest level of collegiate football. 

“[We came out of that game] just knowing we can play with anyone,” Lombard said. “We kind of gave that game away. It just gave guys confidence, that we can hang with anyone.”

Losses like those are what continue to fuel Notre Dame’s recent success, Lombard said.

“I guess we have always been a work in progress,” Lombard said. “We’ve always known that we don’t have it made. Just that attitude that we have to come to work every day, has helped us.” Despite the history between the two teams, this Irish team said it’s focusing on making its own history, now.  

Both teams are undefeated at 6-0 and ranked in the top five. The No. 5 Irish will travel in their first true road game of the season to the unforgiving environment of Tallahassee to take on the No. 2 team in the country in Florida State.    

“It’s our first time in a hostile environment, a truly hostile environment,” Farley said. “I think it’s fun being in a hostile environment. There’s a lot of energy there’s a lot of buzz that’s generated. … It’s exciting for us and it’s always a challenge.” 

TALE of the TAPEWebKeri O'Mara

The Seminoles were tough in 2011, and Lombard said he expects nothing less from them in 2014. 

“[The Seminoles] hit hard,” Lombard said. “They are big physical guys who like to hit. It’s one of those games where you have to bring your lunch pail and go to work and play physical.” 

Irish graduate student corner Cody Riggs, who played at Florida, has had the opportunity to face the Seminoles three times in the last four years, including the 38-7 Seminole victory last year at Florida, and has played once in Tallahassee, as part of the annual rivalry game between the teams. Riggs said Florida State has a history of being one of the best teams in college football. 

“[Florida State is defined by] playmakers and fast defenses,” Riggs said. “They always have a lot of playmakers on offense and a really really good, really fast defense. It hasn’t changed.

 “They are consistent with talent. They constantly bring in talent.” 

A few of the Irish players said they have faced environments similar to what they may see in Florida State’s sold-out Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday. 

“You know, we’ve got some guys that have been on the road before,” Kelly said. “… A number of the offensive players, they’ve been in that kind of environment before. There are some young players certainly out there that have not experienced that, but I wouldn’t say that this team is so inexperienced that they haven’t had that kind of on-the-road, hostile environment. I think that that’s one of the things [about] Notre Dame, they get an opportunity to play in a lot of different environments, and they usually acclimatize themselves pretty good to it.”

In 2012, the then-No. 5 Irish went on the road to take on then-No. 8 Oklahoma. Despite being underdogs the Irish came out of Norman with a 31-13 win and a 7-0 record. To a few veteran Irish players, the sound made by the 86,301 fans at Oklahoma was a cacophony. 

“Oklahoma was probably the loudest atmosphere we’ve played in,” Farley said. 

“In warm-ups, it hit me that [Oklahoma] was going to be the loudest game I had ever played in,” junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day said. 

The Irish expect a similar noise level and environment in Tallahassee, Farley said. 

“It’s going to be an incredible atmosphere,” Farley said. “Anytime you play on the road, especially when we play on the road, people are that much louder. This game is huge for so many people, so it’s going to be a rocking environment.” 

Drawing on its experience from Oklahoma, Notre Dame hopes to take the crowd out of the equation as soon as possible, Lombard said. 

“In those loud games, we have to understand we’re not always going to be able [to] communicate,” Lombard said. “It was nice because we took Oklahoma out of the game early, so the crowd wasn’t much of a factor.”

In order to combat the expected noise levels, the Irish have been practicing with loud music, with extra emphasis on the famous Florida State war chant. 

“We’ve been cranking the music in practice and going with the silent cadence,” Lombard said. 

Farley said he looks forward to these types of environments, even more so as a member of the Irish. 

“I think it’s been instilled in us from the very beginning that when we’re on the road everybody is going to hate [us],” Farley said. “When you understand that going into it, you can feed off that energy. Our fans are always there for our home games, and it’s fun to see the other side of the coin.”

The last time Notre Dame was in a top-five matchup was in the 2013 BCS National Championship game against Alabama at Sun Life Stadium. The No. 1 Irish fell to the No. 2 Crimson Tide, 42-14. 

Kelly said the atmosphere at Florida State will be ecstatic, just as it was for the national championship game, but the preparation for the game will be different.  

“We spent more time on preparing them for the environment that they’re going to be in,” Kelly said. “It will be a huge game.  It’s a national televised game.  The crowd will be intense, but I don’t think it has the same kind of routine leading up to it like a national championship game.” 

Despite the differences, Kelly said games like Saturday’s help measure a team. 

“I don’t know that there’s any significance as it relates to our destination from that point after the Alabama game,” Kelly said. “I just think that these are the kind of teams that we want to challenge ourselves against, whether it’s Alabama, Florida State. We want to be challenged nationally against the very, very best. I think that that’s probably more significant than anything else is that these are the games that we want to play. We want to be relevant, playing the very best at this time of the season.”

Lombard said he relishes the opportunities to play top teams like Florida State because a strong schedule is expected at Notre Dame every year. 

“It’s going to be a big game,” Lombard said. “That’s what’s good about playing here, you play in a lot of big games, and this is another one.”   

Riggs, who has been involved in games at Florida State before, confirmed his teammates’ assumptions about the atmosphere at Doak Campbell Stadium. 

“It’s crazy,” Riggs said. “They’re loud. They’re loud the entire game. They have a great student section. It’s a wonderful environment — one of the best stadiums in college football.” 

Kelly said this Irish squad will not lose solely because of the crowd noise.

“This group does not strike me as one where they’re going to go down to Florida State and be affected by the crowd,” Kelly said.  “Our problems have been self-inflicted. So I’m more concerned about our self-inflicted wounds than I am what may happen because of the environment.  They’re a pretty focused group on what they need to do.  We just need to make sure that we don’t make the mistakes we’ve made over the last few weeks.”

Farley said the Irish are not focused on the past history between these teams or the environment they are about to enter Saturday. The team’s only focus is on playing the game Saturday. 

“At the end of the day, it’s a game,” Farley said. “When you go into it prepared and you understand what your job is, it doesn’t really matter how big the perceived stage is of that game if you are locked into your assignment.” 

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