Head to Head: Florida State
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, November 9, 2018
This lopsided matchup begins in the air, as the Seminoles are currently ranked 121st in passing yards allowed with 257, with their last three opponents having posted a blistering 282.6 yards on average. But even with Brandon Wimbush likely replacing Ian Book at the helm on Senior Night, expect the Irish receivers to still get lots of looks over the Florida State secondary, which has youthful promise, but has yet to deliver a statement performance this season. As the tight-end unit continues to develop and pose a threat in close-yardage situations, this could be the key to the Irish making an early statement in their final home game of the season.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Senior running back Dexter Williams and sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong have proved a powerful duo in the backfield. Armstrong has complemented Williams quite nicely on the receiving end, as the sophomore has recorded 151 receiving yards on 12 receptions thus far. And Williams’ resume speaks for itself — the senior has rushed for 568 yards on 93 carries, and his ground game has been key in a number of Irish victories, especially over Stanford, Virginia Tech and Navy. That being said, although Florida State’s season hasn’t necessarily lived up to program standards, its defense is still among the top-20 in the nation against the run with a talented defensive line, so Williams, Armstrong and company will certainly have to work for it. There’s no reason this powerful unit can’t do so, but it might not be a walk in the park.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Irish Offensive Coaching
Despite struggling in the first half last weekend, Chip Long’s unit found a way to deliver in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame continued to show development offensively against Northwestern, although the change at quarterback could throw a wrench in that progression. The Irish offensive line has continued to develop chemistry in the post-Alex Bars era, and now have the chance to make a statement. While the Seminoles aren’t the team many thought they would be, Willie Taggart’s defense can still pose problems. Florida State has a particularly strong defensive line, led by junior Brian Burns, redshirt senior Demarcus Christman and sophomore Marvin Wilson. On the back end, there are playmakers as well in sophomore Stanford Samuels III. But the secondary, and the defense as a whole, is pretty youthful, and the inexperience has shown on the road — home teams are averaging close to 400 total yards of offense against the Noles. In the South Bend cold and on Senior Day, don’t expect that trend to change.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Irish Offensive Special Teams
Here’s the thing: Notre Dame’s special teams has been pretty abysmal on both sides of the ball this season. Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer, senior Justin Yoon, has been so-so, missing four field goals on the season, although all of them were from mid to long-range. Yoon was also sidelined with an injury for a bit, and his replacement, sophomore Jonathan Doerer missed the first extra point he went in for. But Doerer is a kickoff specialist for the time being — where he has also struggled this season. On the receiving end, the Irish have been reliable with senior Chris Finke and sophomore Michael Young, but haven’t shown much big-play ability.
Florida State is currently embroiled in a bit of a quarterback controversy, as the incumbent starter, junior Deondre Francois, did not play last week against North Carolina State because of injury. In his stead, sophomore James Blackman threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns. Head coach Willie Taggart has yet to decide who will start on Saturday, but regardless of who is under center for the Seminoles, will the competition elevate his play or cause him to falter?
Overall, Florida State has boasted an impressive passing attack this season, as the Seminoles own the 22nd-best passing offense in the country, averaging 283.2 yards per game through the air. However, the Irish secondary has been strong this season, ranking 26th in the country in passing yards allowed per game (188.4). Given a bit of uncertainty at quarterback for FSU, as well as the fact that this matchup is strength-on-strength, consider this area of the field a draw, with the potential to swing either way.
This is a nightmare matchup for the Seminoles, as their 129th-rated rushing offense goes up against the dominant Irish defense, which is currently limiting opponents to fewer than four yards per carry. With their offensive line being absolutely decimated by injuries this season, Florida State and running back Cam Akers’ average of 55.5 yards per game won’t be enough to overcome the defensive line of senior Jerry Tillery, as well as juniors Khalid Kareem, Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara. That’s just the first wave of defensive linemen, as Notre Dame has enough depth along the defensive line to keep members fresh throughout the entire game and wear down the offensive attack in the second half. Meanwhile, Julian Love and company in the secondary provide the deep protection for this defensive line to blitz the offense all night.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Seminoles Offensive Coaching
Florida State offensive coordinator Walt Bell, who was recently given the play-calling reigns by head coach Willie Taggart, and his offensive unit have struggled this season, particularly in running the ball. The Seminoles rank 110th in the nation in offensive efficiency, and they place outside the top 50 in total offense. Notre Dame’s superb defense does not help this dynamic. Plus, although the Seminoles rank 22nd in passing offense, playing in what is sure to be a chilly South Bend night game will most likely pose a significant challenge for Florida State. The Irish defense shouldn’t have a problem handling Florida State’s offensive scheme.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Seminoles Offensive Special Teams
Florida State junior kicker Ricky Aguayo has struggled for the Seminoles so far, going eight-for-13 on kicks this season. On kick returns, Florida State has been relatively average, but sophomore wide receiver D.J. Matthews is always a threat, averaging 13.8 yards per return with one touchdown on the year. Notre Dame’s special teams has been a liability all season, particularly on kickoff, emphasized by the costly errors against the Wildcats last week. The Irish have allowed two touchdowns to be returned for touchdowns, both at home against Michigan and Pittsburgh. Unless Brian Polian’s unit improves, the Seminoles could seize the advantage.
EDGE: Florida State