Irish dominate first half to rout Florida State 42-13 on Senior night
Charlie Ortega Guifarro | Monday, November 12, 2018
No. 3 Notre Dame routed Florida State 42-13 behind a strong ground game fueled by senior running back Dexter Williams. Williams ran for 202 yards and two scores in an offense led by senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who was starting over injured junior quarterback Ian Book. Head coach Brian Kelly said he had three goals coming into the this season: beat Michigan, win every home game and win in November. On Senior Night, the Irish finished the season undefeated at home and checked off the second of the three boxes, as they continue on their way to completing their third and final goal. This undefeated run has been sparked largely by the consistent performance by the running backs. “I talked about how important it was to run the football in November when teams know that you're going to run the football and exert your will, and I thought we were able to do that today. That had a lot to do with the final score. We rushed for 365 [yards], so a lot of good things,” Kelly said. The Irish could not have asked for a better start. On the second play of the game, Seminoles redshirt-junior quarterback Deondre Francois passed it to his sophomore tight end Tre’ McKitty but, his pass was deflected by Irish senior linebacker Te’von Coney. Senior safety Nick Coleman caught the deflection before returning the ball to the Seminoles 3-yard line before being tackled down. Following the interception, Wimbush took two plays to find senior wide receiver Miles Boykin in the end zone. Seventy-five seconds into the game, the Irish found themselves up 7-0.
The Notre Dame defense then forced a three-and-out and got to work from their own half following a Florida State punt. On the following Irish drive, Wimbush showed his confidence in his arm and his receivers as he threw a deep pass to junior wide receiver Chase Claypool that fell incomplete, followed by a 10-yard catch by Boykin. On third-and-four, the Seminoles called a defensive timeout to prevent the Irish from getting a first down. The plan worked to no avail, as Wimbush connected with Claypool for a 12-yard gain. A few plays later, Wimbush was hurried by Florida State’s defensive end Brian Burns, but Wimbush found Claypool for a 25-yard gain. The play was ruled a catch but, after further review was overturned and ruled an interception. The Irish retained the ball however, because the Seminoles were called for an offensive pass interference on the play. Once Notre Dame got into the red zone, Wimbush returned to his senior playmakers, connecting with tight end Alizé Mack — who made an impressive effort to keep a foot inbounds and catch the ball while falling on the back pilon. The 6-yard connection put the Irish up 14-0 halfway through the first quarter. The game was played in 27-degree weather — the third-coldest Notre Dame home game since 1980 and the second-coldest game played by Florida State since at least 1969. The Seminoles’ struggles continued into their third drive, as they turned the ball over in their first play of the drive, this time on a fumble by sophomore running back Cam Akers forced by Irish junior defensive linemen Adetokunbo Ogundeji and recovered by junior defensive linemen Daelin Hayes, who recovered the ball for Notre Dame within field goal range. Despite not being able to get a first down, the Irish capitalized on the forced fumble by recording a 26-yard field goal from senior kicker Justin Yoon. The Seminoles got their first first-down of the game on their next drive, with an 11-yard pass from Francois to junior wide receiver Keith Gavin. After a failed trick play, Francois found wide receiver Tamorrion Terry for a 10-yard gain, pushing the offense into Irish territory and ending the first quarter. Later, a quarterback sneak helped the Seminoles convert a fourth-and-1 into a first down. Once in the end zone, Akers showed off his quick feet, getting past Irish senior linebacker Asmar Bilal and rushing into the end zone. A routine extra point attempt by Florida State junior kicker, Ricky Aguayo, turned into two points for the Irish when graduate student defensive lineman Jerry Tillery bulldozed through the defense to block the kick and junior cornerback Julian Love recovered the deflection. Love took off toward the other end zone, giving Notre Dame their first defensive two-point play since 2016 and extending the Irish lead to 13. The Irish offense executed two big plays in their ensuing drive. Wimbush found plenty of green right through the middle of the field for a 17-yard rush. The rush game continued to produce yardage for the Irish. On the next play, Williams exploited a hole in the middle of the Seminoles’ defense and exploded for a 58-yard score, but Yoon had his extra point attempt blocked 11 minutes left in the first half. Florida State advanced to the Notre Dame 33-yard line following four rushes by senior running back Jacques Patrick and a 16-yard catch from Gaving. The Seminoles failed to convert on a fourth-and-6, bringing out the Irish offense. Wimbush and company got to work quickly, with a 10-yard rush by Williams followed up by a 21-yard pass to senior wide receiver Chris Finke. Wimbush found Finke once again, this time for a 17-yard gain. Mack found success in the end zone again, catching a 15-yard pass from Wimbush, with Yoon's extra point putting the Irish up 32-6. Notre Dame executed 67 yards on offense in under two minutes in this drive. Francois threw an incomplete pass after a big hit by Hayes on the Seminole quarterback, forcing Florida State to punt. The next drive was highlighted by a 14-yard play action between Wimbush and Boykin but fell short of the crossing midfield, bringing out graduate student punter Tyler Newsome. Florida State got a huge 40-yard play to get to the Notre Dame 41-yard line, but an incomplete pass, sack by Hayes and penalty against the offense kept the Seminoles from scoring before halftime. Notre Dame was unable to start the second half as elegantly as it started the first half. Coming out of the locker rooms, Wimbush threw a pass into heavy traffic. Defensive back Stanford Samuels III intercepted Wimbush’s pass and returned it to the Notre Dame 30-yard line. Florida State’s Akers picked up a 15-yard gain and followed it up with a 7-yard touchdown score. Eighty-five seconds into the second half, Notre Dame’s lead was cut to 32-13. Graduate student linebacker Drue Tranquill said he was disappointed with the response of the defensive on the drive after Wimbush’s interception. “The one thing I was disappointed with was when the offense had the turnover, to start the second half. We just conceded seven points like it was nothing. That was pretty disappointing from [the defense’s] perspective,” Tranquill said. Looking to respond, the Irish let Williams carry the offense. The senior picked up a total of 18 yards in back-to-back plays. Two snaps later, Williams rushed for 26 yards and got Notre Dame to the red zone. Unable to recover from an illegal block call though, Notre Dame settled for a 35-yard field goal from Yoon. Finke returned a 37-yard punt for 28 yards after dancing in traffic from sideline to sideline. Wimbush failed to capitalize on the momentum gained from Finke’s run however, throwing a second interception. In a pass that was intended for Claypool, Wimbush threw it straight to linebacker Dontavious Jackson who caught the ball at his own 47-yard line. A pass interference call against Love moved the chains up to the Notre Dame 34-yard line for the Seminoles. Wide receiver Nyqwan Murray got a 12-yard gain to get the Seminoles up to the 8-yard line. Patrick then rushed for seven yards to the 1-yard line, followed by a 2-yard rushing loss on a tackle by junior defensive lineman Khalid Kareem. On fourth-and-3, Francois was hurried by junior defensive lineman Julian Okwara and was unable to complete a pass. This goal line stand was indicative of the way this defensive unit has responded all year long: giving up yards occasionally, but always maintaining strong defense in the red zone. “You know, we've been like that all year. You know, we kind of give up some yardage and bend a little bit ... that's who we are a little bit,” Kelly said. “Our DNA has been kind of like that this year. We've given up some soft yards here and there. You know, in the red zone we tighten up, and we did again today,” Following the two interceptions, Wimbush decided to rely on his run game on the next drive. Williams carried the ball in six of the next seven plays, rushing for 29 yards. Sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong pushed Notre Dame to the Florida State half with a 22-yard rush. Williams came back in and capped off the drive with a 32-yard rushing touchdown. The drive consisted of 12 plays and 97 yards, all on the ground. Throughout Williams breakout season he's continued to emphasize that the numbers he puts up isn’t of much concern. “I’m not really worried about the yards, I’m not really worried about the carries just as long as my team calls me, anytime they need me I just try to give them that spark and be the player that I need to be and I just want to be able to carry my team and just show them that they can count on me and just be able to make plays when the ball is in my hand,” Williams said. With 13 minutes left in the game, Notre Dame took the gas off the pedal leading 42-13. Neither team made any significant damage for the rest of the game. On the last drive of the game, freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec was given some snaps with junior running back Tony Jones Jr. taking most of the load. Notre Dame has not had back-to-back seasons with double digit wins since the early ’90s, and the team will now shift its focus to its date with Syracuse at Yankee Stadium next Saturday night. With the Syracuse game included, the Irish are two wins away from making it to the College Football Playoffs for the first time. “Having the chance to play for a national championship in these last two games is something that you dream of,” Boykin said. “I was telling guys in the locker room that four years ago I could have never imagined this for ourselves, but I think that that’s just a testament to this group and how hard we work, and it put us in this position that we are in today.”