Irish dominate on the ground, roll past Seminoles 42-26
Aidan Thomas | Monday, October 12, 2020
Sophomore running back Kyren Williams fumbled on the 2nd play from scrimmage, and the rust was real. Then, No. 5 Notre Dame forced a Florida State field goal and scored two touchdowns on a pair of drives that combined for 8 plays and 151 yards, highlighted by two huge runs from Williams. And the rust didn’t seem as real.
Then a muffed punt and dropped pass led to 14 straight FSU points, and Notre Dame (3-0, 2-0 ACC) trailed 17-14 at the end of the first quarter. At this point, it was anbyody’s guess what effects the COVID-induced layoff were playing on the Fighting Irish.
After a three-week hiatus, Notre Dame returned to the gridiron and took on a generally overmatched Florida State (1-4, 0-3 ACC) squad. A rocky first quarter had everybody guessing as to whether the Irish were ready to return to action. But as Notre Dame cut down on the miscues and got their offense more time on the field, the early-game wrinkles smoothed out, and the Irish gradually pulled away for a 42-26 victory.
Statistically, this one was all about pounding the rock for Notre Dame. After accumulating seven touchdowns on the ground against South Florida, Notre Dame dominated in the run game once again, racking up 353 yards on 8.4 yards per carry. Leading the way was Williams with 185 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, while freshman Chris Tyree also excelled, racking up 103 yards and a score on 11 rushes.
“They have really good guys blocking for them,” head coach Brian Kelly said regarding the success of his young backfield. “Then they’re making good, decisive cuts, seeing things very well.”
Graduate student quarterback Ian Book added 58 yards on the ground, punching one into the end zone with his legs as well. The passing game was a complementary piece, as Book played efficiently and mistake-free, notching a pair of passing touchdowns while throwing for 201 yards on 16 of 25 passing.
Book’s clean performance was also assisted by spectacular play on the offensive line, as he was able to deal with a clean pocket frequently, with many of his rushing yards coming on designed runs.
“I’m truly blessed. I really feel like we have the best O-Line in the country,” Book said. “They just lay it all out on the line to protect me and our running backs. They show it day in and day out in practice, and I know they can get it done on Saturday.”
Book spread the ball to seven different pass catchers, with five of them notching at least two receptions. The star of the day in the passing attack was graduate student receiver Javon McKinley, who reeled in 5 catches for 107 yards, becoming Book’s most consistent target as the game wore on.
Notre Dame entered the game at 2-0 and looking to be one of three ACC teams to end the weekend undefeated on the year, joining No. 5 UNC and No. 1 Clemson. The game also presented an opportunity for Notre Dame to jump into the top-four in the AP Poll as former No. 4 Florida (now No. 10 in the AP Poll) had fallen earlier in the day to No. 11 Texas A&M. Meanwhile, Florida State walked into Notre Dame Stadium sporting an 0-2 record in ACC play, and 1-2 overall, hoping to pick up their first FBS win of the season.
The game got off to a wild start, as Williams’ fumble gave FSU the ball at the Irish 32-yard line, but the Seminoles gained just eight yards and settled for a field goal. Notre Dame started their early offensive onslaught on the ensuing drive, as Williams burst through a huge hole on a counter, racing 65 yards to set up first and goal.
“He’s a great competitor,” Kelly said of Williams’ big performance after his fumble. “He bounced back. He moved on from a mistake he made, and he showed the kind of athlete that he is.”
One play later and Ian Book hit freshman tight end Michael Mayer for the touchdown, giving the Irish a 7-3 lead. After forcing another three-and-out, Notre Dame would extend the lead via a 46-yard scamper by Williams, pushing their advantage to 14-3.
Notre Dame would force yet another three-and-out, and this game looked like it could spiral quickly for the Seminoles, but junior receiver Lawrence Keys III muffed the ensuing FSU punt, giving the visitors the ball on the Notre Dame 19-yard line. Quarterback Jordan Travis would run it in from four yards out, cutting into the early Irish advantage.
On the next drive for Notre Dame, Book’s third-down pass to junior receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. was dropped as the Irish failed to gain a first down. Florida State went 71 yards in four plays, punctuated by Travis hitting redshirt junior receiver Tamorrion Terry in stride for a 48-yard touchdown, giving the Seminoles a three-point lead heading into the second quarter.
Notre Dame put together a much better second quarter as their offense was virtually unstoppable, posting 21 points in the period. Taking the lead for good, Notre Dame strung together an eight-play drive, sparked by Book’s longest completion of the season as he hit Javon McKinley for 36 yards.
The Book-McKinley connection was a welcome sight, as for the first time since the departure of 2nd-round NFL draft pick Chase Claypool, the Irish looked like they had a true No. 1 receiver. McKinley’s big day came at the expense of Florida State junior corner Asante Samuel Jr., who entered the game with three interceptions in three games for the Seminoles. Still, Book had nothing but confidence in targeting McKinley.
“We knew that matchup was going to be a good one,” Book said. “Our connection is great, our chemistry is great. I was going [to McKinley] a lot this week, and it was his time to shine.”
A 17-yard completion from Book to Mayer set up 1st and goal at the 4, and Williams ran it in one player later from the 1-yard line, pushing the Irish back in front. After punting once, the offense got the ball rolling once more, courtesy of Tyree. The former four-star recruit ran the ball three times on the drive for six, 13 and 45 yards, the latter going for a score and a 28-17 Irish lead.
Although the Seminoles were able to drive down and cut the deficit to eight points on a field goal, the Irish continued to roll offensively, as Notre Dame used 66 of the remaining 77 seconds on the 1st-half clock to punch the ball into the end zone one more time. Senior running back Jafar Armstrong took the kickoff to the 43-yard line and, aided by a FSU personal foul, Book marched the Irish the remaining 57 yards, hitting junior receiver Braden Lenzy from six yards out to account for the 35-20 halftime score.
The second half had much less of a boat-race feel as the scoring slowed down considerably. Notre Dame’s defense did not inspire confidence on the opening drive of the half, giving up a 30-yard pass on the first play and allowing the Seminoles to march 75 yards in seven plays. Their two-point conversion attempt failed though, keeping FSU at an arm’s length.
Notre Dame then marched 73 yards for another touchdown, notching the game’s final score with 8:40 remaining in the third quarter. The drive included a gutsy fourth and fifth conversion from their own 32-yard line, which Williams narrowly converted. From there, the defense took over.
Picked apart by Jordan Travis for a little longer than many Notre Dame fans would have liked to see, the Irish locked it down, holding the Seminoles to 114 total yards on their final 27 offensive plays, covering four drives. The majority of those yards came on a 12-play, 73-yard drive, in which the Seminoles were threatening to close the gap to a single possession. Looking for a momentum swing, the Irish got it as sixth-year defensive back Shaun Crawford stepped in front of a Travis pass and picked it off, giving Notre Dame the ball back with 8:21 remaining.
The Irish then milked six-and-a-half minutes of game time, bringing the ball down to the FSU 2-yard line before being stopped on 4th and Goal. Florida State got the ball to midfield but was sacked on the game’s final play, keeping the final score at 42-26.
Kelly acknowledged the inconsistency of the Irish defense.
“That was not our ‘A’ game,” he said. “But again, we gave them 10 points [on short drives off 2 ND turnovers]. We keep them to 16, and that’s not playing our best. We can play much better.”
If Kelly is correct and that’s about as shaky a performance as fans will see from the Irish defense, then that’s some promising analysis. However, Irish fans will be looking for results next weekend when Notre Dame looks to improve to 4-0 taking on a slumping Louisville team at home. Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. on NBC.