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Game Preview: FSU at Notre Dame

Tom Linafelt with Seminoles.com gives you a breakdown of tomorrow night’s contest.

Game Preview: FSU at Notre Dame

Florida State (4-5) vs. Notre Dame (9-0) Game Preview

SOUTH BEND, IN — In Florida State’s 72-year football history, the Seminoles played the Notre Dame Fighting Irish just eight times. That’s hardly enough to qualify among the Irish’s more time-tested rivalries, and, anyway, FSU and Notre Dame didn’t first meet until 1981 – well after the halcyon days of Rockne, Parseghian and the Gipper.

Still, over the last 37 years, games against Notre Dame have produced some of Florida State’s most iconic and defining moments.

  • A win for Bobby Bowden in 1981, part of Florida State’s “Octoberfest” tour of consecutive road games against traditional powers Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Louisiana State.
  • The 1993 “Game of the Century” which pit No. 1 FSU against No. 2 Notre Dame and, among other things, ushered in a new era for college football on television.
  • A 37-0 thumping at Notre Dame in 2003, which still rates as one of the Irish’s worst ever home losses.
  • Bowl victories that helped preserve a dynasty (1996 Orange Bowl) and spark a return to prominence (2011 Champs Sports Bowl).
  • A memorable – and controversial – finish in 2014 that saw the defending champion Seminoles knock off the undefeated Irish on the way to a date in the first-ever College Football Playoff semifinal

The most common thread of FSU’s series with Notre Dame? Florida State victories. The Seminoles are 6-2 all-time against the Fighting Irish, good for a .714 winning percentage that’s the best among any school to play Notre Dame at least five times.

FSU will look to improve on that mark Saturday, when it visits Notre Dame Stadium for the first time in 15 years (7:30 p.m., NBC).

A quick look at each team’s record is enough to suggest that this will be an uphill climb for the Seminoles.

Notre Dame is 9-0, ranked No. 3 in the country and closing in on its first appearance in the College Football Playoff.

The Seminoles, meanwhile, are 4-5, have lost three of their last four games and are still smarting from back-to-back losses to Clemson and North Carolina State.

Still, for a team that could use a signature victory, it’s hard to top the opportunity the Seminoles will have on Saturday – on the road and on national T.V., playing in an iconic venue against perhaps the most famous program in the sport.

And maybe in the snow, too.

Weather forecasts call for snow in South Bend on Saturday morning, with temperatures falling to the mid-20s by kickoff. That would make among the coldest games in FSU football history.

“Any time you go to Notre Dame and play, it’s a great opportunity,” coach Willie Taggart said. “I think a lot of guys would love to play in that stadium. It’s such an historic program, rich tradition.”

“Kind of what all these young people grew up wanting to do, is play in big-time games like this in special places. This is what we grew up to do.”

The statistics and box scores might suggest one thing. But in a season where the Seminoles have been desperately bereft of lucky breaks, they might have gotten one this week.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book, who took over as the team’s starter in late September and leads the country in completion percentage, is expected to miss the game with an injury.

His replacement, Brandon Wimbush, has starting experience but this season has completed just 55 percent of his passes and thrown one touchdown against four interceptions.

None of that is to say the Seminoles are glad to see someone injured. But, given their own rash of injuries – their starting right tackle has played in just two games, their starting quarterback missed last week’s contest and two more starters are expected to be sidelined at ND – maybe it’s time things evened out a little.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wouldn’t confirm Book’s injury, but did say he believed his team would rally around Wimbush if needed.

“He doesn’t have to come in – if he has to play – and go win the football game,” Kelly said. “We’ve got some other pretty good pieces.”

In 1981, Bowden’s Seminoles were in transition. They’d gone a combined 21-3 over the previous two seasons, but the departure of some key players, as well as that daunting schedule, led to a difficult campaign.

Even after beating Ohio State and Notre Dame, the Seminoles finished 6-5 and failed to make a bowl game.

It took time, but through perseverance on the field and on the recruiting trail, Bowden rebuilt and, a few years later, launched what would become one of the great dynasties in modern college football.

Maybe that all would have happened anyway, even if Bowden’s Seminoles hadn’t gone to Notre Dame and won.

But there’s little doubt that Bowden believed in its significance – at the time, he called it “the biggest win I’ll ever have.”

And there’s little doubt of what a win on Saturday would mean for Taggart and his Seminoles.

Odds and Ends

  • Notre Dame will be the second top-three opponent that FSU has faced in three weeks. The Seminoles played No. 2 Clemson two weeks ago. It marks the fourth time in school history that FSU has played two two-three opponents in the same season, and first time since 2001.
  • FSU’s 421 passing yards last week at NC State were the most ever for a Willie Taggart-coached team and most since putting up 444 at Clemson in 2013.
  • At least one team has been ranked during all of FSU’s games against Notre Dame. They’ve each been ranked in four of those meetings and twice met as top-five opponents (1993, 1 vs. 2; 2014, 2 vs. 5)
  • Notre Dame has held three of its last five opponents – Stanford, Pittsburgh and Northwestern – under 250 yards of total offense.

Week 11 Interviews

Head coach Willie Taggart

Offensive coordinator Walt Bell

Defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett

DT Marvin Wilson

DB Stanford Samuels III

One Reason Why Florida State Will Win

And now the Noles don’t have to deal with Ian Book and the Irish passing game.

Book is out with a rib injury suffered against Northwestern, meaning it’s Brandon Wimbush in, and that’s it for the razor-sharp, clutch passing game. Florida State might have a whole slew of issues, but the run defense isn’t among them.

The Noles have the defensive line to more than hold up against the Irish ground attack, and they’ve got the back seven that can get around the ball with the speed to attack the inside runs of Dexter Williams.

On the other side, Notre Dame has to prepare for both FSU quarterback prospects. Deondre Francois has been solid so far this year, but he was hurt and out for the NC State game. James Blackman stepped in and ripped it up for 421 yards and four scores.

The Irish secondary has been solid for the most part, but Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur and Virginia Tech’s Ryan Willis both went off against it. As the underdog against the unbeaten team pushing for the College Football Playoff, FSU can let it rip.

One Reason Why Notre Dame Will Win

The Irish turned the pass rush loose at just the right time, and it’s about to unleash the fury against a horrible FSU offensive line.

The Noles aren’t going to run the ball a lick, mostly because they can’t. To have any shot, the defense has to load up on Wimbush, and the passing game has to rock. Jerry Tillery and the Irish defensive front, though, should make that second part a problem.

The Irish teed off on Clayton Thorson with five sacks in the win over Northwestern. Stanford can’t run, and Notre Dame attacked KJ Costello with six sacks in the win. FSU allows over three sacks per game, and now it’s about to be under siege.

Offensively, Wimbush and the running game should be fine. They don’t have to explode, they just have to keep the chains moving and come up with the occasional score – and control the clock.

FSU is dead last in the nation in third down conversions – mainly because the lack of a running game leads to long third down tries.

Control the clock, don’t give away any easy chances, and win the game with the defensive line. Notre Dame can do that.

What’s Going To Happen

This was going to be a dangerous game for Notre Dame even if Book was going. Now it’s a big problem considering Wimbush just can’t throw well enough to make the Noles worry.

But he did beat Michigan.

We’re thinking this game is going to be close but just when FSU looks to get the go-ahead score the tide will turn and the Irish will get a late touchdown to seal the victory.

It hurts to call that prediction but until this team can prove us otherwise we’re going to have a hard time picking them in the remaining three games of the season.  But we’ll gladly take a loss in our pick if it means the Noles walk away with the “W”.

Our Fearless Prediction & Line

Notre Dame 45, Florida State 35
Line: Notre Dame -17.5, o/u: 54.5

Broadcast

Date: Saturday, November 10
Game Time: 7:30 ET
Venue: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, IN
Network: NBC

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