Usually, Brian Kelly gives his team 24 hours to celebrate a win or get over a loss. That rule was likely tested — and you couldn’t blame him if it was slightly relaxed — after Saturday night’s 31-27 loss.
“We need to give our kids a break. They’ve been going since June,” Kelly said on Sunday. “Our first bye week we kept them here to stay on top of their academics. We’re going to give them a little time off. But we’ll come back recharged, ready to go.”
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As both the Irish and their fandom begrudgingly put a controversial finish in the rearview mirror, let’s finally get around to the good, bad and ugly of the Florida State’s 31-27 victory over Notre Dame.
Tarean Folston. Notre Dame’s sophomore running back was the best ball carrier on the field Saturday night, looking equal parts elusive, powerful and explosive. He ran for 100 yards for the first time this season, getting 120 yards on 21 carries against a Seminoles front that was supposed to overpower Notre Dame’s offensive line.
Folston didn’t have one play go for negative yardage, and routinely maximized his opportunities. He was excellent on the cut back, showed great power, and with the one exception of a shoe-string tackle that took him down just short of the first down on a 4th-and-1, required a mob to take down.
This preseason, I tabbed Folston as the team’s best runner, and the one who had the best chance to turn into a featured back. He may have done that against the Seminoles.
Joe Schmidt. If Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit were trying to kill Notre Dame fans playing the Joe Schmidt drinking game on Saturday night, they could’ve done it. Because every mention of “walk-on” or “Rudy” would’ve had you under the table and out cold by halftime.
The ESPN broadcast partners were likely getting a national audience up to speed on Schmidt’s impressive story, but it’s beyond overkill and takes away from the fact that he’s a really good football player that’s been a scholarship player for two seasons.
Schmidt led the Irish in tackles with nine, eight of those coming as solo stops. He also intercepted Jameis Winston, a critical play coming right on the heels of Notre Dame’s own turnover. The senior linebacker was a solid technician in the middle of the field. He was effective on blitzes (more early than late) and held his own in coverage.
Now Schmidt’s leadership off the field will be key as the Irish defense rallies after a disappointing second half against an excellent Florida State offense. With a matchup against Navy around the corner, there’s no time for looking back at missed opportunities.
The Offensive Line Play
After hearing all week that Notre Dame’s front five was likely doomed, Harry Hiestand’s offensive line went out and played their best football game of the season on Saturday. After Steve Elmer’s missed block created a negative play in the backfield on the game’s second play, the run game dominated — with Notre Dame running for 157 yards, with Folston going for 5.7 a carry.
While the Seminoles were able to create pressure on Everett Golson with blitz schemes and additional pressure, the line held at the point of attack and allowed Notre Dame to be two-dimensional offensively, a key to the ball game.
“I think we’re starting to gain some consistency on the offensive line,” Kelly said Sunday. “We made that big move on our first bye week. It’s a big move to make when you’re coming off a big win against Michigan, but one we needed to make. I think that’s starting to show itself.”
Jarron Jones. On Friday, I highlighted the matchup on the interior of the offensive line, with Jarron Jones getting the chance to faceoff against Seminoles center Ryan Hoefeld. Well Jones dominated at the point of attack — against Hoefeld and anybody else — as he made three tackles for loss and six total tackles.
With flags flying throughout the fourth quarter, Jones probably had three or four holds he could’ve drawn, joined by Sheldon Day as the Irish defensive tackles wreaked havoc all night in Tallahassee. For all the talk we heard about the Seminoles front, the Irish defensive line was the better unit on the field, and that’s led by Jones and Day.
The junior defensive tackles are playing football at a very high level right now.
Corey Robinson & Will Fuller. The sophomore duo played dynamic games, holding their own on a Saturday where all eyes were on Rashad Greene. Robinson’s two touchdowns and eight catches for 99 yards including an epic 4th-and-18 conversion, a world-class touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone, and almost a third touchdown that would’ve gone down in the history books.
Fuller showed an explosiveness that had him running away from Florida State defensive backs, something not many receivers — and certainly not Notre Dame players — can do. His touchdown on the quick screen showed those jets, and his ability to find another gear after making a catch on a quick throw was just another great development for the young receiver.
Everett Golson. With everybody worried about the Irish quarterback making mistakes, Golson went out and played a fearless football game. Yes, he was picked off in the first half (I’m unwilling to consider the last offensive play of the game a true interception) and struggled with a center exchange on an early 4th down attempt. But Golson was fantastic on Saturday night.
The senior quarterback used his legs and his arm to nearly beat the Seminoles, doing everything his head coach asked of him with the offense heaped on his shoulders.
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough. But Golson outplayed Jameis Winston, the defending Heisman Trophy winner, and likely would’ve pushed himself into the Heisman discussion if some yellow laundry wasn’t dropped on 4th-and-goal.
Brian Kelly. If there’s a way to coach a perfect game in a losing effort, Kelly did it. Notre Dame did everything it wanted to on Saturday night except win the football game, and their head coach put them in a perfect position to do that.
Walking into the defending champs house, Kelly called the perfect game. He was aggressive and fearless, taking chances on 4th down. He was creative, unveiling a few new plays and wrinkles that we haven’t seen in the five years he’s been on the Irish sideline. And his calm demeanor and confidence down the stretch even had Chris Fowler in amazement.
“How can Brian Kelly be as calm as he appears calling plays right now?” Fowler said on the game’s final drive.
Sunday, Kelly didn’t mince words, doubling-down on his assertion that the Irish didn’t run an illegal play on 4th-and-goal. But he also acknowledged that you need to control your own destiny when you’re in a situation like the Irish were late in the game.
“We’ve got to be able to control finishes. That means make a couple more plays,” Kelly said.
Ultimately, the Irish didn’t do that. Kelly’s young defense struggled to get the stops that they needed in the second half and the Notre Dame’s game-winning touchdown was wiped off the board with an offensive pass interference call.
But after watching Irish teams of the past sometimes struggle with all eyes on them, it’s clear that in his fifth season, this football team is playing in the head coach’s image.
* How good was the Notre Dame defense in the first half on first and second down? The average 3rd down attempt for the Seminoles was 3rd-and-10.3.
* Sneaky good day by Kyle Brindza. While he overcooked one of his first kickoffs, knocking it out of bounds, he made both field goal attempts and booted a critical 52-yard punt in the third quarter to help flip the field.
* Another solid day at the office for Chris Brown. He lacks the explosiveness of Fuller and doesn’t break as many tackles as you’d want, but five catches for 38 yards for a No. 3 (or 4) receiver isn’t too shabby.
Same thing for C.J. Prosise. It’s hard to see how close he was to coming down with the rocket that Golson threw at him on 2nd-and-goal, but six for 59 and showing clear over-the-top speed is a nice fourth option.
* Almost a game-changer early in the game for the Irish special teams. Scott Booker‘s punt-block team had pressure and just missed blocking a first-quarter punt. Could’ve been a huge momentum swing.
* Maybe I’m the only one, but if there’s a silver-lining statistically in this game, it’s that Notre Dame lost after running the ball 35 times. That stat had been one that many fans clung to, mistakenly citing a correlation that running means winning, rather than understanding that it’s mostly the other way around.
* It’s only just begun: Of the 48 players that saw the field for Notre Dame on Saturday night, 27 of them are in their first or second-season of eligibility.
Struggles in the secondary. No, Notre Dame’s defense shouldn’t have been expected to continue shutting down Jameis Winston. He’s too good of a quarterback, playing with too talented of weapons. But in the second half, the lack of depth in the Irish secondary showed, with tough one-on-one matchups making for some quick and explosive completions for the Seminoles.
Without knowing the coverage schemes, it’s difficult to peg these struggles on one particular player. But I’m guessing that in film study today, there will be plenty of talk about alignment and leverage, with the inside throw conceded far too easily on quick timing throws, like the touchdown by Rashad Greene or other posts and slants thrown in the rhythm of the offense.
After focusing on Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield on Friday, neither made any game-changing plays, with receptions consistently falling between the linebackers and safeties. Sometimes, you just need to tip your cap to the offense, and Winston’s 15 of 16 in the second half certainly deserves that.
* For as good as Golson played, two plays highlighted here aren’t his best work. On his first-half interception, Golson missed his read to Tarean Folston, who escaped from the slot and filled the hole where the Seminoles blitz came from. Throw the ball quickly and it’s a nice gain instead of a turnover.
And secondly, the downfield heave to Ben Koyack that resulted in Koyack earning an offensive pass interference call? Put that one in the stands, son.
* Tough (but probably correct) call on Cody Riggs on a 3rd-and-2, called for holding Rashad Greene on a ball that sailed over his head. Keep your hands on the inside and that’s a field goal attempt, not a new set of downs.
* Don’t let that fumble ruin the rest of your season, Amir Carlisle.
* Come on, Andrew Trumbetti. The freshman had a chance to be a hero, with the chance to step in front of a throw to the flat by Winston. But Trumbetti got stuck not going for the pick and not going for the tackle, allowing the Seminoles to escape for a critical third-down conversion when it easily could’ve gone the other way.
* Not the way to get noticed, Jacob Matuska. That 15-yard penalty on kickoff return isn’t the one you want to commit.
* Hey ACC officials. You’ve probably heard enough at this point, but since when does a head coach need to use a timeout to get an official measurement?
It’s still tough to get beyond the end of this football game. Even the fourth quarter, when flags started flying and the refs’ imprint on the game started to take shape. When you have a classic football game, let it be decided on the field, not by the guys in the stripes.
In the era of heart-stomping defeats, this loss certainly qualifies. But in the college football playoff era, it’s not the back-breaker it once was.
The ACC’s head of officiating released a video-statement to say (shockingly) that the call on the field was correct. That they didn’t mention the player who committed the violation, or focus on what that violation was, is fairly telling.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. Florida State won a close football game, one that was in doubt down to the final seconds of the game. Now Irish fans need to understand that the more games the Seminoles win, the better it is for the Irish. Then just hope that Notre Dame gets a chance to play them again in January.