Notre Dame at Florida State

Kelly: Less clarity on FSU’s “blown coverage”


Upon second inspection, Brian Kelly hasn’t gained any clarity on the offensive pass interference call that took a game-winning touchdown off the board. While the head coach has moved on, and the Irish are getting some much-needed time off during fall break, Kelly’s opinion on the play — now that he’s realized the penalty was on Will Fuller, not C.J. Prosise — is even more muddled.

“I have less clarity. I guess it was actually called on Will Fuller, not C.J. Just adds more uncertainty as to the final play,” Kelly said Sunday, during his weekly teleconference. “Again, the play itself in terms of what we ask our kids to do, it was pretty clear what happened on the play. Florida State blew the coverage and they got rewarded for it. So it’s unfortunate.”

If you’re looking for a stronger statement by Kelly, you won’t likely find one. (It’s also my opinion of the play from last night.)

At this point, it all feels relatively meaningless in the final equation, though just about everybody on the internet, and certainly in the broadcast booth, thought the penalty was on Prosise, who was actively engaged with his defender from the snap.

Kelly talked about Prosise’s assignment on that play, which wasn’t flagged by the officials.

“C.J.’s job is to get into the end zone and turn around and be a big target,” Kelly explained. “He was immediately grabbed at the line of scrimmage. He’s trying to get depth into the line of scrimmage, into the end zone, so Corey can clear a path. As that contact was being made, it was seen, I guess, I don’t know who saw it as interference, but you’ve got two guys that are trying to fight for space. We saw it as such.

“He’s supposed to find space, sit down and be a target. Again, it’s a play that is a pretty common play in NCAA football where you’re setting a point, the guy turns around, the ball is thrown. The ball was thrown quickly. C.J. didn’t even have a chance to turn around, which may have led to some of the optics that people were talking about on TV, that was blocking. But he was simply trying to get his space in the end zone.”



Kelly has a call with the ACC’s coordinator of officiating, where he’ll also talk about the fact that Florida State’s P.J. Williams took his helmet off at the end of the play, another penalty that by rule could’ve given the Irish a 1st-and-goal, half the distance to the goal after the penalty was marked off. Kelly said that the officials already acknowledged that they missed that call, though expects even “less clarifiaction” after the call.

But on a Saturday where the Irish could’ve built a bigger first half lead after dominating and let the game seemingly slip through their fingers in the end, it’s an important lesson for a young team that still has everything to play for.

“You got to take the belt from the champion. You can’t leave it up to a decision that’s made at the end,” Kelly said. “We’ll talk about. If we’re in this situation again, you got to close, you got to finish.”

Five things we learned: Florida State 31, Notre Dame 27

Jameis Winston,Everett Golson

With 13 seconds left, Corey Robinson caught the 4th-down pass from Everett Golson and walked into the end zone, all but uncovered. And for a moment, it looked like Notre Dame pulled off a win for the ages.

But with a yellow hanky on the garnet end zone grass in Doak Campbell Stadium, everything changed. And instead of the most memorable victory since maybe the last time the Irish shocked the Seminoles, Notre Dame’s 31-27 defeat goes joins the 2005 USC game and 1991 Orange Bowl loss to Colorado as the most controversial heartbreaks of the last 25 years.

“Don’t run into him, just get in his way,” Will Fuller told’s Douglas Farmer after the game, when asked about the coaching points on the controversial pick play. But while the internet continues to melt in a debate that both Brady Quinn and Reggie Bush weighed in on, offensive pass interference was called, turning six Notre Dame points into a 4th-and-forever that wasn’t even close.

Notre Dame falls to 6-1 in a game that somehow managed to live up to its hype. Let’s find out what we learned.


Right call or not, it doesn’t make it any easier to digest. 

Brian Kelly reserved comment. Anything he’d say after the game wouldn’t play well, and it certainly wouldn’t change things. But that doesn’t make the flag thrown against Will Fuller any easier to take.

“We execute that play every day,” Kelly said. “And we do it legally and that’s the way we coach it. We don’t coach illegal plays.”


Rewatching the play a few hundred times (literally), a penalty on Fuller is tough to find. A call on Prosise? That’s something you can understand. But even after straining to hear the ACC official’s declaration over the roaring Florida State crowd, it sure sounds like the penalty was on Fuller, even if in the chaos they pegged the wrong guy.

Making things worse, the Irish didn’t need to make it that close. Robinson was open from the moment he ran to the pylon, with the Seminoles seemingly caught off guard by the play call. It was the same play and execution that sprung Robinson earlier in the game.

While Fox’s officiating guru Mike Pereira echoed the sentiments from the broadcast booth that the call seemed to be the right one, it appears that just about everyone focused on Prosise’s contact with the Florida State defensive back, contact that wasn’t instigated by Prosise, by the way.

Of course, flip that call the other way, and you’d likely be hearing from Seminole fans for the next decade or two. It’s easy to be wide open when two guys are interfering, they might understandably say.

On a classic Saturday night, this call will go down as the largest part of the narrative. Not the way you want to see a game like this ended, but so it goes.


The Irish dominated the Seminoles everywhere but the scoreboard. 

Notre Dame outgained Florida State 470-323. They out-rushed the Seminoles 157-50. Everett Golson all but out-played Jameis Winston, though his final desperation heave will perhaps change that story on paper. But in the end, Notre Dame didn’t do enough to win the football game.

“We needed to make one more play,” Brian Kelly said after the game.

While not many people believed the Irish would be in a game that went down to the wire, the Irish did more than play with the Seminoles — they all but out-played them. The young defensive line gave the Seminoles offensive line all it could handle. Notre Dame’s playmakers did just as much as Florida State’s.

Florida State converted just two of eight third down attempts with the Irish sacking Winston three times and intercepting him once. The Irish dominated time of possession while making the Seminoles completely one-dimensional.

But in the end, only one stat matters, and that one had the Irish coming up four points shy.


In the second half, Notre Dame’s secondary just couldn’t hang with Florida State’s rhythm passing game. 

The Florida State receivers are the best personnel the Irish will face this year. And they showed it on Saturday night, beating the Irish defensive backs on intermediate throws, continually eating the Irish up on in-cuts and post routes. Rashad Greene sparked the comeback with eight catches for 108 yards. Freshman Travis Rudolph made Matthias Farley miss on a first-half touchdown catch.

While the Irish only had one true breakdown in coverage, Winston was able to pick up large chunks of yardage hitting his receivers in stride on perfect three- and five-step drops. After showing signs of being flustered in the first half, Winston was brilliant in the second half, marching the Seminoles to a game-winning touchdown drive and completing 15 of 16 throws.

The lack of depth in the Irish secondary was hard to miss, especially with Matthias Farley forced to matchup in man coverage on receivers in the slot. And with only Drue Tranquill there to spell Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate, the Irish safeties seemed to be a step behind on the throws that seemed to find the soft spots.


On the biggest stage in college football, Notre Dame certainly didn’t back down. 

You knew from the start the attitude Brian Kelly planned on taking Saturday night. Faced with a 4th-and-short early in the game, Kelly didn’t hesitate, keeping his offense on the field to try and move the chains. The center exchange between Matt Hegarty and Everett Golson short-circuited the play before it could get going, but it set the tone for the aggressiveness Notre Dame would show all evening.

Kelly kept his foot on the gas all evening, and even after a slightly sluggish start by the Irish offensive line, the Irish responded wonderfully. The offensive line everybody worried about? They opened holes for Tarean Folston, who had his first career 100-yard day.

The young defense most expected to be “exposed?” They hung in there just fine, helping set up seven points off a key Joe Schmidt turnover as they won the battle in the trenches against the Seminoles veteran blockers.

There are no such thing as moral victories. But in the new College Football Playoff era, the Irish didn’t hurt their ultimate goals, especially with Baylor losing and both Mississippi and Mississippi State having roadblocks ahead of them before their Egg Bowl showdown.

Don’t be surprised to see the Irish hold steady in the polls even after their first defeat.


Everett Golson played like a champion Saturday night. 

Yes, the box score shows two Everett Golson interceptions. But the Irish quarterback silenced all the critics that spent the week focused on his turnover problems and went out and played a heckuva football game.

With 13 seconds left, Golson looked as if he’d once again accomplished the impossible. On 4th-and-18, he found Corey Robinson after running for his life, throwing a bullet to the lanky receiver to keep the game alive. And while the controversial penalty flag kept the Irish off the scoreboard and helped the Seminoles escape, Golson did everything he could do.

“I thought our quarterback played better than theirs tonight, just didn’t show up on the scoreboard,” Kelly said.

While just about everyone in the stadium was expecting the football to come loose at some point, Golson was a weapon with both his arm and legs. His 313 yards and three (almost four) touchdowns were the engine that drove the Irish offense against a tough Florida State secondary. And he was excellent in the run game, moving the chains and gaining 33 yards on 11 attempts with some designed plays.

With a chance to march the Irish down the field to win the game, Golson did it, with a very large asterisk. So while the victory wasn’t Notre Dame’s on Saturday night, the confidence of once again putting together a crucial drive should serve the Irish well.


The Seminoles escaped with a victory. Notre Dame leaves with their Playoff dreams intact. 

Notre Dame’s dream of a perfect season is over. But the Irish are alive and well in the College Football Playoff. Last season, this loss would’ve likely relegated the Irish to scoreboard watching and hoping they’re capable of securing a lucrative BCS bid. But in the playoff era, an 11-1 Notre Dame team still likely has a good shot at being one of the four, especially as the SEC continues to beat itself up.

Florida State doesn’t face another ranked team, and might not even in the ACC title game. And there is more blood to spill in the SEC, with two teams still likely to come out of the power conference, though who they’ll be still needs some determining.

From there, a beauty pageant likely favors the Irish if they can win out. A one-loss Oregon team has a stumble against Arizona to explain. Baylor couldn’t escape Morgantown this weekend. And if you think a committee is going to see Michigan State or Ohio State’s loss as a better one than Notre Dame’s, be very surprised.

It doesn’t make the loss feel any better. But it does help recalibrate the narrative on a Notre Dame team most thought was smoke and mirrors.

“They were on a national stage and I think they showed everybody what kind of football team they are tonight,” Kelly said.

Joe Schmidt might have said it even better on Twitter after the game.



Live blog — Notre Dame vs. Florida State

William Fuller, Julian Whigham, Durell Eskridge

It’s finally here. Not just the biggest game of the year, but the ultimate test for this Notre Dame football team. Entering Doak Campbell Stadium against the defending national champs and Heisman Trophy winner, we’ll see if the Irish have what it takes to upset the Seminoles.

As usual, we’re here for a live chat. It’ll look a little bit different, but the same group-therapy session will be taking place, you might just need to push a few new buttons to participate.

So on a Saturday with all eyes on the Irish, let’s see if Notre Dame has what it takes to end Florida State’s 22-game winning streak.

FSU Mailbag: Just in time

Michigan v Notre Dame

Let’s get some answers to questions before we turn our attention to the big game at hand.

(And yes, everybody that mentioned the struggles we’ve been having recently in the comments, I’m going to look at things over the off week. Even my mom had to tell me that people weren’t behaving themselves. So I’ll be looking into IP banning, public shaming, new filters, etc. Exactly how I want to spend my time…)

Rant over. Now on to the questions!


c4evr: Kelly pointed out before the season that Golson “rode the bus” to the 2012 title game. Besides being a shortsighted thing to say, how much has Kelly ridden the bus to a 35 and 8 record on the backs of Diaco and BVG?

So you thought the 80th ranked offense was the driving force to the BCS title game? I saw Kelly make that comment live, and it was in good fun — certainly not an indictment of his starting quarterback. Though if you think back and look at the stats from that year, there were seven games Notre Dame won that they averaged just 19 points on offense. So I think the analogy is pretty appropriate.

I’m not quite sure what your question is here, although it’s kind of clear that you’re thinking that the head coach is only as good as his assistants. So I guess you at least need to give credit to BK for hiring the right guys?

If you’re not a fan of Brian Kelly at this point, I’m worried that the love-child of Leahy and Rockne wouldn’t be good enough for you, either.


blackirish23: What would your criteria be for evaluating a candidate if you had a vote for the Heisman? Keeping said criteria in mind, would you have voted for Manziel and Winston?

I wouldn’t have voted for either if I had a vote. For Manziel, it would’ve been more because his numbers weren’t that far outside the norm for quarterbacks playing in Kevin Sumlin’s system. For Winston, it would’ve been for the rape allegations.

Interestingly, the Heisman pulled the word “integrity” from their definition/bylaws this offseason. Sad, but probably appropriate for the coolest award in all of sports.


irishking: Do you believe that ND’s young secondary can contain Winston and his receivers?

It’ll be a tough challenge, especially to be assignment correct and not blow any coverages. But the bigger test is on getting a pass rush after Winston. If the Irish front can get a body in his face and cut down his decision-making time, that’ll be huge.


sm29irish: Hi Keith, from a historical context I feel that this is the biggest REGULAR season game that Notre Dame has played since the 1993 Notre Dame Florida State game. Many consider that to be the last great hoorah for ND football. I know there have been other big ones such as usc ’05 and Oklahoma ’12 but to me this is bigger. Interested to hear where it ranks in your book and how you think it could bring national credibility back to the program. Thanks.

I’m far from a Notre Dame historian. I actually think I lost 10 bucks on that game in grade school. Peter O’Keefe had Notre Dame and I was pulling for Florida State at the time.

I think this is probably the biggest “opportunity” we’ve seen in quite some time, but I have a hard time erasing 2012, especially considering that season came right when there was real doubts as to whether Kelly was going to be able to get it done in South Bend.

There’s no real downside to this game, other than getting run out of the gym in the first five minutes, like what happened against Alabama. If the Irish can withstand the opening minutes, I think it’ll be a fun one for Notre Dame fans.


jommy995: What do you think Jameis would’ve done with all the cash had he not so generously donated those 950 autographs?

Seriously, think about this for a second. How long does it take to autograph 1,000 things? Especially signing them on the sweet spot or on the right position of the jersey. This is likely HOURS of time. I don’t think my poor right hand could even sign that many things — I’m cramping up now every column I type, and it’s done damage on my handwriting.

What a giver.


finnick23: My brother wants to get into football blogging and has always had a real passion for sportswriting. He was always an excellent writer growing up and his knowledge of the game is second to none. How did you get your start and how should he go about it?

Just start writing. In a business that’s losing money and shrinking by the day, nobody’s going to start by handing you a pay check.

Sign up for a free blog and get to work. If you build it, they will come.


rdw71: Keith, coach and players look relaxed in interviews this week. Are they happy to finally be the hunter instead of the hunted? Is any of it relief to finally know the status of the Five? Has Kelly been secretly prepping them psychologically for this game all season?

After watching Brian Kelly these five seasons, he’s not a “big game” coach, he’s a process-driven coach. Every week counts the same and you win by the work you put in Monday to Friday, not for getting up on Saturday.

All that being said, I hope they go in feeling like the hunter. Playing loose is the best way to win this game.


bowser75: First time this year ND plays on natural grass (Titway Bermuda), how do you think this will effect the Irish? Are we going to see the backs, receivers, and db’s for ND slipping and sliding all night?

I think the turf in Doak Campbell is in a little bit better shape that the sod was in Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish practiced on grass practice fields this week, but this shouldn’t be an issue.


irishnole: Grew up 30 minutes from South Bend and have been an Irish fan my entire life, BUT I have a degree from FSU. What would you suggest I do to not give myself a heart attack on Saturday?

DVR the game and go golfing. Turn off your phone. Then watch it alone on your own accord. Or just cheer for Notre Dame.


irishdog80: Redfield was flying around and made some touchdown saving tackles against North Carolina. Is he starting to really get it and will fully realize his 5 Star status?

I think so. He’s a sophomore playing his eighth college football game (and one of those he was ejected in the first 30 minutes). There’s no doubt he’s talented. And this is a big stage for an elite athlete to show that he can dominate against FSU’s athlete’s, too.

Not many players are plug-and-play guys, especially at a program with a deep roster like Notre Dame’s. Redfield is right on time. He’ll be a good one by the time he’s done.


prodigolson: What is the best/most influential/favorite book you have ever read? Interpret the question however you want and perhaps a list would be sufficient if there isn’t a clear cut answer. Thank again for your work and Go Irish!

Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods. Spent months (maybe years) thinking about that one. And then I’d probably throw in The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald wrote that when he was 25, I think. That’s just crazy.


Pregame Six Pack: Showdown with the Seminoles

Rice v Notre Dame

It wasn’t too long ago that an undefeated Notre Dame team was about to head into some of the most hostile territory in all of college football. A double-digit underdog for a primetime, ESPN game, many expected Brian Kelly’s flawed, but surprisingly undefeated squad to be no match for their opponent. Then the Irish pulled away in a tight game and beat Oklahoma 30-13.

Oklahoma wasn’t Florida State. But then again, this is a rivalry that saw Ty Willingham walk into Doak Campbell Stadium and shake down the thunder against Bobby Bowden.

Two drastically different data points are only issued to point out the fact that we really have no idea what will happen on Saturday evening, when both the Seminoles and the Irish face their stiffest test to date. The winner will likely take the inside track to one of four spots in the College Football Playoff. The loser will be forced to regroup and win a resume contest down the line.

But after a week of constant conversation — some of it even focusing on the battle on the field — one thing is sure: It’s time to play the football game.

Let’s get to the Pregame Six Pack. As usual, here are six fun facts, tidbits, leftovers or miscellaneous musings to get you ready for the game of the year between Notre Dame and Florida State.


Everett Golson wasn’t exactly Broadway Joe, but his declaration (and realization) should have Irish fans feeling better about Saturday night. 

Nobody has wanted to see Everett Golson morph into a turnover machine these past few weeks. But if you’re looking for a blueprint on how to handle adversity (note to Jameis Winston, this is the type of adversity we enjoy writing about), Golson has been nearly perfect in the week since his sloppy game against North Carolina nearly helped the Tar Heels pull the upset.

It started Saturday evening, when after the Irish’s 50-43 victory, Golson spoke candidly to the assembled media.

“I think I said it earlier, but I come in here kind of every week for the last couple of weeks saying I have to do a better job,” Golson said. “Right now, it’s time for me to stop saying that and time for me to put my words into action and actually do that.”

According to head coach Brian Kelly, Golson took that focus to the practice field, where he was sharp all week as the undoubted leader of the Irish offense. It also helped that the coaching staff found new drills to help focus the attention of their quarterback on ball security, with Matt LaFleur bringing in a specialized football that helped Golson work on pressure-point, ball carrying technique.

On Wednesday afternoon, Golson was asked repeatedly about his recent rash of turnovers, and how they’ll likely be the determining factor in Saturday night’s football game. It forced the quarterback to make a proclamation that isn’t necessarily bulletin-board material, but a strong statement nonetheless.

“It’s to a point where you get just kind of fed up. I think that’s where I am,” Golson said. “And I’m definitely not going to turn it over.”

Don’t expect Notre Dame’s quarterback to all of a sudden show up in Tallahassee in a white fur coat like Namath. But the fact that Golson has had to endure multiple weeks of questions has clearly gotten to the Irish’s premiere playmaker.

“Everett’s at the point where he’s tired of being the center of the question,” Kelly said Thursday. “He’s tired of answering the question about turnovers.”

But if there’s another development this week that should have Irish fans happy, it’s that Golson also took some time to look inward. While there are things he can do to combat turnovers (and they’ll be necessary to beat Florida State), Golson also had to get his mojo back.

As we talked about here, Golson wasn’t playing like the quarterback we’ve seen against North Carolina. The natural instincts he’s displayed taking over football games were replaced by a football player trying to do the right thing or make the correct read.

On Saturday night, Golson’s going to have to be the artist who just understands the game, not a college kid trying to play the position assignment correct.

“I have to remain who I am. That’s what has gotten me to this point,” Golson said. “I don’t want to try to be somebody I’m not. It’s a fine line.”


It’s important every week. But Saturday night’s battle in the trenches will be critical. 

Both head coaches had nothing but good things to say about their opponent’s offensive line. Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher was relatively succinct.

“Big offensive line. Very good up front,” Fisher said.

Kelly went into a bit more detail, remembering a young group that has grown up since the Champs Sports Bowl.

“One of the best offensive lines I’ve seen in some time,” Kelly said. “I remember going against them three years ago, it was a freshman laden, young offensive line, extremely talented.  Now it’s a veteran group.  So I think that that’s probably what really stands out to me.”

With the pleasantries out of the way, Notre Dame needs to win both sides of this matchup to take down the Seminoles on Saturday. And one big matchup to watch is the one over center, where Jarron Jones will lineup against Ryan Hoefeld.

Hoefeld was shaky after replacing starter Austin Barron, entering the game against Wake Forest and making a few bad shotgun snaps and drawing a holding penalty. Matched up against Jones, the Irish have a chance to collapse the pocket and win at the point of attack, forcing a relatively weak Florida State running game to be non-existent.

Hoefeld played better against Syracuse, but Jones has shown flashes of great play this season when it was demanded. Consider this one of those times.

Flipping to the other side of the ball, Notre Dame is going to have to be able to establish the line of scrimmage and a corresponding ground game. While much has been made about the lack of pass rushers on the Irish roster, the Seminoles have just eight sacks in their six games, good for 107th in the country.

We’ve seen Notre Dame’s ground game get better in recent weeks. And while Desmond Howard spent Friday morning on SportsCenter saying that the Irish couldn’t run the ball, his colleagues at ESPN, Lou Holtz and Danny Kanell disagreed.

““I think Notre Dame can run the ball and protect the passer. I’m not sure Florida State can,” Holtz said, not all that surprisingly.

“I would agree in the trenches, Notre Dame has an advantage,” Kanell said. “Florida State has struggled mightily running the football, and that is one area where Notre Dame can absolutely go toe to toe with Florida State.”


As the college football world evolves, both Notre Dame and Florida State are on the cutting edge of technology. 

Athletic director Jack Swarbrick has done a lot of things for Notre Dame. He’s currently in the middle of making sure that the Irish get ahead in the world of sports performance.

While a lot of this week has focused on the differences between these two programs, both Florida State and Notre Dame have made a commitment to utilizing their resources — and technology — to bettering their teams. For Florida State, an Australian-based Catapult system was credited as the X-Factor in their BCS title run.

Now Notre Dame is experimenting with that same system, and it’s already paid dividends this season. The Chicago Tribune‘s Chris Hine explains.

After a promising summer camp, Brown’s first three games yielded disappointing results: only four receptions for 35 yards. He was healthy. He just wasn’t producing at the level he and the coaches expected.

“We were kind of like, what’s happened here?” coach Brian Kelly told the Tribune.

Kelly turned to data from a product the Irish are trying out — a GPS-oriented device called the OptimEye. In that data, Kelly solved the mystery: Brown was tense, and his technique was slacking.

Kelly has outfitted Notre Dame’s receivers this season with the cellphone-sized device, which they wear on their backs during games and practices. The device mixes dozens of data points — such as speed, distance, acceleration, torque, impact of getting hit, movement of body parts — in an algorithm to calculate a “player load,” which essentially measures how much a player is working.

Brown’s player load was consistently half that of the other receivers. That number led Kelly to the film, where he found the solution.

“It wasn’t a matter of him not working,” Kelly said. “He was dragging his feet. He was really tight and he wasn’t fluid like the other guys.”

Since the discovery, Brown has 12 catches for 147 yards, including a key touchdown against Stanford.

During a preseason media session with strength and conditioning coordinator Paul Longo, I asked him about the use of systems like Catapult. He said that he and Kelly had kicked the tires on it, but hadn’t committed to it yet, though acknowledged other programs at Notre Dame were utilizing the system. That’s obviously changed, or the veteran strength coach was being coy, no sin for a program looking for every opportunity to get ahead.

So as the Irish build their baseline results this season with their new system, a funny thing happened along the way. They’ve leaned on Florida State, who actually has helped the Irish staff understand the data.


“We cheated. We called Florida State,” Kelly told Hine. “We didn’t know what the numbers meant and they did.”



Last year, Florida State’s defense was statistically dominant. This year’s unit is still finding its way.  

In preseason camp, a look at the Seminoles roster had you wondering if Jimbo Fisher had built a dream team. But on the defensive side of the ball, Florida State has not lived up to the precedent set by the national champs.

Through six games, the Seminoles are still learning on the job. While injuries and attrition have forced a minor rebuild, the numbers have reflected a unit that has taken a fairly large step backwards. broke down the numbers through six games, comparing last year’s defense to the one Notre Dame will face. Let’s take a look:

FSU D: 2013 vs. 2014
Points per game: 
12.3 to 20.7
Yards per game: 285 to 359
Rush yards per game: 127 to 145
Pass yards per game: 158 to 214
Sacks: 14 to 8
Third down defense: 30.1% to 44.2%

Across the board, the numbers have dropped, some quite significantly. So while the Seminoles’ personnel still reads like a All-Star team, there are opportunities to be had against first-year defensive coordinator Charles Kelly’s unit.


Another Saturday, another game where red zone play is critical. 

After a perfect day in the red zone helped the Irish offense escape North Carolina, Saturday night’s battle inside the 20s will likely dictate who exits the game 7-0.

The Seminoles are the No. 2 team in the country when it comes to scoring in the red zone. They’re cashed in 28 of 29 opportunities, a perfect marriage between a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and Robert Aguayo, a Lou Groza-winning kicker.

The Irish have been no slouches in the red zone, scoring on 89 precent of their opportunities. And the Irish have actually turned more of their chances into six points, scoring one more touchdown in one less scoring attempt.


But the Irish offense is up against a Seminoles defense that’s played very good in the red zone. Florida State ranks No. 10 in the country, giving up scores on just 68 percent of opportunities. They’ve limited touchdowns well, ranked No. 11 in limiting opponents to less than six points. That’s the biggest statistical gulf in this breakdown, with the Irish ranked No. 63 in the country stopping red zone touchdowns.

While Bob Diaco’s defenses thrived in the red zone, Brian VanGorder’s young unit has yet to show that resiliency. But against a Seminoles team that does exceptionally well in the scoring areas, the Irish will need to find a way to win that battle.



There isn’t much good to say about Jameis Winston — and Florida State’s treatment of his situation — off the field. But the defending Heisman Trophy winner might be college football’s best player, and he presents a challenge like few others Saturday night. 

I’ll let others make the Good vs. Evil parallels. And while from afar it looks as if the Seminoles athletic department needs to clean house and reexamine how it views football, that’s a story that’s been talked about enough this week, leaving the problematic matchup with Jameis Winston on the field woefully under-discussed.

A year after putting together one of the historically great seasons the sport has ever seen, Grantland’s Matt Hinton probably summed it up best:

As long as he is on the field, though, Winston remains arguably the most indispensable player in the nation. With him, Florida State is a substantial favorite to win every game it plays and repeat as national champion. Without him, Florida State is just another Top 25 team trying to keep its head above water with a three-star quarterback, a mediocre running game, and a suddenly vulnerable defense. Either way, the remainder of the 2014 season will be shaped more indelibly by Winston’s game than by anyone else’s, whether due to his presence or his absence.

For the Irish to win on Saturday, they’ll have to do something that nobody has managed to yet: Beat Jameis Winston.

At 19-0 as a starting quarterback, another win Saturday would make him the first FBS quarterback since 2000 to start his career 20-0.

So for all the headlines about autographs, crab legs, BB guns, and things far more detestable, this is the best quarterback Kelly and the Irish have faced since Andrew Luck and an offense that’s far more explosive and dangerous than any other.

“They’re not going to let you just line up and blitz him and have at him,” Kelly said, when asked about Jimbo Fisher and what the Seminoles do that makes the so difficult to defend. “They know how to protect their offense. They’ve got two guys on the perimeter that can flat out fly… You have to be smart and you have to pick your spots.”

That means another difficult task for Brian VanGorder and his young Irish defense. And while the general sentiment of sending the house early and often has been a popular water-cooler defensive strategy, Kelly knows it’ll take much more than that.

“We know what we’re facing. Brian knows we can’t walk in there and say, hey, we’re going to blitz them. We’ve got 87 different blitzes,” Kelly said. “We’ll get crushed if that’s what we do. We’ve got to mix it up. We’ve got to be smart. We’ve got to be really, really good against the run, especially on first down. If we do a good job there, keep them off balance, we have to score on offense and play really good special teams, we can win the game.”