While off-the-field issues have stolen plenty of headlines lately for both programs, Notre Dame and Florida State meet in a battle of Top Five teams that has the makings of a game of the year candidate.
For the Irish, stopping Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston is key. For the Seminoles, finding a way to keep Everett Golson and the Irish offense in check will be no easier.
On Tuesday, Brian Kelly talked about the challenge ahead — and the progress made — as his team prepares to head to Tallahassee and take on the defending national champions.
“That’s how you’re measured as a program when you’re talking Top Five teams,” Kelly said. “Those are the games that you want to win, certainly. But I think before I got here I don’t know that we had a top 25 win so we’re moving up the ladder and certainly want to get to that point where we’re talking about beating Top 5 teams.”
Here are a few other personnel notes of interest:
At the safety position, Notre Dame is preparing freshman Drue Tranquill as the third safety in and Matthias Farley will be an emergency fourth option, while also playing his primary role as nickel back.
Behind starters Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate, it’s key that the safety position stays healthy moving forward, especially after losing Austin Collinsworth, whose MRI is taking place Tuesday afternoon, Nicky Baratti, and suspended safety Eilar Hardy.
“Those would be the four safeties,” Kelly confirmed. “We don’t have anybody else at this point.”
Kelly called Florida State’s offensive line one of the finest units in college football. That presents a significant challenge for the young defensive line of the Irish, coming off a week where they were unable to sack Marquise Williams. But Kelly was asked about sophomore Isaac Rochell, who made two consecutive tackles-for-loss and has stepped capably into a starting spot with Ishaq Williams held out this season.
Rochell has been excellent as a strongside defensive end, and also has the ability to shift inside to defensive tackle if needed.
“We love where he is because of what he can do and holding the point in our defense,” Kelly said of Rochell. “He can move inside as a pass‑rusher on third down, and that’s what he’s really doing. I think he can do both for us.. I think on first and second down he can be an outstanding defender for us on the edge of our defense. And I think on third down he can move inside and be a guy that can really push the depth of the pocket for us.”
Notre Dame hasn’t faced Florida State since the Champs Sports Bowl at the end of the 2011 season, when the Irish gave up 15 fourth-quarter points to lose 18-14. So while nobody playing on Saturday had any experience playing in that game, cornerback Cody Riggs has faced the Seminoles each of the past four seasons.
Kelly joked about an interaction he had with his veteran cornerback earlier this morning.
“I saw him coming in this morning and it was dark out and I didn’t know who it was when we were coming in,” Kelly said. “And when I got to the door I saw it was Cody. I said, ‘Cody we’re playing Florida State. Those guys are big, and they’re strong, and really fast. Are you scared?’
“He goes, ‘Coach, I’ve played them the last four years, so I’m not really scared.’ So he said he wasn’t scared. I think he’s all right.”