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

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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 BlueandGold.com’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.