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Things We Learned: Notre Dame is ready for this November and all that comes with it

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EVANSTON, Ill. — For a half, Northwestern looked like the toughest defense No. 4 Notre Dame (9-0) had faced with junior Ian Book starting at quarterback. While the Wildcats were not ranked and Ryan Field was anything but intimidating in any way, this was still November. Bad things happen to the Irish in November.

“We have to stay humble,” junior receiver Chase Claypool said after making eight catches for 130 yards. “Last year around this time, the rankings came out and then Miami happened.”

That three-syllable, five-character word has hung above Notre Dame all season, and that will still be the case for at least another two weeks. But the 31-21 victory at Northwestern (5-4) was a loud counterargument. These Irish know what happens to most teams in November, and that awareness, that familiarity keeps everyone on their toes.

Notre Dame is a long way from where it wants to be. That trip to Yankee Stadium looks more and more dubious with each Syracuse victory. But for now, the Irish know what matters — now Florida State — and what doesn’t, those rankings.

“It’s hard to win in November,” junior quarterback Ian Book said. “We’re in such a good situation and we know that. I think this team does such a good job of focusing one week at a time. Everyone is excited, but everyone is just ready for Florida State.”

The fact that Book had hardly changed out of his uniform and was already mentioning the Seminoles may make this “one week at a time” mentality seem suspect, but he did not mention then reaching 11-0 or 12-0. He said only Florida State. Per Irish head coach Brian Kelly, the next step on the team’s march toward reaching all goals is to finish the home schedule without a loss. That has clearly been on the radar for a bit.

Starting November well has been, too. The offseason was spent readying for this physical and mental burden. When a botched handoff gifted the Wildcats possession on the game’s fourth snap, the defense did not panic. The quick change led to a missed field goal and things proceeded as always wanted, even if sluggishly for a half.

“The average team or teams in years past, they feel that pressure building every single week,” junior cornerback Julian Love said. “Which it does, but we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. That has led us to be 9-0.

“We’ve realized that, and we’ve been coached through that. It’s a bunch of seniors, a bunch of vets that are really leading us in that confidence and not the pressure.”

It is trite to say Notre Dame is confident, not cocky, but it just may be the case. Book led an even-keeled team to the shores of Lake Michigan not inherently expecting to rout the Wildcats, but to beat them. This was the best defense he has faced and expecting another 40-point showing would have been ambitious, but expecting a couple touchdowns in due time was reasonable. There was a reason Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long kept the game-sealing play call in their back pocket until it was needed — they expected it to be needed.

Notre Dame senior linebacker Te’von Coney finished with 10 tackles, including two of Northwestern senior quarterback Clayton Thorson behind the line of scrimmage. (AP Photo/Jim Young)

Senior linebacker Te’von Coney and the Irish defense knew they were facing a four-year starter at quarterback. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea game planned to give Clayton Thorson options, but only options Lea deemed unlikely to succeed. Shutting the Wildcats down was not the intention, limiting them was.

That is confidence, not cockines. That is doing what you’ve been doing. That is how a very good team, but not an utterly great one, reaches 12-0.

How does a very good team become an utterly great one? It starts with quarterback development.

Book’s halftime stats were less than pedestrian: 7-of-15 for 107 yards, including 1-of-4 for nine yards in the second quarter. This was not the quarterback who had sparked Notre Dame the last five weeks.

Then came his second half: 15-of-19 for 236 yards and two touchdowns. That would be a strong performance if across an entire game.

What happened? Book has enough experience under his belt now to sit down at halftime and have a genuine conversation with Long and quarterbacks coach Tom Rees. At the end of it, Book knew what they wanted to do to counteract the Wildcats’ defense. And he did it.

This was not within Book’s abilities earlier this year.

“Probably would have taken a film study for him to make those adjustments and then it would probably go into action the following week,” Kelly said. “(Now) he can make [the adjustments] at halftime. You can sit down, go over them, draw them up. He can see them clearly, and then access those immediately in the third quarter.”

Kelly described a process that begins briefly with Long before it is handed over to Rees.

“Then Tommy really sits down with [Book] and says, this is where we’re going with the football because of this. They work well together.”

And a third voice chimes in. Senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush is naturally next to Book during these sessions, and considering Wimbush has 15 career starts to his name and three years of studying film with Book, it makes sense he may have an observation, interpretation or callback that fits a situation.

At halftime Saturday night, Northwestern was clearly the best defense Book had faced. His stats looked, well, Wimbush-ian. After the break, Book was back to being Book again.

Michael Young’s 47-yard touchdown reception was a piece of Notre Dame’s second-half breakout in a 31-21 victory at Northwestern on Saturday. (Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune via AP)

What is the next step? Implementing such changes on the sideline while the defense forces a three-and-out. That may not come until next year, but this current trend indicates such development is on its way.

As for the reason the Irish did not blow out the Wildcats once Book was rolling … is it something learned if it was already known? These special teams are suspect.

It does not, but it needs to be reiterated.

The blocked punt obviously led to a touchdown to cut the Notre Dame lead to 24-21. The previous Northwestern score? Aided by an illegal formation penalty on the Irish kickoff, giving a five-yard boost in immediate field position.

When sophomore kicker Jonathan Doerer sent a kickoff out of bounds in the third quarter, it did not cost Notre Dame anything but field position, but it continues a struggle that has contributed to two kickoff return touchdowns allowed.

Not all the special teams issues came when getting rid of the ball. There was also a hold from junior Jonathan Jones on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter, forcing the Irish to start the drive from the 11-yard line. If Book had not finished that drive with his 23-yard touchdown run, Jones’ penalty could loom much, much larger.

These mistakes are how a very good team becomes known as a flawed team.

“Attention to detail was not what it needed to be,” Kelly said.

That attention to detail comes with focus. One might expect a junior safety involved in two seasons with Playoff aspirations would know not to leave his block early on a punt. One might expect a kicker to fulfill his one duty. One might expect these basics to not add stress.

For the most part, those expectations were met Saturday. There was enough focus. Thank last year’s lack thereof.

“Last year we were in the same situation,” Coney said. “We were in the same situation where we had a chance to complete the mission. We didn’t do a good job of staying focused. We looked too ahead and it cost us.

“This year we have to stay in the moment. That’s the key. Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low.”

Questions for the Week (Some Answered): Can Notre Dame count on Book’s health?

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No. 3 Notre Dame (10-0) continues to anticipate junior Ian Book will start at quarterback against Syracuse at Yankee Stadium (2:30 ET; NBC). News could not get much better than that for the Irish as they ready to face the nation’s No. 7 scoring offense at 44.4 points per game. A shootout could be on the way, but more on that in a bit.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly doubled down Tuesday on what he said Sunday: Doctors cleared Book for practice shortly after the weekend’s 42-13 victory against Florida State.

“He felt good (yesterday),” Kelly said. “He went through all of the workouts, threw the ball, was in the weight room and will practice today. …

“We’re pretty clear that he’s ready to play.”

That should mean the end of senior Brandon Wimbush’s starting role, again. A performance like Wimbush’s first half against the Seminoles — 10-of-19 for 111 yards and three touchdowns — could suffice against the Orange, but his second half of 2-for-6 for 19 yards with two interceptions would almost certainly lead to an end to Notre Dame’s unbeaten run.

As Kelly praised Wimbush and his ability to step in after a tumultuous seven weeks, he also acknowledged the importance for Wimbush to remain engaged. The senior is still just a play away from being needed once again. To some degree, Kelly expects that.

“Everything he’s done leading up to last week was indicative of who he is,” Kelly said. “I don’t know that anybody should really be surprised, because he has been really consistent in who he is, in everything that he does both on and off the field. I think that becomes another chapter.

“I just think there’s more to write here. I don’t think it ends with last week. I think there’s more exciting things coming from Brandon.”

It should be acknowledged, Kelly is more open with injuries than most college football coaches, but he is also routinely overly-optimistic in public settings about recoveries from injuries. That said, there is a difference when Kelly specifically cites doctors’ clearances. That implies Book really is set to play.

At that point, the most-pressing injury for the Irish to worry about is senior right guard Trevor Ruhland’s elbow. Kelly described it as a “strain” on Sunday.

“We wanted to be very careful with him because he’s a guy that fills in a couple of positions,” Kelly said. “… So we were very conservative with him. Our doctors feel really good that we can get him back into the rotation.”

Without Ruhland, Notre Dame ran wild. The alignment of Liam Eichenberg — Aaron Banks — Sam Mustipher — Tommy Kraemer — Robert Hainsey was the fifth different starting line seen this year, though this and one other were spot appearances due to short-term injury.

“As a unit, five guys working together, our best game,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That has to do certainly with those guys feeling so much more comfortable with their calls. … We saw a really marked improvement in just the combination blocking from Northwestern to Florida State. We’re making progress there. We like the way we’re moving as a group, as five guys working together. As they play together and get more comfortable, we’re seeing the returns.”

No matter the reason the line showed up like that, it worked. The Irish gained 365 yards on 50 rushes. It was a showing straight out of 2017. Against Syracuse, that could prove particularly effective once again. Advanced numbers rate the Orange the No. 76 defense in the country against the rush, compared to No. 63 against the pass.

Might sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa return to action after breaking his foot in the season opener against Michigan?

No. Kelly said Kelly Tagovailoa-Amosa will not return to conditioning until next week and will not be available to play until the postseason. Tagovailoa-Amosa can play in up to three more games without losing a season. In other words, he could play against Syracuse, at USC and one bowl game or at USC and in two bowl games, should Notre Dame make such necessary. If going by the timetable Kelly laid out Tuesday, Tagovialoa-Amosa will clearly preserve the year.

But back to this shootout concept. Just how high-scoring could this game be? Obviously it will exceed the scores the venue is used to seeing.
The combined point total over/under opened at 66.5 early Monday afternoon and has already fallen and fallen and fallen to 62. Why? There are three ready possibilities:

1) Sometimes bookmakers get it wrong.
2) The Irish defense has earned that much respect.
3) Someone somewhere has reason to believe Kelly is overstating Book’s chances of playing.

Whatever the cause, the current over/under combined with the 9-point spread in Notre Dame’s favor (down from opening at 10) would make for a 36-27 Irish victory.

Speaking of lines, how is Western Michigan favored by only 7.5 at Ball State? The Cardinals have lost their last three by an average of 46.3 – 15.7. They are 3-7, ruling out any chances of a bowl game. The Broncos, meanwhile, are 6-4 with reason left to care this season. Western Michigan (6 ET; ESPN 2; tonight, Tuesday) should do more than win 32-24.

Oh, and what time will Notre Dame be at USC next weekend? Unsurprisingly …

Leftovers & Links: Notre Dame’s Senior Night special for all, but especially two linebacker captains

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Drue Tranquill’s wife and parents did not make his ankle run out to midfield during Saturday’s pregame Senior Day festivities. The two-time Notre Dame captain had a full slate of duties awaiting in the 42-13 Irish victory against Florida State, so sparing the 40 yards made sense.

They were not as considerate after the game, keeping Tranquill at midfield taking photos and exchanging hugs as the clock passed midnight, freezing temperatures ignored. By that point, only two players remained on the turf, fifth-year captain and punter Tyler Newsome holding back tears, hugging anyone he could find, including ushers; and Tranquill, surrounded by family and friends. As much as they were celebrating a 6-0 home record this season, they were recognizing a full five-year career.

“Special, special moment to look up at my family, give them a fist bump,” Tranquill said immediately after the game, yet to head back outside for those midfield encounters. “For a moment there, realize what we have accomplished. It just felt like so much more yet to be done and it really felt like standing on that field, there was a bigger celebration awaiting us in the future.”

Tranquill finished with seven tackles against the Seminoles, playing nearly every defensive snap in a return to form after just one week of limited action thanks to a high ankle sprain. A few times a Florida State player would fall on the taped joint, a natural occurrence in a football game, and Tranquill admitted it hurt plenty, but not such he needed to miss much.

Frankly, this injury would not warrant mention if not for its recency. When discussing Tranquill’s legacy — perhaps an overwrought word but something in that vein is applicable to an in-state product who becomes a two-time captain on back-to-back double-digit-wins seasons — the injuries are as intertwined with the story as his stats are. His 265 tackles are matched by two ACL tears. His hand in seven turnovers is now a hand wrapped in a cast. And, of course, that ankle which only a view through the rosiest of lens would indicate is close to healthy already.

“It’s crazy what the human body can do,” Tranquill said. “… To be able to go through the knees and come back, even more so to have a high ankle sprain two weeks ago and to be able to play on my Senior Night was really special.”

Tranquill was the last of the 32 seniors announced before kickoff. His shorter jog to family did not set a precedent for anyone else. That may be the only way he has not been followed this season. The defensive line may be the strongest unit on the team, the safeties may be the most improved, and senior linebacker Te’von Coney the most consistent, but Tranquill is clearly the leader.

His willingness to move from safety to rover and now to inside linebacker plays a role in that. When Tranquill flipped his commitment from Purdue, getting a chance at safety was a contributing factor. Yet, when the time came to move forward, he did not push back against the coaching staff.

“It was all what the team needed,” Tranquill said. “The team needed me at safety at that time. As we’ve evolved and recruited guys who can play back there, it’s allowed me to move into more my natural position.”

And at the end of the night, that position was a few words with Newsome before finally reaching the 50-yard line and his family, just as Newsome and the 30 other seniors had done before the game.

CAPTAIN CONEY
There was no genuine chance Coney would be named a captain before the season. Notre Dame rarely, if ever, bestows that honor upon a player with a notable disciplinary issue in his past. But as Coney established himself as a ball-carrier hunter over the last 17 games, his presence as a defensive leader could not be ignored. Making 161 tackles over 17 games will do that. He led the Irish with 116 tackles last season, leads them now with 87 and is on pace for 113 in a 13-game season.

And on Saturday, he led them as a captain in his final game at Notre Dame Stadium, alongside Tranquill, Newsome, fifth-year left guard Alex Bars and fifth-year center Sam Mustipher.

“He was proud of the opportunity that he was given as a game day captain,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “He took it serious. You could tell by the way he practiced all week. Not that he hasn’t practiced at that level, but it was very important to him.”

A QUICK 2019 NOTE
With Louisville’s second dismissal of Bobby Petrino, but not yet Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator, two of Notre Dame’s opponents next year are already looking for new head coaches, with the other being Bowling Green.

It is more than fair to speculate that number could grow to four with New Mexico and Bob Davie a possibility, and USC and Clay Helton on uncertain footing.

Somewhat-related, two former Irish assistants remain on hot seats: Chuck Martin at Miami (OH), a cause he did not aid by cracking wise last week about available funds within the MAC as a whole, and Mike Sanford at Western Kentucky, who reportedly will be fired if the Hilltoppers lose their last two games.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
No. 3 Notre Dame breezes past Florida State thanks to Wimbush’s 3 TD passes
Things We Learned: Notre Dame good enough with Wimbush, but not as good

OUTSIDE READING
No Book, no problem for Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s good soldier comes through
Dexter Williams flips the script in breakout senior season ($)
Louisville revenge is small potatoes for Syracuse; Notre Dame awaits

Things We Learned: No. 3 Notre Dame good enough with Wimbush, but not as good

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Two sets of lessons may have come out of No. 3 Notre Dame’s 42-13 dismantling of Florida State on Saturday. Such is the ambiguity innate to the uncertain health of starting quarterback Ian Book. After the game, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was vague about Book’s health moving forward as he recovers from a ribs injury, but Kelly was adamant a healthy Book would return to the starting lineup.

By Sunday afternoon, Kelly “expected” Book to practice Tuesday and play next week against No. 12 Syracuse (8-2) at Yankee Stadium.

“There were stages of evaluation that he’s been going through,” Kelly said. “This was just another step in that evaluation process that needed to be clicked off through our team doctors, for him to move through the protocol that has been established for him to be cleared to play.”

Notre Dame would prefer Book be healthy and starting, but the unbeaten Irish can keep that no-loss distinction with senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush at the helm.

Some of that is simply due to the luxury of having a proven and known commodity at backup quarterback. When Wimbush comes in, Notre Dame knows what it is getting, knows the substitute will not panic under pressure, knows the offense can produce behind him, even if not necessarily consistently.

“Brandon’s a baller,” to use senior receiver Miles Boykin’s words. “He’s going to go out there and win every game he plays.”

Compare that to the response a year ago when the roles were flipped and Book had to spot start for an injured Wimbush.

“It was different when Ian stepped in just because we didn’t really know at that point,” Boykin said. “We were just, okay, Ian is stepping in.”

When Wimbush is in a rhythm, he is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. That is not hyperbolic, just selective. He began the day 10-of-16 for 111 yards and three touchdowns. Stat lines do not come much better than that, especially not when adding seven rushes for 43 yards.

“We’re trying to attack a defense, but we’re also trying to be smart and utilize the strengths of a quarterback we feel can accurately do the things we want him to do,” Kelly said Saturday. “The game plan was solid. We wanted to get off to a great start. We did.”

Yet, Wimbush remains Wimbush, warts and all.

After that great start, Wimbush’s productivity halted. He went 2-of-9 for 19 yards after that, finishing 12-of-25 with two interceptions and 130 yards. Both turnovers were avoidable, something even Wimbush admitted.

“I made a bad read on the first ball, and I was kind of late on the second ball,” he said. “That’s what got me those two picks. I don’t think [Florida State] made any adjustments. I don’t think I came out with the same fire in the second half.”

A skeptic would note Wimbush’s first success came as a result of one of his flaws. With the Irish at the 3-yard line after a Nick Coleman interception, offensive coordinator Chip Long called for a fade route on each side of the field, leaving the decision of whom to target to Wimbush. On one side, junior receiver Chase Claypool; on the other, Boykin against a safety.

“I’m not going to say [Seminoles sophomore Hamsah Nasirildeen] had no chance, but I’m taking Miles in that matchup, for sure,” Wimbush said.

Boykin knew as much.

“I knew he was coming to me just because he was staring at me,” Boykin said. “He threw a great ball in the back of the end zone.”

The well-placed throw made the staredown acceptable in this instance, but the result does not usually cover for that process.

Wimbush still struggled with reading coverages, making the right decisions and remaining accurate through four quarters. His moments of excellence are strong enough to win any game, but Wimbush’s mistakes greatly reduce the margin of error otherwise provided by Book.

That margin of error was a bit greater against Florida State, nonetheless, because of the running game, a luxury Wimbush did not have at his disposal in September. Senior running back Dexter Williams gets the headlines because of his 20-carry, 202-yard, two-touchdown showing. Deservedly so.

But to some extent, Williams playing that well is nearly expected. Maybe not that well, but when he has had room to operate this season, Williams has decisively made the most of it. Yet, in two of the last three games he has not had that room. Williams took 13 carries for 31 yards against Pittsburgh and 19 for 56 yards last week at Northwestern. Notre Dame as a whole did not fare much better, rushing for 80 yards on 38 attempts and 121 yards on 40 attempts, respectively. That will not get the job done.

Something changed against the Seminoles. Perhaps it was the re-insertion of junior Tommy Kraemer at right guard due to an elbow strain affecting senior Trevor Ruhland. That made for the fifth offensive line grouping seen this season. To refresh your memory:

Michigan through Stanford: Liam Eichenberg — Alex Bars — Sam Mustipher — Tommy Kraemer — Robert Hainsey.
With the exception of Wake Forest: Eichenberg — Bars — Mustipher — Ruhland — Hainsey.
Bars’ injury through Pittsburgh: Eichenberg — Ruhland — Mustipher — Kraemer — Hainsey.
Navy and Northwestern: Eichenberg — Aaron Banks — Mustipher — Ruhland — Hainsey.
Florida State: Eichenberg — Banks — Mustipher — Kraemer — Hainsey.

This is more churn than desirable, but for one day, the rushing output resembled last season’s.

“It was an overall unit victory in a sense that all of them played well together,” Kelly said Sunday. “We’ve been waiting for that kind of consistency as a group, and that includes tight ends. They were much more effective and efficient.”

There were no ups-and-downs with the offensive line Saturday. Florida State did not manage a single tackle for loss.

That running game, combined with an opportunistic defense, made up for Wimbush’s second-half ineffectiveness, and his opening work was impressive enough the Irish could afford to coast through the second half to 10-0.

If Book returns in a week, that running game should make Notre Dame’s offense more high-powered than it has been since perhaps 2015. If not, the Irish may be just alright, anyway.

No. 3 Notre Dame breezes past Florida State thanks to Wimbush’s 3 TD passes

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brandon Wimbush’s first pass in his return as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback was a well-placed fade for a 3-yard Miles Boykin touchdown. Senior-to-senior on Senior Day, errr, Senior Night — a celebration that began before the game with the crowd only cheering Wimbush’s introduction and extending throughout a 42-13 victory against Florida State.

Wimbush spent the last seven weeks and six games as the good teammate, relegated to a ballcap and supportive words. All he had done was not play well enough in leading the now-No. 3 Irish to a 3-0 record and top-10 standing. With junior Ian Book sidelined by a ribs injury, though, there was Wimbush back as the starter. And that opening touchdown let hardly any time go by before he had reasserted himself as capable of leading Notre Dame (10-0) to a needed win.

“He wants to win for his teammates, he wants to win for Notre Dame,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said afterward. “He’s a great teammate. He’s been that way all year, whether he’s in a starting role or backup role.”

No matter how the night as a whole went, Wimbush was going to be the focus. Either Notre Dame would remain in Playoff contention thanks to him or it would not because of him. With multiple assists from the Irish defense, Wimbush made sure the Playoffs remain a viable possibility, beginning to border on likelihood.

A Nick Coleman interception off a Te’von Coney deflection put Notre Dame at the 3-yard line only two plays into the game. To stick with a theme of the night, both seniors.

The Seminoles then put together a three-and-out without turning over the ball before fumbling on the first snap of their third drive, forced by junior end Ade Ogundeji and recovered by junior end Daelin Hayes.

“[Kelly] really wanted us to come out and dominate at home,” Hayes said. “A last statement win as we protect our house for the seniors.”

That field position resulted in a 26-yard field goal from Justin Yoon, yet another senior, and a 17-0 Irish lead in the first quarter. Wimbush already had two touchdowns — and at that point had completed 6-of-11 passes for 50 yards. The rout was clearly on.

“It was one of the best first halves that I think the team has had, so it felt natural,” Wimbush said. “Everything was coming. We had a great game plan and we got off to a great start, which was an emphasis throughout the week.”

Wimbush finished with an up-and-down stat line. He began the day an efficient 10-of-16 for 111 yards through about 27 minutes. He then went 2-of-9 for 19 yards with two interceptions the rest of the way, finishing 12-of-25 for 130 yards, three touchdowns and two picks, adding 11 carries for 62 yards.

Oh, and a win. Temperatures in the mid-20s? No matter. Green jerseys? Cool. Senior Night emotions? Channeled as a good thing. Backup quarterback? Hardly a concern.

“We knew Brandon was going to play (earlier in the week), and nobody was worried, honestly,” Boykin said. “I think a lot of people outside this football team were kind of worried.

“We look back at the games that this guy has won for us, the things that he has done for us, he’s tough. If Book’s not playing, there is no other person I’d rather have.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME
If the end zone were farther away, Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams would have finished with many more than his career-high 202 yards on just 20 carries. His 58- and 32-yard touchdown runs both featured him in the clear long before he reached the goal line. And just like most of the names already mentioned, this marked Williams’ last appearance at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I think we’re seeing the effects of a back that is coming into his own and getting an opportunity now later in his career, certainly, but seeing things, learning things, and tapping into his potential,” Kelly said. “Notre Dame is the beneficiary, and he will be, too. It’s a win/win situation.”

The Seminoles never really threatened after those two turnovers set up a three-possession deficit, but a touchdown early in the third quarter brought the score to 32-13, soon 35-13 thanks to a 35-yarder from Yoon. Could Florida State give the Irish a scare? Offensive coordinator Chip Long answered that by dialing up a 12-play drive featuring nine Williams runs, two from sophomore Jafar Armstrong and one from Wimbush. The Seminoles could not stop the run, and Williams soon provided the final tally.

“Coach Long, once he sees something, he just rolls with it,” Boykin said. “We’re running the ball well? We’re going to run it.”

PLAY OF THE GAME
Wimbush’s second touchdown came on another route to the corner of the end zone, this time targeting tight end Alizé Mack … a senior. Mack clearly caught and controlled the 6-yard pass but where his left foot landed could be debated for a few days yet. The officials ruled on the field the foot stayed in bounds, and replay could not prove Mack’s heel touched white. The call stood, an excellent snag from a player often criticized for not being sure-handed. Technically speaking, it was the winning score.

Mack added another touchdown before halftime, finishing with three catches for 29 yards.

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
Even when something went right for the Seminoles — an 8-yard Cam Akers touchdown run — it resulted in something abject, a blocked point after attempt by defensive tackle Jerry Tillery returned for two points by junior cornerback Julian Love. Rather than a prototypical 17-7 score and the beginnings of a competitive game, Florida State trailed 19-6 and still had to kick off, which soon yielded Williams’ 58-yard scoring scamper.

By the way, Tillery, a senior.

“Jerry finally got one,” Hayes said, adding special teams coordinator Brian Polian has been encouraging the kick block team to keep pushing in recent weeks, insisting someone was close to altering a kick. He undoubtedly could not have expected the ball to bounce so fortuitously, though.

STAT OF THE GAME
Notre Dame rushed for 365 yards on 50 carries, a 7.3 yards per rush average. This may be hard to believe considering that output, but the Seminoles are actually stout against the run. Entering Saturday night, they gave up 111.1 rushing yards per game (No. 17 in the country) and 2.84 yards per carry (No. 6). Only 10 touchdowns had been scored against Florida State on the ground through nine games.

None of that mattered, even when the Seminoles knew what was coming, like on that 12-play, 97-yard Long drive. (Pun mostly intended.)

“I talked about how important it was to run the football in November when teams know that you’re going to run the football and exert your will, and I thought we were able to do that today,” Kelly said. “That had a lot to do with the final score.”

With junior Tommy Kraemer starting at right guard, the fourth alignment up front for the Irish this season, a power game emphasis returned. This was the first time Notre Dame broke 300 yards this season, previously topping 250 twice with 254 against Navy and 272 (plus 10 more if adjusting for sacks) against Stanford.

Last year the Irish cracked 300 times seven times, including twice topping 400 yards with the highlight being the 515 at Boston College. Saturday’s 365 yards would have been the fifth-highest rushing performance in 2017. Comparing to then is a request for disappointment. Seeing it in the context of this season shows the progress needed and achieved, for at least one night, to remain unbeaten.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
Kelly opened his postgame press conference by outlining Notre Dame’s goals for the year, one by one accomplished to this point.

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
13:45 — Notre Dame touchdown. Miles Boykin 3-yard pass from Brandon Wimbush. Justin Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Florida State 0. (2 plays, 3 yards, 0:34)
6:51 — Notre Dame touchdown. Alizé Mack 6-yard pass from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 14, Florida State 0. (14 plays, 81 yards, 5:03)
5:53 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon 26 yards. Notre Dame 17, Florida State 0. (4 plays, 6 yards, 0:46)

Second Quarter
13:17 — Florida State touchdown. Cam Akers 8-yard rush. Ricky Aguayo PAT blocked (Jerry Tillery). Notre Dame return, Julian Love. Notre Dame 19, Florida State 6. (16 plays, 75 yards, 7:36)
11:37 — Notre Dame touchdown. Dexter Williams 58-yard run. Yoon PAT blocked. Notre Dame 25, Florida State 6. (4 plays, 75 yards, 1:40)
6:18 — Notre Dame touchdown. Mack 15-yard pass from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 32, Florida State 6. (6 plays, 67 yards, 1:50)

Third Quarter
13:35 — Florida State touchdown. Cam Akers 7-yard rush. Aguayo PAT good. Notre Dame 32, Florida State 13. (4 plays, 30 yards, 0:45)
10:08 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon 35 yards. Notre Dame 35, Florida State 13. (8 plays, 57 yards, 3:27)

Fourth Quarter
13:10 — Notre Dame touchdown. Williams 32-yard run. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 42, Florida State 13. (12 plays, 97 yards, 5:30)