Numbers to know before No. 9 Notre Dame kicks off at Florida State

Jack Coan 2021
Notre Dame Athletics
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You know No. 9 Notre Dame and Florida State kick off at 7:30 ET on ABC tonight. You know the Irish are favored by 7 points with a combined point total over/under of 53.5, as of midday Sunday, the latter number down from 55.5 in the morning’s earliest hours, per PointsBet. And you can do the math that suggests, based off those numbers, Notre Dame will win 30-24 tonight.

But did you know …

19: This will be Irish quarterback Jack Coan’s 19th career start, having led Wisconsin to the 2019 Big Ten championship game and then the Rose Bowl, but obviously his first in a gold helmet. Coan completed 69.6 percent of his passes in his one full season as a starter with the Badgers, and while Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees insists he intends to open up the offense more this year, that mark would top Ian Book’s 2018 Irish completion percentage record of 68.2.

“We’re starting a guy that’s played this game,” head coach Brian Kelly said this week. “We want him to be poised, but we want him to be decisive. He’s been in this, he’s seen it and knows what it looks like.

“To be decisive, you have to be confident in your ability and we know Jack is, so go out there and be decisive. … One of the things we’re looking for in this quarterback position is being aggressive. Push the ball. If you got opportunities to push the ball down the field, let’s go.”

32: The Irish have won 32 consecutive games against unranked opponents. Polls may be largely meaningless, and the cutoff of 25 teams being ranked is a very arbitrary delineation line, but the streak makes a point, nonetheless: In the last four years, Notre Dame has beaten the teams it should unquestionably beat.

43: For that matter, the Irish have won 43 games in the last four seasons, while the Seminoles have won 21.

50: Notre Dame lost exactly 50 percent of its sacks from 2020, the half-sack credited to now-injured linebacker Marist Liufau bumping that total to 15.5 of last year’s 31. Admittedly, that percentage is a forced number to get this bit in here, but its real intention is to create an excuse to mention sophomore end Jordan Botelho, junior end NaNa Osafo-Mensah and senior end Justin Ademilola.

Coming into the preseason, the expectation was Botelho would back up junior Isaiah Foskey as the “Vyper” end, a key to new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s scheme, and Ademilola would back up fifth-year Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa as the “big” end, but Osafo-Mensah’s emergence changed that thought process. Botelho is now nominally the third-string Vyper, with Ademilola switching sides though certainly capable of playing both positions.

That rotation could quickly make up for the lost 50 percent of sacks. More notable than that, though, Osafo-Mensah’s sudden progress — after losing 2020 to injury — is another testament to the player development that Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston has become known for.

This may move Botelho into a more situational Vyper role, but one that could have a distinct impact, considering those situations will most likely be the high-leverage moments of third-and-longs. His athleticism will allow Freeman to further disguise defensive pressure, a hallmark of his four years at Cincinnati.

102.5: The market has set the over/under for Kyren Williams rushing yards at 102.5. That fittingly matches his general Heisman Trophy odds, somewhere between 100-to-1 and 120-to-1, depending where you work and when you play.

The instinct might be to assume Williams will fly past that 102.5 mark, especially given the time this space has taken to point out the weakness that is Florida State’s defensive line and the strength that is Notre Dame’s offensive line, but that number is deflated for three reasons …

— Williams will line up as a receiver, with sophomore running back Chris Tyree in the backfield, a certain amount of time. How often is to be determined and one of the most intriguing aspects of the night, but Rees has been working on this alignment since the spring, one that allows him to get his best playmakers on the field together.

“We’re going to have so many backs that we’re able to do so many things,” Williams said. “You’re going to see me out in the slot so that we can get an inside zone with Chris running the ball, and I’m running the bubble. There’s going to be so many different ways that we’re going to be able to get onto the field this year as backs.”

— If the Irish get out to an early lead — it will certainly be in part due to Williams — he will be the first player deserving a lightened workload, considering the long season of hundreds of carries undoubtedly ahead of him, health permitting.

— For that matter, Notre Dame trusts senior C’Bo Flemmister to chew up the clock with a 17- to 21-point lead. For most top-tier programs, their bellcow would still be the one doing that work in the fourth quarter, but not for the Irish.

A PERTINENT UPDATE 90 MINUTES BEFORE KICKOFF

108: Senior receiver Kevin Austin has a career total of 108 receiving yards on six catches. He may well match that tonight. Given the hype around Austin for four years now, that may be the expectation, and Notre Dame has not tempered that this week.

“I’m so excited, because nobody really knows what Kevin can do,” Williams said. “The only people that know what Kevin can do are the people that see practice and what we do at practice. That’s really just our team. We all know what Kevin has in store. We’ve all been bragging about it. I know I’ve been bragging about it since I got here. Ever since I saw Kevin play football, I was like, ‘He really has it.’ I’m just excited. I’m ready for Kevin to show his raw, natural ability to the whole world.”

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This space has already issued its 40 preseason predictions, so let’s not mess with that arbitrary round number, but instead quietly point out extrapolating Javon McKinley’s 2020 season across 13 games would equal 50 catches for 847 yards and four touchdowns.

377: Bobby Bowden won 377 career games at Florida State across 34 years. The obvious mental math there is that he averaged an absurd 10-plus wins per season (11.1, actually) for three decades. Bowden passed away this summer, and Doak Campbell Stadium will honor him before kickoff.

“I never had the privilege of meeting coach Bowden, but I can tell you that his influence on coaching was real,” Kelly said. “I think every coach would tell you that. The thing that stood out to me, first and foremost, was the longevity at one school. Being committed to that school and building a winning program, a program that won every single year, that’s so impressive to do it year in and year out.

“The second thing is for me, he started at a small school and moved Florida State into national prominence. Then his relationships with his players. I think he goes down as one of those icons in coaching as having that fatherly mentor relationship with his players that many, many coaches would love to have with their players.”

2006: The only other time a freshman has started the opener on Notre Dame’s offensive line, as left tackle Blake Fisher is expected to tonight. That was Sam Young at right tackle.

∞: The number of times you will hear the Chop tonight. On this one occasion, welcome its annoyance. It means fans are back in the stands.