Golson set to challenge Seminole defense


It’s clear that Florida State’s defense is showing the appropriate respect for Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson. Just look at who they’re comparing him to.

“I think the only guy I can compare him to is Nick Marshall,” Seminoles defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said this week, according to Noles247. “He can run, he is fast, and he can throw. We definitely need to be assignment sound and stay in our gaps. Don’t give him lanes to run out of.”

Comparing Golson to Auburn’s fleet-footed quarterback might be giving a little bit too much credit to Golson’s top-end speed. While he’s elusive enough to wreak havoc extending plays outside the pocket, his jets once he gets outside the pocket don’t necessarily matchup with Marshall.

But Golson’s ability to throw the football once on the edge, and do so with efficiency, is a challenge that the Seminoles must show they’re able to stop, and something he does better than Gus Malzahn’s trigger-man. So while Golson and the Irish’s challenge to beat the Seminoles with his arm is daunting, this isn’t the 2013 FSU defense they’re facing. After being one of the most statistically dominant groups in the country last season, Florida State’s unit is still growing into their jobs.

Those struggles were on display when North Carolina State jumped to an early lead as they scored 24 first-quarter points and 41 in all behind quarterback Jacoby Brissett. The junior quarterback put up his best numbers of the year against Florida State, completing 32 of 48 throws for 359 yards and three touchdowns, the only game all season he’s crossed the 300-yard barrier. Brissett also kept the Seminoles defense honest with his feet, running for 38 yards, most coming on a 36-yard scamper. The Wolfpack didn’t pull off the upset, but they did sound a few alarms and lay a blueprint for attacking the defending champs.


Strategically, how Kelly deploys his quarterback will be interesting. While fumble-itis has hit Golson at the wrong time, the quarterback still is likely the Irish’s most difficult to defend running matchup. Thinking back to Notre Dame’s upset of Oklahoma, it was Golson who had his number called multiple times to convert critical third downs. It was the quarterback run that was utilized to exploit holes in the Sooner defense that the Irish coaching staff identified on tape.

Golson will be asked to do much more on Saturday than he was two seasons ago, a game that Notre Dame dominated thanks to seizing opportunities, playing great defense and hitting the big play when they needed it. And with Jameis Winston having never been held below 34 points as a starting quarterback, Golson will need to make sure he lights up the scoreboard.

Against the Seminoles’ impressive personnel, that won’t be easy. But after battling a difficult scheme two weeks ago against Stanford, the challenges won’t be as much Xs and Os, but, as Jimmy Johnson used to say, the Jimmys and the Joes.

“This will be probably the least complex defense (Golson) will see. What you see is what you get,” Kelly said, according to Nicole Auerbach at USA Today. “They can afford to say, ‘This is what I’ve got, come and beat me.’

“They’re big. They’re physical. They’re fast on the edge. They can play man-to-man coverage. It allows them to not be put in compromising situations as much, with formations and tempo and things like that.”

Sounds like the type of challenge you expect when two top-five teams face off. And a challenge that will stress both the Irish and the Seminoles.


Kelly excited for the opportunity to play Florida State (VIDEO)


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.”



Despite the distractions, Winston plans to play against Notre Dame


Amidst a university disciplinary hearing and two damning media reports from Fox Sports and the New York Times, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has no intention of doing anything but playing football next weekend.

The returning Heisman Trophy winner might have storm clouds surrounding him, but he says he’ll be on the field in Doak Campbell Stadium next weekend.

“Of course,” Winston responded when asked about playing in Saturday’s showdown.

That decision could fly in the face of the best legal advice, with Winston’s disciplinary hearing at the university potentially opening him back up to charges for an alleged rape. Sports Illustrated legal writer Michael McCann lays out a pretty compelling argument for Winston dropping out of FSU all together.

Winston’s participation in the university’s disciplinary process would carry great legal risk for him. A university disciplinary hearing would involve both fact-finding and testimony. Law enforcement or attorneys for Winston’s accuser could later attempt to subpoena these materials and use them against Winston. While a finding that Winston violated university rules would not mean that he broke any laws, the finding would likely be admissible evidence in a prosecution or civil litigation.

As noted above, Winston could still face criminal charges until 2017. Winston was only investigated for criminal conduct and not tried, meaning the Double Jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment does not protect him from being charged and tried. Winston thus has an incentive to prevent any new facts or testimony from emerging that might persuade a prosecutor or a grand jury to take a second look at what happened.

Winston played the entire 2013 season with the accusation pending, though the state attorney’s office deciding not to press charges. State Attorney Willie Meggs talked about the broken legal process with Fox Sports, a damning critique of the Tallahassee Police Department as well as Florida State’s administration and police department, who seemingly prioritized protecting Winston more than the truth.

That’s not all that seems to be trailing Winston. Just days after Todd Gurley was taken off the field for allegedly accepting money and other improper benefits for signatures, the same memorabilia collector that had hundreds of Gurley items on sale also had over 100 on sale from Winston.



Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher defended Winston when asked about the memorabilia in question.

“Kids sign things all the time,” Fisher told ESPN. “So what do you want them to do, stop signing stuff? We could make them not have any fans from that standpoint and not sign for anybody. That’s what it’s going to come to, and that’s a shame for college football that we can’t take a kid, somebody exploits a kid. Now, if they’re getting paid for it, then I don’t have any knowledge of that. I don’t believe Jameis did.”

That Fisher takes such a pollyanna approach to the behavior of his star quarterback is hardly surprising. It was Fisher who decided to suspend Winston for a half of football after the quarterback shouted an obscene, sexual profanity from a table top inside the student union, only to have the university extend the suspension to a full game. Add that to the heisted crab legs and multiple legal tussles after pellet-gun incidents and Fisher has backed himself into a corner with his star quarterback.

Through half a season, Winston hasn’t played like a Heisman Trophy winner. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder is still a dangerous weapon with both his arm and legs, but after completing nearly 67 percent of his passes for 40 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions, Winston has thrown just 11 touchdowns so far this season with five interceptions, though he is completing 70 percent of his attempts.

But even as chaos envelopes Winston, he’s hitting his stride on the field. He completed 30 of 36 passes for 317 yards against Syracuse, throwing for three touchdowns in a 38-20 victory. All that leading to the biggest game on the Seminoles’ calendar.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Winston said. “It’s finally here. You can’t say that we’re taking it day-by-day, so it’s finally here. Notre Dame has a great football team, but we’re still Florida State, we’re not looking to lose.”






(Post) Spring update: Florida State


After a bit of a break, we’re back with another update on Notre Dame’s opponents. And this one might be the stiffest of them all.

The Irish will play their first true away game in one of the most formidable venues in college football, visiting Tallahassee and Doak Campbell Stadium to take on the national champs, Florida State. Jimbo Fisher’s team returns the Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and a slew of talented players expecting to take another run at a national title.

In the most optimistic of scenarios, the game against Florida State will have national implications. Even if doesn’t, it’ll be the highlight of an Irish slate that has a handful of premiere matchups.

To get us up to speed, Warchant.com’s Ben Jones took some time and answered some (I hope) good questions from me.

Let’s get to it:

On first glance, it’s striking to see the talent that’s returning to this roster. Per FSU’s spring prospectus, seven starters return on both sides of the ball. But there were a lot of key departures as well. Help put into context how this team looks on paper compared to last season’s national champs.

You’re right; there are some big pieces coming back and also some key roles that need to be filled. Offensively, FSU returns a Heisman winner at quarterback, four of five linemen, and a senior who has led the team in receiving in each of the last three years. They lose a Rimington winner at center and their first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn, but the roster is well constructed and those shouldn’t be major issues. Replacing Kelvin Benjamin, a 6-foot-6 wide receiver with 15 touchdown receptions last year, is a big deal, but there are enough other receiving options to believe it won’t be too big of an obstacle to overcome.

On defense, FSU has to replace vocal leaders in linebacker Telvin Smith and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner. Safety Terrence Brooks was an impact player also, but again, strong recruiting for several years has restocked the roster and there should be players to pick up their production. Like many teams in June, this team has some questions. But it also has plenty of potential answers.


The Seminoles scored more than 50 points a game last year. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston returns behind a very experienced offensive line. Is there anything that can hold this unit back?

Losing Benjamin, a first round draft pick, is a big deal. He had 10 touchdowns in the final six games, including the game winner in Pasadena, and was nearly impossible to cover. FSU also lost slot receiver Kenny Shaw, who had over 900 yards and was quietly productive as an outlet for underneath passes. With them gone, expect tight end Nick O’Leary (557 yards, 7 TDs in 2013) to take an even bigger role in the red zone and on short routes across the middle.

Having Jameis Winston eliminates a lot of problems, but there’s no veteran behind the redshirt sophomore. Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia and Jacob Coker left for Alabama, meaning sophomore Sean Maguire (21 career pass attempts) is the only player with any experience behind him. He might be able to keep FSU afloat, but he’s an unknown for now.


Seems like a similar song for the defense. The nation’s top unit needs to replace (at least one) key starter at every level, but seems primed for a reload. What concerns do you have for Charles Kelly’s defense?

The biggest concern for the defense is replacing defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. It’s not often a nose tackle is disruptive enough to finish third on the team in tackles (63) and lead the team in TFLs, but that’s what Jernigan did as a junior before leaving for the NFL. There’s no defensive tackle behind him who’s as explosive, and that’s a concern.

FSU will have to find someone on the defensive line to draw double teams and give the linebackers a chance to make plays. The best candidate might be junior Mario Edwards, a five-star recruit who’s always had incredible physical ability but hasn’t tapped his full potential. If he develops into a star, the defense should be strong at every level again.


For the past few seasons it felt like Jimbo Fisher had one of the nation’s top rosters and a schedule that set up perfectly for a championship game run. Yet the Seminoles always seemed to trip themselves up. Does last year’s championship win — against an SEC team no less — feel like it could open the flood gates?

It absolutely felt like a breakthrough for a program that had fallen into a lull in the last decade toward the end of the Bobby Bowden era. As you observed, beating an SEC team for the title was a significant achievement for a team that considers Florida its biggest rival and regularly competes with Georgia, Alabama and Auburn for recruits. Considering how the roster has been built, FSU fans are hopeful they can follow up with another strong season. The Seminoles open the season with a game against Oklahoma State in Dallas, and their goal is to finish the season in Dallas for the national championship.


Can you give Irish fans an idea of how Jimbo Fisher is viewed? While it looks like the coach-in-waiting tab was obviously successful now that the Seminoles have won a title, there had to be some impatience there for a while? Do Seminoles fans view Fisher as an elite head coach or a guy that is merely running one of college football’s flagship programs built by Bobby Bowden?

There were some questions earlier in Fisher’s tenure as the Seminoles had head-scratching losses against teams like N.C. State and Wake Forest. Finishing an undefeated season and winning a national championship quiets a lot of questions though, and his success in the draft (18 players chosen in the last two years) has shown that he can identify and develop talent.

Bowden will always be considered the architect of the program, but this is Fisher’s team now. FSU went 24-16 in Bowden’s last three years, while Fisher has gone 45-10 in four seasons. The decision to remove Bowden was difficult and awkward, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone now who doesn’t think Fisher is the right man to lead the program.


It’s hard to write about Jameis Winston without getting into some of the off the field controversy. The embarrassing shoplifting situation, the other minor police blotter material, and the very serious rape charges. None garnering more than a slap on the wrist.

As someone much closer to the situation, what do you make of it? Are we past the youthful indiscretions? The New York Times had a rather unflattering portrayal of the entire situation that the school disputed, but have you noticed any changes in Winston or the program since the allegations late last season?

Frankly, this is difficult to answer. It seems that we never know the athletes we cover as well as we think we do, and that’s true with Jameis as well. There were some media restrictions placed on him this spring during baseball season and football practice. He spoke before spring football started and after the spring game, but not between those two for a full month, if memory serves.

Winston told reporters in New York at the Heisman ceremony he knew he’d have a different life going forward and wouldn’t be able to do some things he could normally do, but the crab legs incident does make you question his judgment. FSU has tried to keep someone around him when he’s in public — for example, he had a campus police officer with him at all baseball road games. But you can’t have someone with him 24/7. It wouldn’t surprise me if this summer and fall passes quietly off the field with no new incidents for him, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if there’s another indiscretion.

Either way, there will continue to be noise around the rape allegations. There may be a civil suit coming (against Winston, FSU, or the Tallahassee police), and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating the university for Title IX violations connected to the incident.


Turning the subject back to football, getting Notre Dame and Florida State together is always a big deal. Is this the highlight game of the schedule for Noles fans, too?

It’s absolutely one of the highlights. The home schedule this year is very strong, with Clemson and Florida also visiting Tallahassee. The end-of-season game with the rival Gators is probably bigger, but Notre Dame might make more FSU fans more nervous. As of now, it’s my upset pick for this season.

I’m curious to see what Everett Golson in his return to Notre Dame. There are questions for the Irish to answer, but you also saw FSU slow down a bit towards the end of last year. Duke gave FSU some trouble early in the ACC Championship, and Auburn was just a play or two away from winning. If teams can look at those games and see what was successful, they might be able to create a game plan that will really do some damage.


Special thanks to Ben for going above and beyond. For more from him, you can find his writing work at Warchant, and follow him on Twitter @WarchantBen

Live blog: Notre Dame vs. Florida State


We’ve had a month to get over the fact that the Irish won’t be playing in a BCS bowl game this season. But when the Champs Sports Bowl selected Notre Dame over a Big East team, they set up one of the most intriguing pairings of bowl season, with the Irish battling Florida State in a match-up high on intrigue and history.

No, this game probably won’t live up to the Game of the Century, but it’s our last time to watch guys like Michael Floyd, Harrison Smith and Darius Fleming take the field for the Irish. It’s also our last chance to watch Notre Dame play an actual football game until they set sail for Dublin next September.

So how about it? Once more, with feeling. As we have every game, we’ll be live-blogging as the Irish take on Florida State in Orlando at the Champs Sports Bowl. As usual, keep it clean, try to stay somewhat positive and get ready for some rapid fire live-blogging with me and a few thousand of your closest friends.


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