Notre Dame’s undefeated season came to an end on Saturday when Florida State prevailed in an instant classic, 31-27. The Fighting Irish played a tremendous game both offensively and defensively, giving the Seminoles everything they could handle for 60 minutes. Of course, the game ended with a little drama when an offensive pass interference penalty wiped out the likely game-winning touchdown for Notre Dame. Before I get into the recap, I have something to say about call.
I initially thought the call was on C.J. Prosise (#20), and that would have been atrocious considering the Florida State defensive back initiated the contact on Prosise and held him the entire time. Later, I learned that the call was actually on Will Fuller (#7) who was the outside receiver. Fuller did run into the Florida State defender, and I can see why the flag was thrown. However, the defensive back that was covering Fuller broke to the inside to stay with Fuller and Florida State’s secondary busted the coverage. There was no one in the vicinity of Corey Robinson (even with the contact made by Fuller), and thus the contact had no impact on the outcome of the play. By rule, it was the correct call. All I will say is that I wish the referee would have put the play into context and understand that the contact was meaningless to the play. Regardless of my opinion, the officials saw it the other way and they made the call. I won’t say that Notre Dame got screwed over, but I do think it was an unfortunate way for the game to end. The bottom line is that Notre Dame just could not make one last play to finish off the Seminoles. It was one the greatest college football games I have ever watched, but I just wish it ended in an Irish victory. Despite the loss, Notre Dame proved that they are one of the elite programs in the nation and showed that they can play with anyone in the country. If the Irish win out, I think the selection committee will have a hard time leaving Notre Dame out of the final four. The Irish may need some help from other teams, but the championship quest is not over. Hopefully, Notre Dame will get another crack at Florida State in the playoffs.
Brian Kelly put together one of the best offensive game plans I have ever seen since he came to Notre Dame. The play calling was nearly perfect throughout the game, allowing the Irish to gain 470 yards against the Seminoles. Everett Golson was sharp on the evening by completing 60 percent of his passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns. I thought he played with great poise and composure in a hostile environment by leading the Irish offense on several long drives. Golson was able to spread the ball around nicely with six receivers catching multiple passes, but his top targets were once again Corey Robinson and Will Fuller. Robinson caught eight passes for 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Fuller added eight receptions, 79 yards, and one touchdown. Perhaps the key to Notre Dame’s offensive success was the running game powered by the push that their offensive line was able to maintain against the Seminole front. Running back Tarean Folston was the beneficiary of the wide running lanes by ripping off 120 yards on 21 carries. Golson added 33 yards with a few scrambles, but Brian Kelly rode the hot-handed Folston all night long with Cam McDaniel and Greg Bryant each only carrying the ball once. As successful as the Irish were offensively, it wasn’t enough to pull out the road win. However, I believe this was arguably their best effort of the season and it should bode well for the remaining five games if they can repeat this performance.
Just like Brian Kelly did with the offense, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder installed the best game plan possible to defeat Florida State. VanGorder did a great job designing schemes to disguise the blitz and give Jameis Winston a variety of different looks. Notre Dame’s defensive front seven was pressuring Winston all night long and they made it difficult for Florida State to move the ball. As good as the pass rush was, Notre Dame’s defensive success was fueled by a dominating performance to shut down the Florida State running game. The Irish held the Seminoles to just 1.9 yards per carry with 50 yards on 26 attempts. In fact, Notre Dame’s run defense was so stout that the Seminoles practically abandoned the running game and went with short, quick throws in the second half. While the Irish were still pressuring Winston, he was able to get the ball out quickly and expose Notre Dame’s depleted secondary. That would end up being the difference in the game as Florida State was able to score just enough in the second half to defeat Notre Dame.
Overall, it was an outstanding game played on both sides of the ball for the Irish. I truly believe that Notre Dame outplayed Florida State (particularly in the trenches), so I am hoping that this does not eliminate the Irish from playoff contention. I think I can speak for many true college football fans that a rematch on New Year’s Day would be warranted if Notre Dame can win their final five games. We’ll see what happens; there is a ton of football still to be played.