After dealing with a postponement and their bye week, the Note Dame Fighting Irish return to the field for their first night game of the 2020 campaign. Their opponent will be the Florida State Seminoles, a school they blasted two years ago but one that they’ve never been able to beat two times in a row.
The Seminoles have thus far had their struggles, dropping their first two games of the 2020 campaign. They bounced back from a 14-0 deficit to Jacksonville St. last Saturday to give new head coach Mike Newell his first win at FSU. In the Seminoles’ two losses, they watched a 10-0 halftime lead against Georgia Tech turn into a 16-13 defeat, followed by a blowout loss against the Miami Hurricanes.
Below are some of the key matchups to watch on Saturday night:
QB Ian Book vs. Florida State Defense
Two years ago, sore ribs kept Book on the bench against Florida State, while in this year’s first two games, he’s offered up modest numbers. He’s largely maintained a focus on connecting on short and intermediate passes. Overall, the Irish running game has been sufficient enough to hold him to just one touchdown pass and an interception so far in 2020.
In the Seminoles’ first game this season, a solid first half of defense gave way to a slide after the break that cost them the game. Two weeks later, the Florida State defense gave up 38 first half points to Miami, followed by coughing up 21 in the opening two quarters to Jacksonville State. One major problem is the continued lack of a pass rush, which Book figures to try and exploit on Saturday.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Jordan Travis
Over eight quarters in 2020, the Irish defense hasn’t really been tested, with their 13 points allowed all coming in the Duke victory. They’ve been strong against the run so far, but haven’t been too prolific when it comes to forcing turnovers, with just two fumble recoveries to their credit. That may not matter in this game, but it needs to pick up in the weeks ahead.
Travis entered the game last week and immediately injected life into the Seminoles, giving them a player who can throw and also run, picking up 139 yards on the ground. If the Irish can shut him down, the Seminoles will likely insert James Blackman, who will look to go to the air. Over his career, Blackman has thrown 25 interceptions, so the Irish ballhawks should be on alert.
RT Robert Hainsey vs. DE Marvin Wilson
Hainsey hasn’t really been challenged in his first two outings but has still managed to get recognition for his efforts on the field. He figures to have his hands full with a player who can get into enemy backfields. So if he can limit the potential havoc Wilson can cause, Book is likely to have a big night.
Wilson is solid agaijnst the run and a strong pass rusher, though the latter aspect is another weak spot for the Seminoles as a whole. Still, dealing with Wilson’s 6-foot-5, 305-pound frame throughout the game will be challenging, considering that he’s dominated other opposing tackles.
NT Kurt Hinish vs. LG Dontae Lucas
Hinish will be up against the interior Florida State offensive line, which means he and Lucas will be battling throughout the contest. Despite not making much of an impact when it comes to tackles, Hinish makes life diificult for opposing lines and also makes the most of his tackles, with his two this year both behind the line, including a sack.
Lucas started as a true freshman last season for the Seminoles and is the key player on their line. However, Florida State has already allowed 11 sacks in their first three games, so Lucas will have his hands full with Hinish while also trying to supplement his fellow Seminoles’ effort.
WR Braden Lenzy vs. CB Asante Samuel Jr.
Lenzy has plenty of speed to burn, though he has only three grabs in Notre Dame’s first two games. Last season, he had more yards on the ground than through the air, but this season, he’s seen as more of a game-breaking option for Book, though this week’s matchup could be difficult.
That’s because Samuel has a strong pedigree, being the junior edition of the former NFL cornerback who spent 11 seasons in the league. Samuel has three interceptions in 2020, has knocked away a pair of pass attempts, and forced a fumble. However, the fact that he’s third in tackles for FSU with 16 indicates the Seminoles’ numerous flaws on that side of the ball.