The 2021 Notre Dame football schedule gets underway for the Fighting Irish on September 5 at Tallahassee when they take on the Florida State Seminoles. The Irish have won the last two meetings between the two schools, but are still trailing 6-4 in the series that also includes a pair of bowl matchups.
Mike Norvell will begin his second season with the Seminoles and hopes to bounce back from a disappointing 3-6 season in 2020. After decades of stability with Bobby Bowden and then the transition to Jimbo Fisher, the Florida State fanbase is collectively hoping that Norvell is the answer. That’s because he’s the fourth different head coach at the school since 2017 and three straight losing seasons.
Florida State Offense: Waiting to See Improvement
Jordan Travis is back at quarterback, but his primary skill is running the ball, which resulted in 558 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. He threw for 1,056 yards, but his six touchdown passes were matched by the same number of picks. He may be shifted to running back if former UCF signal-caller McKenzie Milton shows hints of the ability he displayed before a devastating leg injury three years ago,
Besides Travis as a running threat, Jashaun Corbin is back after picking 401 yards and five scores on the ground, while also serving as a receiving option with 19 catches. Lawrance Toafili averaged 9.6 yards every time he carried the ball and gives the Seminoles a game-breaking threat. D.J. Williams is a transfer from Auburn who could serve as an asset.
While the Florida State receiving corps has returning starters in place, none of them stretched the field last year. Wideouts Keyshawn Helton and Ontaria Wilson could see stiff challenges from Kansas transfer Andrew Parchment and freshman Malik McClain. At tight end, Camren McDonald will compete against UCLA graduate transfer Jordan Wilson, who missed last year because of injury.
The Seminoles’ offensive front line needs more consistency, but that’s not really a new problem. The line has been an issue for years because of the coaching turnover and after last year’s uncertainty, Norvell and his staff are keeping their fingers crossed about this unit’s development. One major hope is that tackle Devontay Love-Taylor is fully recovered from an injury suffered during the spring. Meanwhile, Darius Washington and Robert Scott will battle on the other side and Baveon Johnson is expected to see time at guard or center. Familiar face Dillan Gibbons could see plenty of time after transferring from Notre Dame in May.
Florida State Defense: Help Wanted and Needed
A miserable year on the field for the Seminoles in 2020 was due in part to the sieve-like defense that allowed over 36 points per game. Upfront, Florida State has returnees Robert Cooper at nose tackle and Derrick McLendon on one end, but this unit will see an infusion of transfers like Keir Thomas from South Carolina and Jermaine Johnson from Georgia to hopefully deliver more pressure.
Last year’s linebackers seemingly collected all the tackles, with Amari Gainer back on the weakside after leading the team with 65 stops. He’s a hard hitter, as is Stephen Dix in the middle, but the Seminoles will presumably be without Emmett Rice for their game against the Irish. That unfortunate circumstance is because Rice sustained a knee injury in the spring, ith hat absence undoubtedly factoring into Brian Kelly’s gameplan.
The coming and goings of transfers among the Florida State secondary make for some confusion, but the corners should have the duo of Jarrian Jones and Jarvis Brownlee in the starting lineup. Another South Carolina transfer, Jammie Robinson, will handle the nickel slot, while Travis Jay and Renardo Green appear to have the edge among the safeties.
Florida State Special Teams: A Mixed Bag
The placekicking game for the Seminoles is underwhelming, with Ryan Fitzgerald and Parker Grothaus battling each other after neither distinguished themselves last season. One of the two will be kicking against the Irish, but how effective that player will be is open to debate. Punting is in better shape, with Alex Mastromanno another Australian punter who showed a strong leg by averaging 43.5 yards last year. The return units could also use a jolt, though Florida State is hoping for another big-play season on the other side of this department after blocking five punts last year.
The Last Time Notre Dame Faced Florida State
Last October, the Irish were coming off a COVID-connected three-week gap between games. That rust showed early on before Notre Dame defeated the Seminoles at home, 42-26. The Irish had fallen behind 17-14 after one quarter before taking the lead for good by halftime. Kyren Williams was Notre Dame’s main weapon, rushing for 185 yards and two scores.