The Fighting Irish finally kick off their 2021 football season on Sunday night under the lights in Tallahassee against the Seminoles of Florida State. The Irish opened as a double-digit favorite but have settled in around just a touchdown favorite over the last few days.
What Worries Me This Week
Growing pains from the new-look Notre Dame offensive line
We talked at length this summer about the new-look Notre Dame offensive line and it’s worth repeating again. Anytime you replace four starters, even if you replace them with talented players, you should expect growing pains. With Notre Dame starting a true freshman at left tackle, Blake Fisher, and a graduate transfer who wasn’t in the program for the spring, Cain Madden, I have concerns that the offensive line will have some growing pains early.
Jarrett Patterson is a potential All-American and the leader of the group. Josh Lugg has played a lot of football and started before. Zeke Correll started the Rose Bowl at center against Alabama and held his own. Eventually, this group will settle in and start to look like the Notre Dame offensive lines we’re used to seeing. It just might take longer than some would like.
Florida State’s edge rushers
Part of the reason I worry about the offensive line settling in this week is because the one area of strength I see on Florida State is their edge rushers – Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas. Johnson transferred from Georgia and Thomas from South Carolina. With a pair of new starting tackles (even if Lugg does have some spot starts in his history), they could give Notre Dame some problems early.
The big worry here is that one of these ends flies past either Lugg or Fisher and gets a clean hit on Coan that either forces a fumble or errant throw that gets picked off because the only way Florida State should really have a chance at an upset is if there are multiple turnovers by the Irish offense ala South Flordia 2011 opener.
Week one “weirdness” and sloppiness
Openers can have some weird stuff happen. Again, see the 2011 South Florida opener in year two of the Brian Kelly era. The Notre Dame football program has come A LONG way from that point, but first games just have a tendency for weird things to happen.
We’ve also seen Notre Dame a little sloppy in some recent openers. The Irish struggled early against a better-than-expected Louisville team on a Labor Day weekend Sunday night opener two years ago. For as great as the Irish win over Michigan was in 2018, the Irish offense struggled to do much at all after their initial burst. In short, I expect there to be rust and some poor execution early that makes things too interesting for too long.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
Jack Coan‘s first start, assuming the line holds
If the Notre Dame offensive line gives Jack Coan time, I expect him to have a pretty big game in his first appearance for the Fighting Irish. We’ve heard all summer long about the resurgent Notre Dame senior wide receivers who appear to finally have the stars aligning for them. Add in Michael Mayer and the combo of Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree and all Coan has to do to be good is just be a facilitator. I think he’ll be more than that.
Notre Dame’s pass rush
The Florida State offensive line was pretty bad a year ago. They tried to patch holes with graduate transfers. They lost out on this year’s OL crown jewel, Cain Madden, to Notre Dame but did land former Notre Dame OL Dillan Gibbons. The thing is, Gibbons was not expected to be a starter for Notre Dame this fall coming out of spring ball even with all the openings. And Florida State is banking on Gibbons to be one of their best.
Notre Dame’s defensive line is deep and talented. Look for Notre Dame to play at least eight different DL – Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Isaiah Foskey, Justin Ademilola, Jayson Ademilola, Howard Cross, Rylie Mills, Nana Osafa-Mensah, and Jorden Botelho. Possibly more. The Irish defensive line will come at Florida State is waves and that line is not going to hold for four quarters.
JD Bertrand replacing Marist Liufau
The only significant injury out of fall camp for Notre Dame was WILL linebacker Marist Liufau. The junior was expected to be the breakout player of the defense this fall, but the Irish lost him to a major leg injury two weeks ago. While his loss will be felt more weeks than some, I don’t think this will be one of those weeks.
Junior JD Bertrand will get the start in Liufau’s place at WILL and I expect to him to do just fine in his starting debut. Florida State will likely try to attack him since he is filling in for Liufau, but even before injury pushed him into the starting lineup, there was a buzz about him out of camp as well.
The Notre Dame secondary
There seems to be a general consensus that the Notre Dame football secondary is one of the weaknesses of the team, but I said on this week’s podcast that I thought the secondary is better than people are giving it credit for. Kyle Hamilton makes up for some of the inexperience back there, but the rest of the secondary has the potential to be good players in their own rights.
I like the length Notre Dame has at corner with Clarence Lewis and Cam Hart and I’ve said all summer long I expect big things from Houston Griffith this fall.
Florida State will test Notre Dame deep. They did last year and they hit on a couple of them. They may even hit one or two tomorrow. Overall though, I like their chances in this matchup.
Other Players to Watch This Week
- Jayson Ademilola – Will Ademilola provide the interior pass rush Notre Dame needs in his first start?
- Kevin Austin – Do we finally see the WR everyone has been raving about in practice for the last three years?
- Braden Lenzy – Look for Notre Dame to try and get him open deep early and involved in the run/short passing game early.
- Isaiah Foskey – Will he be a consistent force from start to finish? If he is, the sky is the limit for him this year.
- Chris Tyree – He broke loose for long runs on FSU last year. Will he again?
- Zeke Correll – How he holds up at guard after playing center the last two years will help determine the ceiling of the offensive line.
I haven’t felt great about this one all summer – at least not to the extent that most Notre Dame fans do. Many Fighting Irish faithful are predicting a blowout in this one. On this week’s podcast, Greg predicted a 45-14 Notre Dame win while on the spot I predicted a 37-17 win with the caveat I could change that by the time I wrote this.
I am going to change slightly because I do think this will be a bit closer than my original prediction. This very well could be a struggle by half-time before the deeper, more talented Notre Dame roster kicks in and carries the Irish to the victory.
Notre Dame 34, Florida State 17