Very early in the opener against Florida State, there was a sense of “oh, this is going to be one of those games.” Notre Dame was moving the ball on offense, but then they’d drop a pass or throw the ball in the dirt. And then they were giving up an inexplicable big play for a touchdown, and it was close going into the second half. There was also the sense that at any moment Notre Dame was going to prove too much for the Seminoles in the packed Doak Campbell Stadium, and that’s how it was playing out. Through three quarters, the Florida State offense had consisted of two big plays and basically nothing beyond that. The Notre Dame offense had come to life and looked as though they had put the gritty Seminoles away. The Irish entered the 4th quarter up 38-20 and in control.
Then, it all shifted.
Florida State began running at will, all kinds of ways. The front seven looked gassed, especially when it wasn’t a front seven, but a front six. Mike Norvell kept sending out a bunch trips formation with a single receiver to the opposite side and they ran Notre Dame into the ground. They made up the gap methodically, erasing the 18 point deficit with only 40 seconds left in the final quarter.
For their part, the Notre Dame offense completely went into a shell. Where they were once looking for chunks of yards, they were now trying to find first downs. And with the shift in mindset, so went their offensive efficiency. They never threatened midfield, let alone the end zone, and kept sending the defense out to get run over by the Seminoles.
The whole scene was surreal. This isn’t something that happens. Once Notre Dame goes up double digits, that’s it. The defense has figured you out and the offense is just going to lean on you till you submit. But, this is a new team in many ways, something we’ll have to get used to.
How Bad Was The Collapse?
Going into the 4th quarter, Notre Dame was clearly the better team. They’d gained over 100 yards more than FSU, who were bolstered by 149 yards of offense on two plays. On the other 46 plays from scrimmage, the Seminoles were averaging a putrid 3.2 yards per play. Meanwhile, the Irish were at 396 yards of offense, 7.5 yards per play, and a first down advantage of 15-11. For all the craziness going on through the first three quarters with Notre Dame constantly shooting themselves in the foot on both sides of the ball, the team was in control.
In the 4th quarter and overtime, Florida State found eight first downs, 143 yards on 26 plays, 5.5 yards per play, with 87 of those yards coming on the ground. On the opposite side, Notre Dame’s offense totaled 35 yards, two yards a play, and two first downs.
To be clear, this was a team collapse. They were one stop or one score away from cementing this in the final quarter and got neither. The defense got most of the blame, after all 38 points should be good enough to win most games, but the offense needed a drive in that 4th quarter and it didn’t even almost come. They’d been moving it consistently and suddenly stopped.
Of course, 18 points in the 4th is an abomination by Notre Dame’s standards. 18 points is a reasonable per game number, not per quarter. A lot has been made of the Irish sticking with three-down linemen, and it was a very curious decision, especially since it was clear FSU was committed to running at them. Perhaps it was fatigue or injury/lack of availability up front, but clearly, FSU was very comfortable calling plays with what they were seeing. Whatever the reasoning behind it, it needs to get cleared up because there are teams on the schedule–Cincinnati specifically–that can really hurt them with the type of offense they run and the quarterback they have.
The whole thing seemed unthinkable as it was playing out and it was tough to process. It’s not something we’ve seen from either side of the ball in a long time.
Which Team Are They?
So, is Notre Dame the team of the first three quarters or the 4th? Well, obviously they are both, and they can’t be a team that suddenly forgets how to play and accomplish anything that they want. But, winning is very important. It all looks different and is viewed differently, especially in the locker room, in the context of a win. It becomes a building block, something they grew from, that they bonded together over. With a loss, it’s a choke job, a blown opportunity, a possibly fatal blow of a season that has barely gotten going.
For now, there are so many questions, across the board. About the running game, about the offensive line, about Coan’s mobility, about the front seven, about Marcus Freeman’s ability to adjust. Luckily, this was game one of 12, and there is plenty to learn from. But, learning from a win gives them a chance and that has to be good enough for now. On to the next.