Jameis Winston led three excruciating, Heisman-quality drives of 70 yards or more to lead Florida State to a comeback 31-27 victory over the Fighting Irish, extending the Seminole win streak to 23 games and leaving them as one of just four unbeaten major college teams. The Fighting Irish, big enough for the potentially unforgiving moment ended the game on a late drive which got them to the Florida State 2 before a penalty erased what would have been the game winning touchdown catch by emerging star Corey Robinson for the Irish. As if a momentary glimpse of the afterlife, we all enjoyed a few seconds of the euphoria of victory before that cursed yellow rag ended the reverie. Scoreboard rules: Florida State 31- Notre Dame 27.
Brian Kelly stated that he wanted to start the game fast, and, but for an opening three and out, the Irish did so on both sides of the football. The Irish defense, dominating the Florida State veteran offensive line, forced the Seminoles into three rare three and outs in the first half, and a one and out, when Jarron Jones bench pressed the Florida State center back into Jameis Winston, forcing a wobbly throw that Joe Schmidt intercepted. In the first half, the Irish outgained the Seminoles by 284 yards to 110, the fulcrum for which was the Irish running attack, keyed by the ever-improving offensive line, which led the way for the Irish to outrush the Seminoles by more than 100 yards, 157 to 50. Yet at halftime the Irish lead was 17-10, less than commensurate with the yardage differential, and a warning sign for the second half.
Florida State played the second half like a defending national champion trying to protect its house. Notre Dame had many great moments, but two especially gutsy responses in answering challenges. The first was, after Golson’s interception, Jones’ remarkable pass rush which compelled the interceptioon by Schmidt. In two plays the Irish had a touchdown. Then, after Florida State, and Winston’s magic, tied the score to start the second half, the Irish responded with a touchdown drive of 75 yards in 7 plays to regain the lead 24-17. Alas, it was the last Irish touchdown of the evening. After that, the Irish defense forced two three and outs but they were layered between two touchdown drives by Florida State.
Football games are about football, not sainthood or the Nobel Peace Prize. Jameis Winston is a great football player. He took repeated hits and repeated pressure from the Fighting Irish defense.
Florida State won the football game and to the unbeaten victor go the spoils (and the pole position for the Final Four). Florida State did not prove that they were the better football team. Nor did Notre Dame.
A STAR IS BORN.
You know the cliches. Pressure makes diamonds. Football does not build character, it reveals it. Corey Robinson, just one week after his fellow soph Tarean Folston, “arrived.” Somewhere between 2 and 3 touchdowns, give or take a penalty. And Robinson did it ow what has been college football’s biggest stage thus far this year. Does he reap benefit from the threat of Will Fuller? Does yin need yang? Does hydrogen need oxygen to make water? Robinson’s biggest improvement is his running after the catch; while not a blazer he has good vision and squeezes for the extra yards.
Notre Dame’s offense has, at last arrived. We will not face defenses of the same magnitude as Stanford’s and Florida State’s for the rest of the regular season. 21 soaking wet First Downs against Stanford, 26 against FSU. One final flag from red zone perfection. Notre Dame’s defense is getting better as the season goes on. We will not face a better offense in the regular season, and we may not face as good a quarterback as Winston in the next Olympiad. The continued offensive improvement, keyed by the offensive line, will only help the defense, and vice versa. The defense has tradeoffs. Pressuring the passer creates openings and opportunities. Winston took advantage of the opportunities. Reynolds (Navy), Bercovici (ASU) Siemian (Northwestern) Gardner (Louisville) and Kessler (USC) can not. A postseason game, or, perhaps, two, may be a different kettle of fish.
What did we learn about the Notre Dame team on Saturday:
(1) They can play a quality opponent on the road, even with flamin spears on horses and perpetual tomahawk chops
(2) The moment was not too big for the team, not even with the youth. And it was certainly not too big for Golson.
(3) The offensive line is improving weekly since the reconfiguration. Doubled Stanford’s rushing yardage, tripled FSU’s rushing yardage. Quod erat demonstrandum.
(4) 2012 was not a fluke, 2013 was
(5) This Irish team is much more athletic than in 2012. When we played FSU after the 2011 season, FSU had the vast majority of the best “ath-uh-leets” on the field. Not any more! That situation gets better all the time.
(5) The Irish are not yet at the mountaintop, but they can see it and smell it from where they are.
BENEFITS OF THE SATURDAY WITHOUT A GAME
(1) avoid a letdown spot
(2) re-acclimate Eilar Hardy, needed for the stretch run
(3) get Hunter into the WR rotation, get Bryant closer to Folston’s level
(4) Continue the development of the frosh on defense: Trumbetti, Cage, Hill, Blankenship and Tranquill.
(5) get one or more of the backup tight ends ready to play.
(6) two more weeks of coaching and advancement of the complex defense.
WHAT WILL WE SEE AGAINST NAVY?
(1) A Navy team that is uncharacteristically below par, with a 3-4 record, with the wins against Temple, Texas State and VMI. Part of the reason is that Keenan Reynolds has not been as explosive as anticipated.
(2) FedEx field, which, following Lucas Oil and MetlIfe is the third NFL stadium in which the Irish have plaed this year.
(3) the fun of watching Brian Van Gorder’s defense and what will be a different approach against Navy. It will be aggressive, with Jaylon Smith, James Onwualu, Cole Luke, Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield flying around making tackles. A great game to get Eilar Hardy back up to speed.
The extra week of preparation will only help the Irish with the assignment football necessary to play an academy. We may give up a long play or two, but we will not play into Navy’s strategy of “death by a thousand cuts.”
(4) A Navy defense that can not stop the Irish offense. Can not. Notre Dame has only punted 4 times in the four games against Navy in the Kelly regime, including the 2010 nightmare in broad daylight in the Meadowlands. We will move the ball and we will score.
(5) Injury risk from cut blocks.
(6) A realistic chance for Malik Zaire to get some snaps and some passing plays. It will help the team and his career if he can have some significant snaps in this game. 6-1. Nearly 7-0, but 6-1. There is still much to play for this year.
Up your game lads; the team sure has