It’s amazing how quickly the outlook of a game can change in just a few days. At the beginning of the week Notre Dame was inching towards being nearly a 20 point favorite at home over Florida State. Fast forward to yesterday when news broke that Ian Book would miss this weekend’s game and things have changed quite a bit. Notre Dame now turns back to Brandon Wimbush to keep their undefeated season alive and to send a senior class that’s been through a lot out with one final victory.
There’s a lot to unpack this week and that’s why the weekly prediction is damn near 1,600 words. Let’s dive in.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
Brandon Wimbush. Let’s start with this one right out of the gates this week. Brandon Wimbush starting for Ian Book this weekend does not worry me. Remember, this is a kid who led the Irish to a season opening victory over everyone’s favorite eye test warriors Michigan THIS YEAR. Yeah he had his struggles against Ball State and Vanderbilt although I still contest some of those struggles weren’t solely on him but more on the game plans that were in place those weeks that asked him to do things he wasn’t great at.
Last year Wimbush led Notre Dame to blowouts of USC and NC State and a pretty comfortable win over Michigan State. He struggled against Miami, Stanford, and LSU, but none of those games were at home. Some of Brandon Wimbush’s best performances have come inside Notre Dame Stadium. Now he will have one more chance to be the man inside that same stadium in what is almost certainly his final home game with the Irish.
Wimbush has gone about his benching the right way. He’s been a great teammate and he didn’t quit on his team. Now he gets one final start inside Notre Dame Stadium. He won’t be perfect and he won’t complete 75% of his passes like we’ve gotten used to with Ian Book, but he’s going to make some ridiculous plays with his legs. He’s going to hit a deep ball or two like he did week one. And he is going to go out in style.
Florida State treating this like their bowl game. Florida State’s season has gone down the tubes in Willie Taggart’s first year in control of the Seminole program. They probably aren’t making it to a bowl game and have little left to play for. In a lot of cases, that would led to that team treating this game like their bowl game. I am not that worried about that this week because it is Florida State. You don’t go to Florida State for seasons like this so I think it is much more likely we see the opposite – a team looking for a nightmare season to end.
I see the Seminoles performing similarly to how Notre Dame did versus USC at the end of 2016. The Irish put up a good fight for a little while, but in the end, USC pulled away and won comfortably.
The weather. Part of the reason I think Florida State might not be in this game very long mentally is the weather. The Seminole roster is not built with a lot of players who are used to play in sub 30 degree weather with snow on the ground. In fact, some of them will probably be seeing snow for the first time when they land in South Bend.
Add up a warm weather team having a terrible season playing in the snow in freezing temperatures and you have the recipe for a team playing like they just can’t wait to get back into the locker room.
What Worries Me This Week
Turnovers. Notre Dame has turned the ball over entirely too much early in games the last few weeks. One way the Irish can keep the Seminoles interested in the game and not just on weather and the heat warmers on the sidelines are is by turning the ball over early and setting them up for easy points. They did it in each of the last three weeks. So far it hasn’t cost them as the defense has held and they’ve gotten a bit of special teams luck with missed kicks. You can’t bank on that being the case every time though.
Brandon Wimbush did struggle with throwing interceptions earlier in the year and the cold temperatures could make it a bit more difficult to hold on to the football this week but Notre Dame should have been able to practice playing in the colder temperatures this week. Florida State can’t simulate freezing temperatures so they haven’t.
If Notre Dame protects the football this weekend, who the starting quarterback is won’t really matter all that much.
Distractions. Senior Week is always an emotional week and there are always a ton of distractions. There are more friends and family on campus to accommodate, there are the emotions and realization that this is your final home game, etc. Those are all normal Senior Week distractions. Now add in losing your starting quarterback for at least week, the green jerseys the Irish will be wearing, and the media attention that accompanies a playoff run and there are a whole lot of distractions this weekend.
Notre Dame did not do a good job of blocking out the distractions last year in November. In fact, they added to them at times. The results speak for themselves. Notre Dame needs its leaders to step up and help the rest of the team avoid the distractions tomorrow and focus on ending the regular season with a perfect home record.
Notre Dame’s offensive line. I wasn’t worried about the offensive line last week, but perhaps I should have. Northwestern loaded the box and decided they were going to take away the run. That ended up being fine last week because Ian Book responded by shredding the Wildcat secondary in the second half. Wimbush likely won’t be able to do the same against Florida State so the Irish will need that reworked offensive line to step up this weekend.
Florida State’s defensive line is great generating pressure and their strength on defense in their run defense. The Seminoles would be foolish to not crowd the line this weekend as well. Notre Dame will need its offensive line to have one of its better games of the season.
Too much running from Brandon Wimbush. While I am not worried about Brandon Wimbush being able to led the Irish to victory, I am worried that there will be a temptation to rely on his legs too much this week. It would help equalize the Florida State run defense, but with Book out, Notre Dame is down to just Phil Jurkovec as the backup quarterback this weekend. Should Wimbush take too many hits or get knocked out of the game for any period of time, the true frosh who has only played in one game would get the call.
Chip Long will need to be smart about the designed Wimbush runs he called and the man himself will need to be careful about the hits he exposes himself to throughout the game.
Players to Watch
- Jafar Armstrong – Still waiting for him to hit early season form after his injury. Kelly said he was a bit banged up last week at Northwestern so hopefully he is back to 100% and ready to contribute. A backfield of Wimbush, Armstrong, and Dexter Williams would be very athletic and tough to defend.
- Drue Tranquill – He should be back to playing every down this week after being limited last week. Notre Dame’s defense will need to lead the way this weekend.
- Jerry Tillery – He has been relatively quiet on the stat sheet since Stanford. I think that changes in his final home game.
- Chase Claypool – Notre Dame finally got him going last weekend. It will be interesting to see if he can pick up where he left off with Wimbush running the show. Claypool’s career high in receptions and yards did come with Wimbush at QB last year against Wake Forest.
- Chris Finke – He’s been getting really close to breaking a big punt return for a while now. Maybe this is the weekend he finally does it.
While I am not worried about Wimbush, I am also not nearly as confident as I was with Ian Book starting this game. With Book, I think Notre Dame cruises to a very comfortable win. Without him, I think we’ll see the offense have a couple nice drives mixed in with some periods of sputtering.
Brandon Wimbush will connect on a couple deep bombs to loosen up the Florida State defense, but this game will still be pretty close well into the third quarter before Notre Dame finally starts to pull away.
The Notre Dame defense is going to be up to the task of stopping Florida State. As long as the Notre Dame offense doesn’t turn it over and the coverage units don’t give up a big return (two big IFs), I don’t see the Seminoles scoring a whole lot of points this weekend. Florida State only scored 28 points on Brian Vangorder’s horrific Louisville defense after all. That’s almost like getting shut out.
In the end, Wimbush has a typical Wimbush stat line. Two passes touchdowns with about 180 yards in the air and another rushing touchdown to go with 75 or so yards rushing. Dexter Williams and Jafar Armstrong both break off a couple big runs once Florida State really starts keying on Wimbush in the zone read.
Notre Dame 31, Florida Stata 13