Champs Sports Bowl Preview: Notre Dame v. FSU

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish square off against the Florida State Seminoles in the Champs Sports Bowl, Thursday night at 5:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

Forecast: 50s to 60s, not raining.

Here's a look at the 1993 game between FSU and Notre Dame by our friend Kleph.

Kelly had his Irish team very well prepared to play in the Sun Bowl last season, I think. But I'll admit it was tough to separate the Irish's good play from the horrible play of the coachless Miami Hurricanes.

Notre Dame's Offense v. Florida State's Defense

Notre Dame Offense: 22nd | FSU Defense: 8th

This is a tale of two units that got steadily better as the season wore on. And I'll point out that these are adjusted for opponent. That means the "Notre Dame poor competition" argument is out the window. Those numbers account for this.

Notre Dame's offense has been better than Wake Forest, Boston College, Maryland, N.C. State, Virginia, Duke and Florida. But it has not been as good as Miami, Clemson or Oklahoma.

What do the Irish do on offense? Chis Brown of Smart Football breaks it down for us here. This offense will stress FSU's defense vertically. But I'm not sure if Notre Dame can pass protect against FSU's fearsome defensive line long enough to throw some of these deep routes like they want to. That likely means the Irish will have to throw a lot of anticipation routes. The ball is in the air a lot on deep anticipation routes, and that means the defensive backs will need to play the ball when it is in the air.

Our friend Eric from One Foot Down wrote me to say that was not correct with the new quarterback:

Nearly all of the passes will be ~15 yards or less from the LOS, and if a ball is thrown further it's almost a lock to be to Floyd down the sideline, or to Eifert in the seam. You can expect MAYBE 3 of those passes max.

Rees doesn't have the arm to drive the ball down the field, and we almost never attack the deep middle. In the rare instance that we have, it would be to Floyd, but honestly we're talking like 5 throws in that area over an entire season.

I would expect almost exclusively screens, slants, crossing routes and quick outs when Rees is in there. Hendrix has a cannon but I doubt he'll throw deep much either

Notre Dame Offense
WR 7 TJ Jones 5-11 187 So./2
WR 9 Robby Toma 5-9 185 Jr./2
LT 70 Zack Martin 6-4 303 Jr./2
LG 66 Chris Watt 6-3 310 Jr./2
C 57 Mike Golic Jr. 6-3 295 Sr./3
RG 78 Trevor Robinson 6-5 311 Sr./4
RT 75 Taylor Dever 6-5 301 Gr./4
TE 80 Tyler Eifert 6-6 249 Jr./2
WR 3 Michael Floyd 6-3 224 Sr./4
QB 11 Tommy Rees 6-2 215 So./2
RB 20 Cierre Wood 6-0 215 Jr./2
6 Theo Riddick 5-11 198 Jr./3

Despite all that, Notre Dame actually can run the football very well. They just don't do it a whole lot, and don't do it all that conventionally, as they base mostly from the shotgun. Cierre Wood has 1000 yards. FSU will need to shut down the run game and make Notre Dame all pass, as opposed to majority pass.

The Irish like to get teams into a nickel defense look before running with the big back. FSU actually stops the run pretty well out of nickel personnel, because it has Mike Harris -- a sure tackling nickelback.

I think FSU can limit the run. I don't think they'll shut it down entirely.

Then it gets to the passing side, which is what Notre Dame really wants to do.

Notre Dame has one of the best receivers in the country in Michael Floyd. And the Irish will likely try to get Floyd singled up on Greg Reid because Floyd is very physical and can jump. That's a big, big advantage for the Irish. If Lamarcus Joyner can pop Floyd early and ring his bell or get him off his game, it would really help the 'Noles.

The other Irish receivers are decent, but they are nothing close to the star that is Floyd. I am very intrigued by the matchup of Floyd v. Xavier Rhodes, who is a very good corner when healthy.

Aside from Floyd, the next biggest threat in the passing game is undoubtedly tight end Tyler Eifert. At 6'6" and 249 pounds, Eifert is a tough matchup because he has decent athleticism in a large body. FSU does have the ability to body Eifert with Christian Jones (6'4" 240 and looong).

Look for FSU to plan to take away Notre Dame's main weapons and force the Irish to use its 2-4 receivers.

FSU Defense
LE 95 Bjoern Werner 6-4 273 So. Berlin, Germany
91 Cornellius Carradine 6-5 267 Jr. Cincinnati, Ohio
DT 93 Everett Dawkins 6-2 295 Jr. Spartanburg, S.C.
98 Cameron Erving 6-5 305 r-Fr. Moultrie, Ga.
NG 92 Anthony McCloud 6-2 311 Jr. Thomasville, Ga.
8 Timmy Jernigan 6-3 297 Fr. Lake City, Fla.
RE 49 Brandon Jenkins 6-3 265 Jr. Tallahassee, Fla.
58 Dan Hicks 6-4 275 So. Oxford, Miss.
SLB 7 Christian Jones 6-4 240 So. Winter Park, Fla.
28 Nigel Terrell 6-2 230 r-Fr. Helena, Ala.
MLB 11 Vince Williams 6-1 245 Jr. Davenport, Fla.
or 22 Telvin Smith 6-3 216 So. Valdosta, Ga.
WLB 13 Nigel Bradham 6-3 240 Sr. Crawfordville, Fla.
48 Jeff Luc 6-0 245 So. Port St. Lucie, Fla.
BC 27 Xavier Rhodes 6-2 211 So. Miami, Fla.
1 Mike Harris 5-11 195 Sr. Miami, Fla.
FS 20 Lamarcus Joyner 5-8 204 So. Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
31 Terrence Brooks 5-11 193 So. Dunnellon, Fla.
SS 4 Terrance Parks 6-2 215 Sr. Fairburn, Ga.
or 10 Nick Moody 6-2 224 Jr. Wyncote, Pa.
FC 5 Greg Reid 5-8 186 Jr. Valdosta, Ga.

Oh, and Notre Dame also has another element to its offense: QB Andrew Hendrix. Hendrix is a very good runner who many Notre Dame fans wanted to start the bowl game. He won't start, but you can bet he will play. FSU has not had a lot of struggles this season with mobile quarterbacks, and if the 'Noles play sound, Hendrix should not present a problem. Of course, if the 'Noles are undisciplined, which hasn't been the case this year, Hendrix could do some damage.

And of course, the match between what is a very good Notre Dame offensive line and an excellent Florida State defensive line.

I should also note that no team has really shut down the Irish this year without getting a lot of turnovers. If the Irish offense doesn't turn it over, it is pretty good. So yes, a certain amount of luck is needed in shutting them down.

Defensive Goals:

- Hold ND to no more than 4.8 yards/play before garbage time. Examples: 60-288 65-312 70-336 75-360

- Force two turnovers

- Less than 50% TDs allowed in the red zone

- No more than four big plays (pass plays of 25+, runs of 15+)

Notre Dame Defense v. Florida State Offense

Notre Dame Defensive Rank: 17th | FSU Offensive Rank 34th

Do I think there are only 34 better offenses than Florida State's right now? No. I believe there are probably 45 better. But this is a measure of how the offense has performed over the entire season, adjusted for opponent quality.

FSU's offense could never get healthy, and now even more injuries have lead to starting four true freshmen on the offensive line (LG Matias, C Barron RG Jackson RT Hart). That's a very talented, but very young group.

Will EJ Manuel be right? He was awful in the mental game for much of the year, and is still dealing with the shoulder injury. He's probably the wildcard in this one. I expect the offensive line to get dominated, as its a group comprised almost solely of freshmen backups. But EJ is at the end of his fourth year. He's been almost as big of a problem as the offensive line, and for FSU to have a chance, he'll need to stop making so many mental mistakes. And he cannot hold the ball for six seconds and have atrocious pocket presence.

This is a very good Notre Dame defense. I've laughed all week at those who have no clue about it. They are huge and well coached. The defensive line can be undisciplined at times, and the secondary is decent but not great. But the linebacking corps is very good and they totally shut down the run.

"The Irish will get Stephon Tuitt back after he missed the final two games due to an illness. Also keep an eye on DE Aaron Lynch, who is originally from Florida, and has caused havoc all season for opposing QBs, and Butkus Award finalist LB Manti Te'o, who has already decided to return to ND for his senior season."

Oh, and Notre Dame runs a 3-4, which could totally confuse the green line.

If FSU can get at least 5 yards/play, with 1 or fewer turnovers, score TDs in the RZ at least 50% of the time, and have less than 5 operational penalties, I bet FSU would take it.

Final Thoughts

- Notre Dame's defense should have its way with the FSU offense. The two best defenses FSU faced this year were Oklahoma (11th) and UF (16th). Notre Dame is 17th.

- FSU's defense is much better than anything Notre Dame has seen in a game this season.

- FSU has the better special teams.

How do the 'Noles win? By forcing turnovers, making field goals, and playing field position. I don't expect FSU to win, but I don't expect them to lose either. These are two talented teams who haven't had many breaks this year (Notre Dame with bounces, FSU with injuries).

Chance of winning: 50%. Score guess: FSU 16, Notre Dame 14

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