Where do I start in analyzing FSU's 18-14 win over Notre Dame? There are so many angles to discuss. But fight has to be at the top of the list.
This team didn't always play smart. It wasn't always coached smart. But this team never quit. 13 games. No quit.
That's something fans take for granted, but they shouldn't. I see teams quit every week at both the college and pro levels. But I have not seen this FSU team quit. They didn't quit when they were down big against Oklahoma or Clemson. And they didn't quit last night. That's impressive and is not something that I'll overlook. A quitting team doesn't win against Notre Dame.
Oh, and give Notre Dame credit for being a good team. They do have a quarterback issue, but that's a good team.
I gave E.J. Manuel a lot of flack on twitter last night for his play in the first half. And it was deserved, because he missed checks, throws and didn't help his offensive line get the protections set very well. But he deserves all the praise I can give him and more for his second half performance. See Bill Connelly:
-0.1: Average gain on E.J. Manuel's first 10 pass attempts. Protected, er, "protected," by a line loaded with true freshmen, Manuel was running for his life early in the game. Early in the second quarter, Manuel was 4-for-7 for 22 yards and had been sacked three times for 23 yards.
... After the early struggle, things fell into place at least a little better in the pocket. In his final 26 pass attempts, Manuel was 16-for-24 for 227 yards and was only sacked twice; his per-attempt average in that time: 7.9 yards.
Did Manuel have butterflies? I think he might have. He certainly did not have any expectation of protection and seemed to be watching the rush. And he held the ball forever on some of the quick game and took some awful sacks. In the first part of the game, Manuel played like a freshman. In the second part, he played like a fourth-year quarterback.
And perhaps nobody embodied the tough, refuse-to-quit attitude more than Manuel. Why? Because I believe he was hurt. I received a text from our True Cubbie during the game. He noted that Manuel was limping and hadn't bent down to take a snap in the second half. TC thought it was a knee. I'm not a doctor, but EJ was clearly hurting. That was a warrior game.
I don't have much to say about the running backs. Lonnie Pryor had a bad blitz pickup early in the game. Devonta Freeman's fumble was awful. James Wilder looked a bit better than I expected, but he still missed two obvious, obvious cuts that would have gained at least five more yards per cut. And on the one sweep he needed to cut it up and did not. James Wilder cannot be a finesse back.
I really liked what I saw from the receivers. This was an area that we said FSU would need to win in order to win the game. And the 'Noles certainly did. Bert Reed being unable to get to that ball was infuriating, but he more than made up for it. He's had a frustrating career, but the last catch of his career, the best catch of his career, was the catch that really got FSU back in this ballgame.
And as the 'Noles say goodbye to one speed receiver, the 'Noles say hello again to Rashad Greene. What a stud. Green is amazingly fast with top-notch acceleration in and out of his breaks. And he's not a dummy, which is not something that can be said for a lot of the receivers FSU has had in the last decade or so. He has strong hands and understands the game. Greene had 5 catches for 99 yards, but the three he made for 33, 15 and 42 were just incredible. And give credit to Kenny Shaw, as well, for some big catches that didn't necessarily spark scoring drives, but kept drives alive and gave the defense a bit of a rest.
Now to the offensive line. Without Andrew Datko, David Spurlock, Bryan Stork, Jacob Fahrenkrug, Garrett Faircloth, Blake Snider and Rhonne Sanderson, this group started Zebrie Sanders, Josue Matias, Austin Barron, Tre Jackson and Bobby Hart. Ages? 22, 19, 18, 18, 17. Or in other words, senior, true freshman, true freshman, true freshman, true freshman.
Early on, they played like freshmen. And I've had a few e-mails asking what they did differently in the second half. My answer? Not much. The main thing is that they settled down. I think FSU had them prepared, but the moment was too big for them early on. The biggest thing was getting them to settle down. Good job by the coaches and the veteran players to get them settled down and focusing not on the moment, but on their assignment.
Know what else happened? The officials finally flagged Notre Dame for simulating the snap count (calling "hike/go/etc") and making FSU's players jump offisides. I noted this on twitter, along with the rest of my notes, but FSU's coaches were livid about this. Smart cheating by Notre Dame against a young offensive line.
Notre Dame's front seven is very talented. But FSU's offensive talent is even better. And as we saw last night, FSU's second teamers might even be better. FSU's offense was basically its second team last year. And perhaps the best thing they did was not dig too big of a hole.
And what can you say about the defense? I have a few thoughts there as well.
Great, great job. 4.0 yards/play by Notre Dame is by far their lowest of the year. FSU's defense is just sick. The preview basically said "offense, don't mess it up too bad; defense, go out and win it." That's pretty much what they did.
Why did Jimbo allow FSU to go with 18 scholarship defensive linemen? Because they were still fresh in the fourth quarter of the last game of the season.
I do want to credit Notre Dame's offensive line for not getting whipped by the FSU defensive line as most teams have.
Excellent play by Nigel Bradham and Christian Jones. Bradham made himself some money last night. And Jones is 6'4" and 240 pounds covering slot receivers? Are you kidding me? He made himself some money even though FSU gets him for another year. What a freak.
We've talked all year about how healthy, experienced units must cover for units that are lacking in one or the other, or both. It's strange how the defense stayed entirely healthy throughout the year.
That changed last night as FSU lost Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes on the same drive. On most defenses, facing the offensive talent of Notre Dame, that would spell doom. But the 'Noles adjusted. They switched Lamarcus Joyner to corner, played Mike Harris at the other spot, and inserted Terrence Brooks at the vacated safety spot. And it worked great.
Mark Stoops and co. try to cross-train defensive backs at multiple positions for situations just like this. We here at TN (myself, Fat Dilfer, Nole Thru & Thru, DA-2, SWFLNole, etc.) have been really high on Brooks for a while because he's tough and very athletic. At this point, do you see Karlos Williams beating out Brooks? I don't. Maybe that means Williams moves to offense. He definitely needs more touches, and Brooks/Joyner is totally an awesome combo.
Think about all the starters that weren't there at the end of the game: 4 OL, top RB, Haulstead, Reid, Rhodes, McDaniel.
I said I did not like the playcalling against Miami. I did like it last night. Fisher tried everything and I thought they did about as well as could have been expected, given the circumstances. I liked the fake punt call. I liked going for two because of the justified lack of confidence in the offense and the supreme confidence in the defense.
Some fans don't believe in Fisher and this staff, but from the level of effort given by these kids, you can tell they sure do. And you can do a lot with this amount of talent and a staff that gets these guys to play hard. I don't like to overplay bowl game results, but this is a good win going into the off-season. And no, this doesn't take the losses to Wake Forest and Virginia off the board.
Oh, and I want to pat myself on the back for a preview that pretty much just nailed it.
I'll do the report card later. For now, enjoy the basketball game.