We're very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team blogs to work with during game weeks. Ahead of yet another 2014 game of the century of the week, we're joined by pburns2010 of SB Nation's Notre Dame site, One Foot Down. We discuss Everett Golson, Brian VanGorder, and Notre Dame's prospects of pulling the upset in Doak.
TN: The Irish enter Saturday's contest undefeated on the year. What were your expectations for this team entering the season, and what are they for the remainder of 2014?
OFD: Heading into the season, I had this team pegged as a 9-3 team; possibly 11-1 if the defense surprised me. So far, the defense has surprised me, and I think 11-1 is where this team is going to end up. The schedule has proven not to be as daunting as we all seemed to think at the beginning of the season (thanks Michigan), and I have been really impressed with what Brian VanGorder has done in such a short time with such a young defense. We're going to be in every game we play, and in with a shout at the playoff when all is said and done.
TN: Last week saw Notre Dame struggle against North Carolina, allowing 43 points and winning by only a touchdown. While obviously in a look-ahead situation to this week's showdown, I have to imagine that game gave rise to some concerns for Irish fans. What were the causes of ND's problems in that game, and what will the Irish need to do to avoid them rearing their heads against the ‘Noles?
OFD: The biggest issue was 21 points of the 43 which UNC scored were gifted to them by turnovers. The fact that these were early turnovers really put the defense on the back foot early. North Carolina really turned it up by setting their offense to run at ludicrous speed, taking next to no time between snaps. With such a young offense, this caused some errors in substitution/alignment, especially given Brian VanGorder's penchant for different packages. Add into the fact the lack of depth at several key positions, and it added up for a rough 4th quarter as well as the defense tired out.
I think that FSU luckily (for the Irish D) won't run as uptempo as we saw against North Carolina, which was truly the root cause of many issues last week. That being said, if they are able to use tempo to their advantage in certain situations to keep favorable packages on the field, it could be a spot where ND gets burned. Other than what was seen only last week, singling Joe Schmidt out in pass coverage and attacking the lack of depth we have in the secondary seem to be good ideas against this team.
TN: It has to be nice to have Everett Golson back on campus, right? What does #5 bring to Brian Kelly's offense, and what have been his strengths and weaknesses this season?
OFD: I can't emphasize enough that we had to play an entire season with Tommy Rees as our starting quarterback. Having Everett Golson back there instead of Rees is like day and night to Kelly's offense. Where it was a plodding, methodical attack predicated on the run game, now it is a free-wheeling attack that truly has the ability to take anything the defense gives it; be it the pass or the run.
Golson's arm is his biggest strength. He can make all of the throws, and is probably one of the top QBs in the nation when it comes to throwing on the run. He's had several instances this season of throwing 50+ yard bombs while rolling out to his left. He's not human sometimes.
Golson's weakness is what it has been since day 1 of him getting the job in 2012. He turns the ball over more than you would like, especially when running the ball. He provides a very good option for the offense with his feet, but it is hard to trust him when he fumbles with such regularity. He often has issues with interceptions when he loses focus temporarily or tries to force the game, but he has greatly improved in that department from 2012.
TN: The Notre Dame offensive line has seen some shuffling this season. How are you feeling about this unit, and what do you think we'll see from them against a Florida State defensive line featuring Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman?
OFD: This is the biggest issue in most ND fans' minds leading into this game. As this specific unit, the ND O-Line has played exactly 2 games (though all of the members of the line have previous starting experience). The communication seems a bit off, especially on some blitz pickups and 3-man stunts/twists. I believe that, individually, the ND O-Linemen actually match up well with the members of FSU's line, but as a group they will give up some head scratchers.
I think we see improved play from them this week with another week of practice together, but still some missed assignments that may loom large.
TN: Which match-ups will Brian Kelly look to exploit when Notre Dame is on offense?
OFD: To be totally honest, I think Brian Kelly will exploit the option that FSU provides the least resistance against. In most games, teams have decided to take away the deep ball from Golson while loading the front up against the run. This leaves quick outs and screen passes, which ND has shown they can run with great effectiveness (see ND's win v. Syracuse). I think FSU may play ND a bit more straight up, which should open up Brian Kelly's preferred vertical passing game. I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of shots downfield if FSU is willing to trust the matchups in the secondary.
TN: Notre Dame's depth in the secondary took a blow with Austin Collinsworth going down. Are you concerned with this position group against FSU, and what can the Irish do on defense to mitigate the damage?
OFD: At the moment, we have 4 possible safeties on the roster. 2 are now the starting safeties (Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield), and 2 are both currently playing Nickel in different packages (Matthias Farley and Drue Tranquill). Tranquill is a true freshman.
To say I am terrified if one of these guys go down is selling it short. I think that each is very good at what they have been asked to do. I fully expect the Irish to try and dial up some pressure to make their jobs easier, but it remains to be seen exactly how the two starters will be able to handle playing essentially every snap of the game.
TN: How will the Irish seek to contain Jameis Winston and the FSU offense, and what do you feel their chances are of doing so?
OFD: I don't have a good feel exactly yet how Brian VanGorder will game plan this specific week, but I can take an educated guess that it will involve a LOT of different looks to throw at Winston. BVG is in his comfort zone calling exotic zone and overload blitzes and forcing the offense to recognize and react. There is usually a feeling out period of a drive or two where he gets an idea of how the line is protecting and the receivers are going to break off routes, and then he will call just the right blitz to get maximum results. It may all break down if Winston plays up to his potential, however -- the Irish defense may have to simply tip their hat if he can pick through the different looks.
TN: Finally, give us a prediction on Saturday's game of the century of the week. The ‘Noles opened as a 13.5 favorite. How did/do you feel about this line, and will the Irish pull the road upset in primetime?
OFD: As an Irish fan, I feel great about taking the points with the line that high. ND has shown enough on both sides of the ball (in my opinion) to stick right with FSU, and a 2 touchdown win doesn't seem like one of the more likely options.
I expect Golson to find some success against FSU's defense, thanks to being put in the right positions by Brian Kelly, and we will put some points on the board. I think the defense will be able to get to Winston and potentially force some mistakes with their pressures. I do think, however, that Golson is more prone to turning the ball over than Winston and that will prove the difference in this game. Golson gives up a fumble or interception that gives FSU an easy 7 at some point this game. Otherwise a great game between two even teams, FSU ends up winning 38 - 28. Sadness fills my soul.
Big thanks to pburns2010 for the insight! Be sure to head over to One Foot Down for more information on the Irish. Our answers to their questions will be up Friday morning.