Florida State got off to a nice start in this one, which, this season, means that the ’Noles won the toss and fair-caught the opening kickoff to begin their first possession on the 25. In 2018, that’s the Seminole equivalent of momentum. And then the game started; mercifully for FSU, the 42-13 beatdown was over quickly.
Early in the week, I wrote about the frigid temperatures that the ’Noles would face in northern Indiana, and how they could affect their ball skills. Early on, the effects were obvious— if not pleasant. On just the game’s second snap, Deondre Francois, back behind center for FSU after a week off, saw his pass bounce off the shoulder pads of Tre’ McKitty and into the waiting hands of Nick Coleman, whose interception gave ND the ball at the Florida State 3. A couple drives later, Cam Akers had the ball stripped from right in front of him, and Notre Dame took over at the FSU 14.
So it wasn’t a surprise that the Irish got off to a hot start, offensively. In the first half, their “drives” were as follows: touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, punt. Safety play continues to haunt the Florida State secondary. Players are often in decent position, but just don’t capitalize. And opposing offenses seem to know it, as simply throwing fades to WRs has become a simple, effective red-zone option for foes. FSU’s Hamsah Nasirildeen was victimized on the first Irish TD, and A.J. Westbrook became a repeat offender after that. Again, guys often have decent-to-good coverage, but they don’t play through their opposition’s hands when in phase. They’re far too reactive and need to anticipate better. Fellow safety Cyrus Fagan got into the act as well, as a pair of long TD rushes right up the middle ran right through his position.
And on Saturday night, FSU just didn't have enough in the tank to overcome the quick 17-0 lead it spotted Notre Dame when it couldn’t get off the field after allowing conversions on six of ND’s first eight third downs. There were some positives, certainly. Offensive prospects were not nearly as dire as we’ve seen them throughout much of the season. There were occasionally some running lanes, as well as some clean pockets from which to throw. Florida State actually had three drives of double-digit plays, the first of which was a 16-play TD drive.
But it served as an apt microcosm for the season at large. The ’Noles got in the end zone with the “Wild Cam”: Akers lined up at QB. He made a nice read and kept for an 8-yard score that should have made it a game again at 17-7. Instead Ricky Aguayo’s extra point was blocked, scooped and returned for two points by the Irish. 19-6, and any momentum swung back over to Notre Dame.
32-6 at the half was more than enough cushion, as FSU kept obliging with miscues into the third quarter, missing open receivers, dropping easy catches, and making for a very happy Notre Dame Senior Night. Even when the Irish were content to take the air out of the ball and just run it, they did so at will, bulldozing the Seminoles for 365 yards, 7.3 yards per rush.
With the loss, the Seminoles no longer have any wiggle room left for continuing their bowl streak. They have to finish out with home wins over Boston College and Florida.