This matchup will be the key for both teams this weekend. Notre Dame has struggled recently running the ball, gaining less than 120 yards on the ground in two of their last three games. Simply put, the offensive line just hasn’t been getting it done. They struggled to move the line of scrimmage and open running lanes between the tackles against both Pittsburgh and Northwestern and at times just flat out got whooped.
The running game is something the Irish offense hang their hat on to stay balanced and open up other plays in the passing game, and it needs to make a comeback this weekend. With the freezing temperatures, possible snow and the absence of Ian Book, a presence on the ground will take a lot of pressure off Wimbush and put this offense in the best position to succeed.
Luckily for Florida State, their strength on defense is stopping the run game — mainly because of their talented defensive line. They were tasked with replacing three-year starters at defensive tackle and defensive end with Derrick Nnadi and Josh Sweat, who left for the NFL, but for the most part this is FSU’s deepest defensive position group. This group has talent, experience and depth across the board — with their starters all being upperclassmen.
On the outside will be defensive ends Janarius Robinson and Brian Burns. Robinson is a 6-5, 250 pound redshirt sophomore who hasn’t made waves on the stat sheet this season, totaling just 21 tackles and one sack so far.
Now opposite of him is a name all Irish fans will need to watch for. Brian Burns is a junior who comes into the game with 22 career sacks, with nine of those coming this season. He is the best player on this defense and can flat out get to the quarterback.
Burns will be the most talented defensive end Notre Dame’s tackles have seen since Michigan’s Chase Winovich in Week One. Luckily, this might be an area that Brandon Wimbush has an advantage in, as his bigger frame and running ability makes him difficult to bring down. On numerous occasions against Michigan, Wimbush was able to escape the edge pressure of Winovich and turn a would-be sack into a somewhat positive play.
The interior of the defensive line is anchored by two redshirt seniors in Demarcus Christmas and Frederick Jones. They have a combined 41 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss this season, with Jones adding two sacks. These two are as experienced as can be and have given this defense solid production all season.
The interior of the trenches is a fairly even matchup, with the slight edge going to FSU with their experience. At tackle, whoever is matched with Burns will have their hands full. Eichenberg and Hainsey have improved since their Week One struggles with Michigan, but the athleticism and NFL-caliber talent of Burns could cause problems.
Advantage: FSU (slightly)