Irish Running Backs/Tight Ends vs FSU Linebackers
Much like the Irish offensive line, the running backs for Notre Dame need to have a bounce back game this weekend. Dexter Williams and Jafar Armstrong have been relatively quiet outside of the Navy game, and the big plays on the ground just haven’t happened. With an increased emphasis on the run game this weekend, this will be a great opportunity for both of them to get back on track and put up some great numbers.
A big reason this bounceback is possible comes down to their matchups with the Seminole linebackers, who are an extremely young group that have under-performed and been a problem all season. This position group had to replace the production of three senior starters from last year. Matthew Thomas, Ro’Derrick Hoskins, and Jacob Pugh combined for more than 60 starts and 300 tackles between them.
This year’s linebacker core for the Seminoles is led by junior middle linebacker Dontavious Jackson. At 6-3, 230 pounds, Jackson enters this week’s game with 44 tackles and five tackles for loss. He isn’t an athletic freak and his stats don’t jump off the page, but he is serviceable and capable of making plays – mainly in the run game.
The outside linebackers will be true freshman Jaiden Woodbey and redshirt freshmen DeCalon Brooks and Zaquandre White. Woodbey was one of FSU’s top rated recruits this year who has shown flashes of being an elite defender for the Seminoles down the road. At 6-3, 215 pounds, he has the size and speed to match up with the Irish running backs or tight ends and will be tasked with doing just that Saturday night. In all honesty, he should be playing safety, but with the state of the Seminole’s linebackers, he’s needed at the STAR position. Coming into the game he’s recorded 38 tackles, three tackles for loss, and four pass deflections.
DeCalon Brooks is the son of former FSU great and NFL Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. Similar to Woodbey, Brooks is starting at linebacker because of lack of depth and other options. At any other program he would most likely be rotating and seeing limited playing time. He doesn’t have the same athleticism and speed of Woodbey, but he’s had okay production, notching 42 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack. We can also see White on the field as well. Although he hasn’t had much production on the season — registering 19 tackles — he is a converted running back that would make him ideal for passing situations.
The youth and inexperience of FSU’s linebackers has made this position group a weakness all season, and Notre Dame should be able to take advantage of it. The Irish have the size advantage with their tight ends and a speed and experience advantage overall. To add insult to injury, tight end Alize Mack is back this week from a concussion and should be able to continue his great season.