After moving up to No. 3 in the College Football Playoff, Notre Dame football hosts a disappointing Florida State team.
Here is all of the essential information you need for tonight’s Notre Dame football game.
Opponent: Florida State Seminoles (4-5)
Last week: Lost to North Carolina State, 47-28
Location: South Bend, Indiana (Notre Dame Stadium)
Forecast: Cold, Snowy, 26 degrees at kickoff.
Time/Channel: 7:30pm on NBC
Spread: Notre Dame -16.5
Top Storyline: Florida State’s fight for six
To say Florida State has been a disappointment would be an understatement.
Prior to the season, the Seminoles were ranked No. 16 and believed to be a threat to Clemson. But here we are in November and not only has Florida State not yet reached six wins yet, it’s a real possibility they don’t hit that mark at all this season.
Florida State has 3 games remaining: at No.3 Notre Dame, vs. No. 17 Boston College and vs. No. 19 Florida. Those three teams have a combined record of 22-5. If the Seminoles don’t reach six wins, it’ll be the first time since 1976 — a streak that includes 13 consecutive seasons of 10 wins or more — and would also end their incredible 36 year bowl streak.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, is in the midst of its best season since 2012. At 9-0, the Irish moved up to third after LSU lost to Alabama.
This is the final true home game for the Irish this season (Next week, Notre Dame will be the “home team” but it’s a neutral site game) so as always on senior day, emotions will be running high.
Don’t let Florida State’s record fool you — the talent level in Tallahassee is much better than their record.
Key Notre Dame offensive player: RB Dexter Williams
With the news coming out early Thursday morning that Ian Book is out tonight, Notre Dame will now have to lean on the run that much more. It starts with Dexter.
Even though Williams missed the first four games of the year, it’s still entirely possible that he can hit the 1,000 yard mark. He’s just 432 yards shy, and to reach that mark need to average 144 yards per game. If you include the bowl game, he’d need just 108. He’s averaging 113.6 yards per game.
Florida State is 17th in the country against the run giving up 111.1 yards per game. For reference, that’s just 9 yards more per game than Alabama.
Williams is going to need a big game against one of the toughest run defenses the Irish have seen all year. A bad day for him likely includes a bad day from the rest of the running backs, which most likely means a bad day for the team.
Key Florida State offensive player: Running Back Cam Akers
Sticking with a running back, Cam Akers is a sophomore who burst onto the scene last season. He even got some pre-season Heisman hype, but much like the rest of the team, he’s been a disappointment.
Akers only has 496 yards on the ground this year in nine games, which is 127th best in the country.
It’s not really Akers fault, as Florida State’s offensive line has been a disaster all season. In nine games, they’ve had eight different starting combinations on the offensive line. Things have gotten so rough that former defensive lineman Arthur Williams is now a starter on the o-line. Backups are playing everywhere.
Akers is still a star with breakout potential. He’s a former five star recruit and shouldn’t be underestimated. But Florida State is going to need to have the offensive line play its best game of the year. In turn, that’ll give keep the ball out of Notre Dame’s hands.
Key Notre Dame defensive player: Defensive Tackle Jerry Tillery
To be effective at stopping the run, solid defensive line play is important and the best lineman on the team should be a major force.
Tillery has had a great season so far, with 7.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and two forced fumbles. He’s seen his NFL Draft stock rise, because when big games happen, he shows up.
Florida State has some similarities to Stanford in that both teams have had disappointing offensive line play that has led to Heisman candidates having poor seasons (and in Bryce Love’s case, injuries as well.) Last time Notre Dame faced a team like that, Tillery played a massive game, with four sacks and was disrupting plays everywhere.
Given that this is Tillery’s final game in South Bend, expect him to show up huge and take over the game on the defensive side of the ball.
Key Florida State defensive player: Defensive End Brian Burns
Burns is one of the best pass rushers in the country, and that’ll be huge for the Seminoles tonight. Florida State’s defensive line is the strength of the team with some excellent talent, including Demarcus Christmas, who is also a player to watch for.
Even though Dexter Williams is the key offensive player, Burns is the key defensive player because of his ability to get to the quarterback.
With Ian Book out, that forces Brandon Wimbush into the starting lineup for the first time since September 15. He had only completed 55 percent of his passes and his struggles with being uncomfortable in the pocket are well documented.
If Florida State can put Notre Dame into some 3rd and long spots, that’s where Burns can take over. He’s responsible for nine sacks.
If you think getting to the quarterback is the only reason he’s the Seminoles key player, think again. He also has 13.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. He’s an all around great player who, much like Tillery, is climbing draft boards everywhere.
Overall, Florida State hasn’t been great, but there are some bright spots. There’s still a lot of talent on the field, two capable quarterbacks and a defense that has fallen under the radar due to a poor performances elsewhere.
I think the Seminole defensive line is good enough to force the Irish into some long yardage situations, and doing so could force a lot of Wimbush throws. By no means is Wimbush a bad quarterback, but throwing isn’t his strength.
The problem for Florida State comes on offense. Simply put: the line is terrible. They leave no space for Akers or fellow five star Jacques Patrick to run, and both quarterbacks are into negative yards rushing.
The lack of depth and, let’s be honest here, quality of the line, should lead to a huge day for a lot of Irish defensive linemen.
If that happens, that’ll force Deondre Francois into passing, and he’s been known to throw the ball to the wrong team on occasion. That means a strong day for the likes of Julian Love and the rest of the secondary.
I think this game comes down to turnovers. If Notre Dame wins that battle, they’ll win the game. If not, it’s going to be a long night in South Bend. And if those turnovers are pick sixes, there’s some trouble.
But Notre Dame can play a clean game — they’ve proven it.
Even if they don’t, I don’t see Florida State being able to score more than 20 points on this defense. There’s too many offensive issues and those issues lead to the opposition wearing down the Florida State defense, opening the door for some explosive plays.
Notre Dame 34, Florida State 17