Florida State Finds A Way

This Florida State team doesn't float like a butterfly, but it has a championship chin.

Sometimes you just are who you are. Those of us who believed Florida State would come out with just a little extra today and make a statement by winning comfortably against Notre Dame could not have been more wrong. That’s just not who this team is at this point.

Two weeks ago, Jimbo Fisher talked about how different teams have different personalities, similar to how different boxers can have completely different styles. At this point, it’s exceedingly obvious that this FSU team is a different kind of fighter than what we grew accustomed to watching last season.

Last year’s Seminoles were a young Mike Tyson: brash, aggressive, and knocking challengers out almost immediately after the opening bell. Some questioned the strength of the Seminoles’ opposition, but there was no doubt about their dominance.

This year’s group is more of a late-career Muhammad Ali or, if we may reach into fiction, a Rocky Balboa—a champion fighter who takes blows, even gets knocked down, but keeps getting off the canvas and improbably winning brutal battles. And regardless of whatever else this Florida State team may be, it is certainly proof of the old adage that it is much harder to knock out a champion.

Notre Dame came awfully close. And when Corey Robinson caught his third touchdown of the game with 13 seconds remaining, it looked like the reigning champions were down for the count. But the Irish were called for offensive pass interference on the play, which featured two receivers blocking downfield, screening off the defender responsible for Robinson on the play.

Given new life, the champs again peeled themselves off the canvas and finished the fight, as Jalen Ramsey hit Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson’s arm as he threw, with the ball fluttering harmlessly through the end zone and giving the Seminoles a hard-fought win on points.

It wasn’t pretty, and this team still has some significant concerns moving forward, most notably the continued struggles on the offensive line and difficulty getting pressure on the opposing quarterback, but the reigning champs remain unbeaten, having narrowly avoided an upset bid by another contender.

Instant Observations

As we had expected, Matthew Thomas played quite a bit in this game, serving primarily in a spy role but also flashing his explosiveness with a few key tackles in the running game. Thomas still needs to get more physical at the point of attack, but he definitely adds a different dimension to a defense that still hasn’t quite put everything together.

The drop off from first team defensive tackles Eddie Goldman and Derrick Mitchell to backups Justin Shanks and Desmond Hollin is gigantic. Florida State tried to rest its starters a few times in the first half and was repeatedly gashed until Goldman and Mitchell returned. Florida State remains razor-thin on the defensive interior and needs its backups to develop in the second half of the year. True freshman Derrick Nnadi remains the best hope for Florida State to improve at this spot, but he still has to improve his technique and gap reliability to get there.

The secondary has to do a better job communicating on crossing routes and switch concepts. The 4th and 18 conversion was an inexcusable example of this, as it appeared P.J. Williams was playing a different coverage than his teammates.

Despite the offensive pass interference committed on both Robinson’s first touchdown and on the final drive, I’m surprised the secondary isn’t applying “banjo” principles there on which the outside corner reads the slot coming outside and switches responsibilities with the inside defensive backs. With proper banjo technique, the pick shouldn’t have been possible.

The running game is still not where it needs to be, but FSU’s success running the football in the tight zone (inside the 10 yard line) was encouraging. Karlos Williams also played very well in this game, running with more aggressiveness than he has shown so far this year. Williams’ role in pass protection was also critical in the second half, and his two catches for first downs were big reasons FSU won this game.

Dalvin Cook is simply not as reliable as Williams in pass protection at this point, no surprise considering he’s a true freshman. I suspect that’s actually one of the reasons Notre Dame knew to run blitz on FSU’s last offensive possession—they knew that if Cook was in the game, FSU was running the football.

Jameis Winston is still really good. The third-down throw to Travis Rudolph (who had his coming out party in this game) against a free blitzer up the A gap was incredible, the kind of play very few NFL quarterbacks could make.

Notre Dame ran 87 plays to Florida State’s 57. Essentially, the Irish ran a full quarter worth of extra plays compared to the Seminoles, a big part of Notre Dame’s game plan to use their big wide receivers and Golston’s legs to keep possession of the ball and Winston on the sideline. FSU averaged 5.7 yards per play while ND averaged 5.4.

Jimbo Fisher returned to the boxing metaphors in postgame interviews. "This [was] a slugfest, Thrilla in Manila, standing toe to toe," Fisher said. "That's what it felt like." Florida State took the Ali role in this one, emerging battered and exhausted but victorious.

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