Irish Eyes

FSU and Notre Dame tangle for just the fifth time Saturday. Each of the previous four meetings between the two have been decided by seven points or less. Additionally, Notre Dame has won 19 of its last 20 games in the month of October. Check out what the 'Noles think of the Irish. "Their schemes, their twists, they are perfect. Smart guys play smart football," center Antoine Mirambeau said. "We need to go out and play the same, too."

Antoine Mirambeau watched film of Notre Dame for more than an hour Sunday afternoon. He only needed a few minutes to draw his own conclusion of the Irish defense.

"They are really good," Mirambeau said.

"They are really physical. They stay low and they are real disciplined. That's a key to a defense, in being disciplined. They are going to play smart football. We have to come out here and do the same. Their schemes, their twists, they are perfect. Smart guys play smart football. We need to go out there and play the same, too."

Sixth-ranked Notre Dame (7-0) has relied on its defense the entire season. The unit is rank third nationally in scoring defense, surrendering 12 points per game, sixth in rushing defense (80.1), 10th in total defense (275.9) and 36th in pass defense (195.7).

The Irish have been described as swarming, impenetrable, simply dominating. Just ask Air Foce. The Falcons and their vaunted option attack entered last Saturday's game against Notre Dame averaging 339.2 yards rushing and 5.3 per carry. They finished with 104 and 2.7, their longest play going for 15 yards, in the 21-14 defeat.

Both FSU players and coaches stayed up to watch Notre Dame's victory against Air Force. The game did not offer much insight, however, since Air Force runs an option offense and doesn't have the same defensive strategy as FSU. Air Force also was outweighed by an average of 60 pounds on both lines of scrimmage.

FSU, meanwhile, is 18th nationally in total offense (436.4 yards per game) and is one of eight Division I-A teams to average more than 200 yards both in rushing (230.7) and passing (205.7).

"I just watched the first half, but they looked solid as heck," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said.

"They're as good as their record. They've gotten better offensively now to go along with their defense, so they are just getting stronger as the year goes on. This team is fitting into the mold of some of their great teams. There's going to be no easy way to win it. They are so solid on defense."

The 11th-ranked Seminoles (5-2), meanwhile, are looking to climb back into the top 10 with a victory. A win also will do wonders for their psyche after losing a heart-breaker at Miami two weeks ago.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, has flourished under first-year coach Tyrone Willingham. It's enjoying its highest ranking since the opening game of coach Lou Holtz's final season in 1996. The Irish also was No. 3 in the first Bowl Championship Series ranking released Monday. The Seminoles are 12th in the BCS poll, tops among two-loss teams.

"We have to win," receiver Talman Gardner said. "This is a real big challenge for us. That (Miami) was a hard loss for us. But we know we have a good team. We can still be a great team if we don't lose another game. We just have to go out there and play football and not worry about making little mistakes. But we also have to be discplined in what we do."

Linebacker Kendyll Pope agreed, saying, "This game is our season. If we win this game here we can be back in the top 10 at the end of next week. If we lose this game, we're a long way out. We're headed for another Gator Bowl or another bowl game like that. We have to bounce back after that loss against Miami."

Notre Dame's victory at Air Force was its first on the road over a ranked opponent since a 24-6 win at No. 11 LSU on Nov. 15, 1997. While FSU is the highest-ranked team left on the Irish's schedule, they don't have too far for incentive. Notre Dame is a 10 ½-point underdog. The Irish also were a 3 ½-point underdog against Air Force, not to mention an underdog three times in September.

"People around the country don't want to believe Notre Dame has good football players," linebacker Courtney Watson said. "I don't think we'll prove [ourselves] until we win the national championship."

Of course, Notre Dame's offense finally got into the act against Air Force.

Ryan Grant ran for 190 yards and the Irish gained a season-high 250 before halftime. Quarterback Carlyle Holiday rebounded from a 2-for-8, 23-yard first half to hook up with wide receiver Arnaz Battle six times for 89 yards on several big plays in the second. It's easy to pinpoint the Irish's strengths. They are ranked 109th nationally in total offense (315 yards per game), 105th in passing offense (144.9), 88th in scoring offense (22.6), and 44th in rushing offense (170.1).

"Their offense line is great," Pope said.

"They have a great center in Jeff Faine. I knew him in high school. He's a great player. And their running game, they are just one of those teams where they are going to line the ball up and run it down your throat and leave it up to you to stop the run. That's our type of game. If we can stop their run and make them one-dimensional. ... as long as we get the game going in the way we want to play it, it will be a good game. If we let them get five or six yards running the ball, it's going to be a very long day on defense. That's the thing we are instilling in ourselves right now, to stop the run because that's their main thing on offense."

Of course, there's always excitement surrounding Notre Dame. Each of the previous four meetings between the two teams have been decided by seven points or less. Additionally, Notre Dame has won 19 of its last 20 games in the month of October and since the 1988 season, the Irish are 51-8 in October games.

"Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami – they were the big-name schools that I knew and heard of while I was growing up," said Mirambeau, who is from Miami. "I am very excited about playing Notre Dame."


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