#6 – Mr. HydeChris Zorich played angry. As a senior in 2003, Julius Jones ran angrily. So too did Jerome Bettis, Tony Brooks, and Marc Edwards during their Irish careers. Tom Zbikowski returned punts with what bordered on hatred for whatever was in front of him each time he fielded the ball. That playing style is what coaches look for in a player and it's always endeared me to a competitor in any sport (Ben Hansbrough played with anger for Notre Dame's basketball team last year), regardless of his success level.
Top Five Guys that Played with Anger on the 2011 Irish:
Aaron Lynch – A few too many penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct (when you can't remember if it's four or five, that's a bad sign), but Lynch's on field persona will allow him to reach greatness under the Dome. Next year's goal: to fight through the echo of the whistle rather than a full two seconds after.
Michael Floyd – Seems to relish pushing opponents to and through the sidelines on downfield block…
Jonas Gray – Combined a bull in the china shop approach with quick feet and desire. The final necessary yard was usually his…
Chris Watt – A true mauler who will combine with Zack Martin to form one of the best left sides in college football next fall…
Jamoris Slaughter – If everyone hit like Slaughter, opposing tight ends wouldn't have roamed the middle of the Irish defense with impunity this season…
#7 – Double WhoopsBrian Kelly's first Notre Dame team averaged just 4.46 penalties per game in 2010 (only six teams committed fewer), losing an average of 40.5 yards per game in the process. Though turnovers were the root cause of Notre Dame's 0-2 start this fall, penalties played a role as well with the Irish committing 5 in the first 1.5 quarters of the South Florida matchup. They were assessed 17 penalties in the first two games including five personal fouls, three of which were post-action penalties.
At season's end, head coach Brian Kelly's crew finished with 6.5 penalties per game (60.75 penalty yards) – only 28 teams lost more yards per game due to penalty.
Relevance? The Champs Sports Bowl could be a flag-fest, as Jimbo Fisher's Florida State team committed a whopping 8.17 penalties per game (the most often penalized team in the nation) for nearly 70 yards per game (118th of 120).
Both Fisher and Kelly are in their second seasons at the helm.
#8 – Sack-Streak Relevance?Notre Dame's offensive line didn't allow a sack in October, a stretch that included a matchup vs. USC, the Trojans finishing 28th nationally in total sacks. November, a month played without the services of starting center Braxston Cave (who remains out for the bowl game), offered the polar opposite, with Maryland (37th nationally) sacking quarterback Tommy Rees three times and Stanford (6th) taking down Rees and backup Andrew Hendrix a whopping five.
South Florida (T-4th) Pittsburgh (T-4th) and Michigan State (9th) also sacked Rees (and Dayne Crist), the latter pair forcing Rees fumbles in the process. Purdue (72), Air Force (93), Navy (112) failed to do so as part of the aforementioned October streak. Nor did Boston College (114) or Wake Forest (115).
Sensing a pattern? Opponents with the four best pass rushing crews were able to get to Rees, compiling 13 sacks while forcing and recovering two fumbles. Teams with a poor pass rush (Purdue, Air Force, Navy, BC, and Wake Forest) did not.
Florida State ranks 9th nationally with three sacks per game. With Cave still out, the Irish front wall awaits a challenge from the athletic Seminoles front.
#9 – Back At Ya…Notre Dame finished 79th in the nation, posting just 20 sacks. Six of those sacks (30 percent) occurred vs. Pittsburgh – the Panthers suffered the most sacks in the nation, 57. (For the sake oft-referenced, that's the exact total suffered by Notre Dame in the oft-referenced 2007 debacle, a program record.)
Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's defense posted 27 sacks last fall, a four-year program high. Strange but true fact regarding the number: just three occurred during the team's four-game winning streak to conclude the season.
Conversely (and predictably), the Irish defense fared well this season when it applied pressure, sacking opposing quarterbacks 17 times in eight wins and just three times in four losses – with no takedowns vs. USC or Stanford (two of the nation's seven least-sacked offenses).
Florida State's offensive line surrendered 36 sacks this season – nearly three times more than did the Irish front, and a number that would rank (as a point of reference) as the third-highest at Notre Dame since the millennium (2007 and 2002).
The Seminoles have a far stronger pass rush than the Irish – but Notre Dame's could have a greater impact on the game's outcome in Orlando thanks to a leaky FSU front.
#10 – Playing the PoniesFlorida State allowed just over 15 points per game and only 23 touchdowns over 12 contests. Notre Dame yielded a shade less than 21 points per outing, surrendering 31 scores, though just eight of those were rushing touchdowns, tied for the 5th-lowest total in the nation…with Florida State.
FSU allows an inordinate number of sacks…Notre Dame commits an inexcusable number of turnovers…Both teams are heavily penalized…the Seminoles average just 3.5 yards per rush…the Irish held nine of 12 foes nearly a full yard below their per carry average…
I'm not sure who'll win or by how much, but if you're headed to Vegas or have a shady acquaintance at the neighborhood bar – or if you just like to illegally gamble – you might consider the game score falling under the 46.5 listed total.