It's a Wrap

O'Malley's Saturday Blog looks at the improved (Zeke Motta and Manti Te'o) and frustratingly familiar (red zone, special teams woes chief among them) from a disheartening Champs Sports Bowl defeat.

Motta's Moment

Zeke Motta's 29-yard fumble return touchdown was the first at Notre Dame since Week Two of the 2008 season when then-junior linebacker Brian Smith brought a rain-soaked Michigan fumble 35 yards to the South in a 35-17 win over the Wolverines. Motta scored courtesy the second forced fumble of Manti Te'o's career.

Motta finished the season with seven "Big Plays" (INT, Sack, TFL, PD, FF, FR, TD, Blkd kicks). Said safeties coach Chuck Martin of Motta before the season: "My hope, and I think it'll go this way, is that he'll start making some plays and he'll start to show up a little bit, then he'll start to show up a lot," Martin said in August. "Maybe not the Harrison (Smith) type of breakout, but along those lines, where you guys are coming to me saying ‘Zeke made that big play in the fourth quarter.'"

The Irish will need Motta to be an impact player next season, either as a sure tackler in support or confident defender in deep zones.

Red Zone Redux + Production Reduction

"And once again, the costly turnovers for Notre Dame in the red zone!"

The words of Champs Sports Bowl play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore would have, in most instances, elicited groans of foe-based favoritism from Irish fans tuning in. Thursday night in Orlando, those same diehards could do nothing but shake their heads in frustrated agreement as Notre Dame's 27th turnover of the season marked its ninth inside the opponent's 10-yard line.

Nearly four quarters and two interceptions later, the Irish finished the season with a whopping 29 miscues, the 29th and final fittingly occurred in the Seminoles end zone. That's 10 immediate scoring opportunities wiped out in a 13-game season, just two of which occurred during an Irish victory.

On September 3, Notre Dame began the season as a sloppy, undisciplined, but apparently potent offense (over 1,000 yards in the first two games were offset by 10 turnovers). It ended the season no less sloppy, but without the consistent production between the goal lines, compiling a mere 1,006 yards over the final three outings while turning it over seven times in that span.

FSU Odds and Ends

A few observations from the box in Thursday's frustrating four-point defeat:

  • Manti Te'o played very well in Orlando, but he was an absolutely dominant football player over the game's first three series. We'll have more on Te'o next week in a full-length feature column…

  • It never hurt the Irish on the scoreboard, but Prince Shembo's late-hit personal foul following a third-down E.J. Manuel incompletion in the first half of Thursday's loss was one of the more boneheaded, obvious personal fouls I've seen this season. Not only did Shembo hit Manuel late, he recoiled and struck after the throw was made – there was no continuing action. It wasn't malicious, just ridiculous, and a poor indicator of on field discipline a sophomore should have after a 13-game season…

  • Notre Dame held FSU to 18 yards of total offense in the first quarter, but the Seminoles returned the favor thereafter, limiting ND to 22 yards in the second and just 83 in the third period. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's unit did its job in the third quarter as well, allowing a mere 58 yards (none rushing) and three points – a field goal courtesy poor kick coverage by the Irish…

  • FSU began the game 0-8 in third-down conversion attempts before a diving 33-yard gain by Rashad Greene beyond Irish cornerback Gary Gray buoyed the Seminoles to a 10-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that cut Notre Dame's lead to 14-10 early in the fourth quarter. Greene struck later with a questionable 42-yard catch on his back (and on the Irish sideline stripe) to set up the Seminoles crucial final field goal, one that provided the final four-point deficit….

  • Florida State's third quarter field goal marked the first points allowed by the Irish defense in the third since Pittsburgh scored a touchdown (and failed on the ensuing 2-point conversion) in Week Four…

  • The 68,035 sell-out crowd that witnessed the Irish/Seminoles defensive struggle was the largest in Champs Sports Bowl history…
  • Floyd's juggling touchdown grab was his 100th and final catch as an Irish player…

It will always matter: Notre Dame's coverage units were burned in four of the team's five losses this season:

  1. The punt return team allowed a 34-yard punt return vs. USF (a field goal ensued in the 23-20 loss)
  2. The same group gave up a 21-yard punt return in the fourth quarter vs. Michigan (a touchdown the end result of the drive)
  3. Same culprits: a 26-yard punt return in the first quarter vs. USC (a touchdown followed again)
  4. A generally strong kick coverage crew surrendered a 77-yard kick return by Florida State for the aforementioned Seminoles' third quarter field goal…

Job 1 for the off-season is developing a true starting quarterback, but job two is to shore up a poor special teams unit. Top Stories