Aftermath: Notre Dame vs. Florida State

Day-after observations following Notre Dame's 31-27 loss to Florida State

1. With one minute and thirty seconds left on the clock in the 3rd quarter - the score tied - Romeo Okwara sacked Jameis Winston for a loss of eight on 2nd and 10.

It was both Okwara and fellow defensive end Isaac Rochell that generated the pressure on Winston and brought him down deep in Florida State’s own territory.

In August, exactly no one would have named that duo as the pair sacking Winston with the game on the line in Tallahassee. And yet, for those keeping up with Notre Dame’s defensive prowess this year, that play wasn’t shocking. National media and fans alike will point out Brian VanGorder’s gutsy scheme that he dialed up for the special occasion of facing Jameis Winston, but that’s what Notre Dame has been doing all year.

Lost in the fact that Notre Dame was able to generate quality pressure on Winston for most of the night, i that Notre Dame was playing Irish defense of 2014. It catered to no one but its own personnel and own playing style. Pressure from the safety, cornerback, and weak-side linebacker positions and an array of personnel making up its 3rd down packages have helped define Notre Dame's defense all year, and last night was no different.

No longer will Notre Dame’s defense sneak up on anyone, though don’t expect the same of VanGorder’s blitzing schemes.

This defense is no fluke. It’s here to stay. It has earned expectations. Not just for the remaining games of this season, but after last night’s performance, one can’t help but peek ahead.

Notre Dame returns 10 starters on defense next year. That’s 11 if you factor in cornerback Keivarae Russell.

2. Notre Dame doesn’t fall in line behind many when it comes to caliber of recruiting.

However, between 2010-2013, Florida State edged Notre Dame in recruiting rankings three out of the four years, including having possessed the No. 1 ranked class in the nation in 2010. The best ranking for Notre Dame during that time period was fifth in 2013.

Last night was a transparent display of why player development hardly trails recruiting in terms of importance. Why Brian Kelly is one of the best in college football in “coaching up his guys.” The job that he has done with this group is commendable.

Players like Cole Luke, Isaac Rochell, Will Fuller, and Jarron Jones have all taken gigantic steps forward this season, and it’s not an exaggeration to assess that much of their rise is attributed directly to Kelly and his staff.

It’s not fair to automatically insert the cliché that “this team grew up before our eyes last night.” This team deserves greater credit than that. Growth has taken place all season, but it was the stage that presented itself last night for that growth to truly manifest itself. The mentality of Notre Dame’s players that they expected to win is a testament to that.

It’s obvious that Kelly has a special liking for this year’s team, and there’s no secret he’s draws an immense personal enjoyment from coaching up this promising youth.

3. The defensive line for Notre Dame wasn’t the only unit in the trenches that dominated for the Irish.

Notre Dame’s offensive line contributed to 120 yards of rushing by Tarean Folston on 21 carries. Notre Dame rushed for 154 yards total on 35 attempts for an average of 4.5 yards per carry.

Notre Dame’s first touchdown drive of the night came in the 1st quarter, and it was arguably its most compelling drive of the entire evening and season.

Folston carried the ball six consecutive times for gains of 12, 17, 2, 6 and 1 to open Notre Dame’s third drive of the game. McDaniel then took the reins and garnered three yards on a 4th and 1 to reach the Florida State 30-yard line. Florida State’s defense entered the game with a 7-1 record this season against 4th down offenses. Two completions of four and five yards to Amir Carlisle followed, and Everett Golson moved the chains on a 3rd and 1. Will Fuller proceeded to draw a pass interference call, and a pair of runs (five and two yards, respectively) from Folston inside the 10-yard line set up a one-yard touchdown pass to Corey Robinson on 3rd and goal.

Discounting a false start by Matt Hegarty that moved Notre Dame back from the 3-yard line to the 8-yard line on 1st down, Notre Dame’s offensive line fully orchestrated the foundation of the 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive that chewed 6:43 off the clock.

Pass protection was spot on for most of the night. Golson was sacked three times, though one was the result of a poor blitz pick-up by Folston and another occurred on Notre Dame’s second offensive play of the game, when gaining its bearings inside a hostile Doak Campbell was still the unit’s primary focus.

On the night, Notre Dame was 7-of-18 on 3rd down conversions. Centric to the play of the offensive line was three third down conversions coming from the run when Notre Dame had two or less yards to garner, and Florida State knew what to expect. Notre Dame also converted three third downs passing when three or less yards were required.


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