1. Will They Finally Miss Keivarae Russell?
A definitive, perhaps game-changing, "Yes."
Notre Dame was arguably a star cornerback short of beating Florida State by more than a touchdown Saturday night, but in the real world, the Irish secondary was left vulnerable to the nation's best passer of the football and his dangerous trio of receivers.
As head coach Brian Kelly noted post game, the Irish defense was "only too happy" whenever the Seminoles ran the football because the staff was well-aware of the challenge it faced in the secondary.
Rather than utilizing Cody Riggs as a natural nickel, with Cole Luke in his stead at LCB and Russell on the right side, the Irish were forced to cover the vertical attack of the Seminoles with former safety Matthias Farley, a senior whose contributions this season have been invaluable, but one pressed into a role for which he was not ideally suited Saturday night.
2.) Will Florida State's defensive front awaken?
They were certainly dialed in, but Notre Dame's front played well enough that the FSU front seven did not decide the outcome.
The Irish rushed for 172 yards (losing 15 along the way), while limiting the Seminoles attacking front to five tackles for loss and three sacks -- all of which were relevant to the outcome, but totals that Kelly would sign up for without blinking when facing such an athletic front.
Florida State's three sacks mark the second-highest total of the season. Not coincidentally, the highest total, seven, occurred vs. North Carolina State, a game in which the Wolf Pack attempted 50 passes -- a season-high vs. Florida State prior to Everett Golson's 52 throws Saturday night.
Notre Dame's pass protection efforts were more than enough to win, and they got the best the Seminoles had to offer.
3.) Will rush lane integrity trouble the Irish again?
Not at all. Winston was able to escape pressure and make plays because he's a great college quarterback. Breakdowns in lane integrity were minimal -- tackling a 230-pound experienced, determined athlete isn't easy.
The Irish defense fared well against Winston, the play-maker. Winston the passer has yet to lose a matchup and is unlikely to lose any this season.
4.) Will The New Center Be Exposed?
Florida State's Ryan Hoefield will likely be an accomplished 5th-year senior center the next time these teams meet in a regular season game (assume it'll be 2017) but as projected, Saturday night proved difficult for the Kenner, La.-product starting his second career contest.
Irish junior nose guard Jarron Jones put forth the best game of his life, earning Irish Eyes Defensive MVP award for his six-solo tackle, three-TFL effort. Jones and classmate Sheldon Day were the chief reasons Notre Dame's rush defense dominated the contest and the Irish front was able to bother Winston throughout the first half.
5.) Will Golson's Gaffes Continue?
No fumbles against an aggressive, ball-attacking defense and a whopping 52 passes thrown with just two interceptions -- one of which -- the final pass of the game, did not appear to be an interception upon further review.
Golson's ball security issues were a non-issue Saturday night on the game's biggest stage. One pick for every 52 passes would be a ratio Kelly and Golson can live with going forward as the Irish triggerman attacks downfield.
Florida State broke up 11 passes -- a testament to their athleticism in congress with a few instances of pocket pressure. Golson's decision-making was that of a winning quarterback in an underdog situation in Tallahassee.
6.) Bang Your Head? Will the Irish run enough?
Yes. While it's hard to win with 52 passes, it's difficult to argue that Kelly's offense could have rushed more than 35 times. Notre Dame's dedication to the running game never wavered (10 of Golson's 52 throws came on the final drive), and I'm confident in stating that Saturday was Kelly's best-called contest of his 59-game Irish career.
Florida State broke Notre Dame's streak of 26 consecutive wins when rushing more than 30 times in a contest. The Irish are now 40-5 in such games under Kelly (3-11 otherwise). The Seminoles were the last team to turn the trick as well, beating Notre Dame 18-14 in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl despite 35 rushing attempts by what was then a scattershot Irish offense.
Kudos to the play-caller Saturday night. (The same could be said for both sets of play-callers from both squads.. It was a well-played and expertly coached football game.)
7.) Chopped Down? How will the youth-filled Irish handle the environment and game pressure?
With aplomb. Notre Dame entered the contest confident in its abilities to perform under pressure and exited the same -- with most of a college football nation realizing they're a program to be reckoned with.
And Finally, our weekly -- Can These Five Continue to Rise? Isaac Rochell, Cole Luke, Tarean Folston, Ronnie Stanley, and Steven Elmer...
Quality efforts across the board, with Folston the star and Elmer earning his stripes as a run-blocker throughout the contest. Our weekly detailed film review to follow will detail the efforts of each throughout the contest's 60 minutes.Click here to read the detailed list of keys to the contest.