The Notre Dame defense played as well as they could play against Air Force. They absolutely dominated the Falcon offensive line penetrating the backfield and forcing Chance Harridge to make decisions before he wanted to make decision. The Irish defense and more important defensive line will have to make a similar impact if they want to win this game.
The Irish offense also had similar success against the undersized Falcon defense. They created the largest running lanes for Irish backs all year. They gave Holiday time to throw the football and to find an open Arnaz Battle. The offense will also have to have similar success to win this game.
Every "expert" I have listened to or read has picked the Irish to lose. At least some of them have enough common sense to say it should be a close game. I am quite sure this Notre Dame team will not be satisfied with close game. They haven't been satisfied all year with a close game so why would you expect them to be now? This Irish team believes they can win this game. The question is how will they win this game?
Florida State enters this game with a very balanced offense. The Seminoles average 230 yards a game on the ground. They also average 205 yards passing. The run the ball 60% of the time so they rely on their running game to take the fight out of their opponent and to keep the opposing offense off the field. The Seminoles have their version of "Thunder and Lightening." The Seminoles are lead by Heisman candidate Greg Jones or "Thunder". Jones is a hard-charger listed at 248 pounds. He has quickness and the speed to take short runs and turn them into a score. He pounds opposing defenses inside but you better have at least two guys trying to bring him down once he hits the linebackers. He is a very physical player.
The Seminoles also have "Lightening" in Nick Maddox. Maddox is a very quick back with all kinds of lateral movement and shiftiness and he has plenty of speed to get outside and turn any run into a score. Maddox was considered the top back coming out of high school a few years ago and he hasn't quite lived up to that billing but it appears to be because of a lack of opportunities. Notre Dame fans should fear him every time he touches the ball.
Florida State has always had quality receivers and this year is no different. Anquan Boldin, Talman Gardner and Robert Morgan lead the Seminoles. All are veteran receivers with the speed and athletic ability to hurt you on any play. Quarterback Chris Rix also leads Florida State. Rix has had an up and down career at Florida State. Rix is a mobile quarterback who has the skill to hurt just as Carlyle Holiday can hurt you when he takes off running. Rix is a much more polished passer than Holiday at this point but he can be rattled just like any quarterback.
Florida State also has a very solid offensive line. Many think this is the best offensive line in the country and most will play on Sundays. Brett Williams is the star of this group but Antoine Mirambeau, Montre Holland, Ray Willis and Todd Williams are not far behind. Four seniors and one sophomore anchor this offensive line.
On defense, the Seminoles have given up an average of 105 yards a game. They have also surrendered 275 a game through the air. Teams have been attacking their secondary and have had success. Their front 4 appears to be pretty solid with Alonzo Jackson leading the way. Darnell Dockett, Travis Johnson, Jeff Womble and Kevin Emanuel also contribute a lot on the defensive line. All are at least juniors except Johnson who is a sophomore. They haven't produced the sacks that Florida State defenses have been known for but they harassed Ken Dorsey in the Miami game and were a big reason Florida State led most of the game. They had a 5 star effort that day and I expect them to play with the same passion this week.
Florida State also has a pretty solid line backing corps with Kendyll Pope, Jerel Hudson and Michael Boulware. Boulware was moved to linebacker because of a lack of depth and talent. This group isn't your typical FSU group of linebackers. They are good, not great. All have speed and fly to the ball.
The secondary has struggled this year. Stanford Samuels, B.J. Ward, Rufus Brown and Jerome Carter were all highly recruited coming out of high school. They are all good athletes but they do give up a lot of yardage through the air. Some blame has to be placed on the lack of pass rush. The pass rush is starting to come around for FSU so this should give this unit a little confidence.
With two deadly running backs, 3 good if not great wide receivers, a very solid offensive line and a serviceable quarterback, why is Florida State 5-2? The defense has had a few breakdowns but this offense should be able to score at will. Why has this not happened? Chemistry is a big part of the game. Notre Dame is winning because of great team chemistry. Florida State should be 7-0 right now. They should have beat Louisville and they should have beat Miami. They didn't win those games because the let down in the final minutes of the game. Can that happen again?
I think it can happen. This game will be about attitude. Florida State will come out flexing their muscle as the big bully on the block and see if they can intimidate Notre Dame (much like the Irish used to do). I fully expect to see A LOT of trash talking in this game. I will guarantee you that Notre Dame will not be intimidated by Florida State or anyone for that matter. Florida State will quickly learn that they are going to have to win this game on merit and solid, fundamental football. This game will boil down to momentum, turnovers and heart. When Notre Dame has momentum, they are going to have to score. They will have to protect the football and we won't have to worry about heart.
How do you stop this Florida State offense? The first thing Notre Dame must do is to get into the backfield. If they can force Greg Jones to change direction or hit him early in the backfield, Jones will be less effective. Like a lot of big backs, if you hit them early or make them change direction, your chances of stopping him are much better. If Jones can just power his way through a hole into our linebackers or secondary, it will be a long day for the Irish defense. Cedric Hilliard and Darrell Campbell will be very key to this game. If they can penetrate the FSU line of scrimmage, Notre Dame's chances of winning greatly increase.
I expect the Irish defense to play a lot of zone coverage against Florida State. That means this game will be another ugly game much like the Pitt game. The Irish will keep the Seminole receivers in front of them and making the sure tackle. Florida State will move the ball up and down the field and then the Irish will see if they can get the ball in the end zone when they enter the red zone. If Notre Dame can put pressure on Chris Rix, this will obviously help the cause. The Irish defensive line is going to have to create more pressure against Rix than they did against Rutherford.
On offense, I expect Notre Dame to do what they have always done. Try to run the football and mix in some passing to keep the defense off balance. The offense is going to have to score at least 17 points to win this game. I am going to guess that number will be closer to 21. That is three drives and 3 touchdowns. I hope that happens because they are going to need it. I do expect to see more misdirection and for Arnaz Battle to be used in various roles in this game. We need to see the same Ryan Grant we saw last week. He is going to have to be at his best and pick up the extra one or two yards every carry.
As I have said all week. This game is going to come down to who wants to win the game more. The victor will be the team that can overcome the adversity and make the plays at critical times in the game. I have to pick the Irish in this game for one simple reason. The Irish have made those critical plays in every game and every game except Stanford has been close. I am not picking Florida State because they haven't made those plays. Notre Dame 24 Florida State 21.