Notre Dame defense moving on from a near-miss

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Compliments come in the form of a scrapped game plan.

No greater accolade has been heaped on the Notre Dame defense than when Stanford and Florida State abandoned their offensive plan of attack mid-game to try something else.

That’s the sincerest form of panic.

After the Seminoles, who won 31-27, generated 111 offensive yards (19 rushing on nine carries) and 10 points in the first half Saturday night, coach Jimbo Fisher figured there had to be a better way. Going right at the Irish wasn’t working. Quarterback Jameis Winston hadn’t been sacked, but he was knocked down a bit.

Florida State’s revised offensive agenda called for an attempt to go around the Irish, rather than through them. The Seminoles did to Notre Dame what Notre Dame did to Syracuse a couple of weeks ago: Lots of quick drops by Winston and short passes that move the chains.

Winston completed 15 of 16 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown. The Seminoles netted only 31 rushing yards on 17 second-half carries, but Karlos Williams scored from the 2- and the 1-yard lines.

“When it comes to the D-line, (defensive coordinator Brian) VanGorder preaches to us: We have to stop the run to make them throw the ball,” said Notre Dame defensive tackle Sheldon Day. “It was a big emphasis this week.”

“Our defense, in general, does a good job playing the run,” said Irish defensive end Isaac Rochell. “It’s an attitude.”

“Guys played tenaciously (against the run),” said Irish inside linebacker Joe Schmidt, who led the defense with nine tackles and an interception. “It was one of the things we wanted to highlight. We still could have been better – they rushed in on the goal line twice.”

That’s how difficult that game’s outcome was to accept: The Irish did almost everything right on offense and defense but still didn’t win the game.

“(Florida State) came out (in the second half) with the attitude that they weren’t going to not score,” Rochell said. “There was a huge shift in their attitude. You could tell on the field. Their players were more engaged in the game.”

“In the first half, we were flying around and having fun,” said Day. “In the second half, they started connecting on some little things; picking up little yards to pick up their passing game.

“You could definitely tell (Winston found a rhythm in the second half). There were little dishes here and little dishes there.”

Credit the offense with doing its part.

Notre Dame ran 87 offensive snaps, the most it has had this season. The Irish had 81 against North Carolina and 80 against Syracuse.

What made that number more impressive was that Florida State ran 57. Notre Dame led the battle of total yards (470-323), first downs (26-18) and time of possession (32:51-27:09).

The only key stat that didn’t favor the Irish was the one that counted most: The final score.

Even now, it’s still difficult to look beyond the outcome and celebrate the performance. That will come in time — hopefully sooner than later.

There’s still a lot of the season to play, and more than a few opportunities for the Notre Dame defense to feel good about itself, heading into a unique challenge Nov. 1 against Navy’s option offense.

“(The defensive line) needs to work on the pass rush,” Rochell said. “It’s a huge issue. We played the run well, but we have to become a complete D-line.”

“We proved something to ourselves; that we can play together at any point of the game,” said Day. “We can rely on each other.”

With a week off before Navy, that’s all the Irish have right now.

ALesar@SBTinfo.com

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Notre Dame’s Joe Schmidt, center, celebrates with teammates after an interception during the Notre Dame-Florida State NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame’s Sheldon Day (91) fails to reach Florida State’s Jameis Winston before a pass during the Notre Dame-Florida State NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame’s Jarron Jones (94) and Isaac Rochell (90) celebrate a big stop during the Notre Dame-Florida State NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN