Notre Dame's Cody Riggs up to speed on Florida State

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly’s initial scouting report from Cody Riggs, the only player on the Notre Dame football roster to have faced reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, was a little less than scientific.

“I said, ‘Cody, we're playing Florida State. Those guys are big and they're strong and really fast. Are you scared?’ ” the Notre Dame head football coach related. “He goes, ‘Coach, I've played them the last four years, so I'm not really scared.’ So he said he wasn't scared. I think he's all right.”

The Florida transfer is certainly respectful of the talent of Winston, who Saturday night at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla., becomes the 31st Heisman Trophy winner to face the Irish during some point in their career and eighth of the reigning variety.

Fifth-ranked Notre Dame (6-0) takes the nation’s third-longest active winning streak (7) into the home field of the team that owns the longest (22), No. 2 Florida State (6-0).

It’ll mark the 24th time in Irish football history that ND has faced the AP defending national champ the season after their title run, going 10-11-2 in the previous 23. Three of those wins helped spark the Irish to their own national titles in 1973 (23-14 over No. 6 USC), 1977 (19-9 over No. 7 Pittsburgh) and 1988 (31-30 over No. 1 Miami).

Riggs faced Winston last while playing safety Nov. 30 in Gainesville, Fla., in a 37-7 drubbing from the Seminoles that closed the door on a 4-8 season and was the last for Riggs in a Gators uniform.

One thing Florida was able to do well during the otherwise lost season, though, was play pass defense.

The Gators finished eighth nationally in pass-efficiency defense in 2013, despite holding their own against three of the nation’s top 12 passers — LSU’s Zach Mettenberger (fourth in passing efficiency), South Carolina’s Connor Shaw (10th) and Georgia’s Aaron Murray (12th).

But Winston (first in pass-efficiency) lit them up for 327 passing yards on 19-of-31 accuracy with three touchdowns and one interception.

“He’s a great player, makes a lot of plays,” Riggs said. “He’s never down. You’ve got to make sure you get him all the way to the ground. He makes a lot of plays with his legs. I’ve seen him wrapped up, and he still makes a play down the field.

“Really good player, smart player, makes a lot of smart decisions, so you just have to play within yourself and just be patient. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, but if he happens to make a mistake, you have to capitalize on it.”

He hasn’t made many in 2014, at least not on the field. And the walking distraction off the field has had to be a more transcendent player as the Seminoles’ running game, offensive line, defense and even the return game are way off from their impressive 2013 rankings.

“They (the Seminoles) always have playmakers on offense and a fast defense,” said Riggs, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., product, who called FSU his dream school growing up but eliminated the Seminoles fairly early in the process when he trimmed his list of finalists from five to four.

“When I got to my senior year, I just had a change of heart,” he said.

And then the loathing began.

Riggs’ Gator teams went 1-3 against the Seminoles, with Florida scoring just seven points in each of the three of the losses. This will be his third business trip to Tallahassee, but his second to see actual game action.

Riggs was injured in 2012, but he did play in 2010 as a freshman nickelback in Urban Meyer’s last regular-season game as coach of the Gators.

He did watch the game the last time ND and FSU clashed, Dec. 29, 2011 in the Champ Sports Bowl in Orlando, an 18-14 Seminole comeback win. His main interest in that game was watching former high school teammate Rashad Greene, then a freshman wide receiver for the Seminoles.

Greene, now a senior, scored the go-ahead TD as the Seminoles scored the final 18 points of the game. He has evolved into one of the nation’s top receivers (44 receptions, 683 yards, 3 TDs) and FSU's all-time leader in receptions (215), and Riggs could find himself matched up with him at times on Saturday night.

“I’ve had this game circled since I first got here,” he said. “Of course it means a lot for me to play Florida State. I had a vision that we were going to go undefeated, especially up to this game, and we accomplished that.

“I have anticipated this game, especially after we didn’t have such a good outing on defense last game to get out there and prove ourselves as a dominant defense.”

The Irish gave up the most points ever in a victory last Saturday in a 50-43 survival of North Carolina, after five straight impressive performances under first-year coordinator Brian VanGorder.

“He got on us,” Riggs said of VanGorder. “Of course, he’s not going to act like it’s OK, but he got on us and at the same time we have to move onto the next game and he’s preparing us for Florida State.”

A team with a much more dangerous offense, even if the Seminoles haven’t consistently showed that yet.

“A lot of Florida speed,” Riggs said of FSU. “But we have that, too.”

Collinsworth out 4-6 weeks

One-time starting strong safety Austin Collinsworth was going to have to sit out Saturday’s matchup with Florida State anyways, but Kelly announced Wednesday during the ACC coaches teleconference that the grad student will miss the next four to six weeks with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

A similar injury caused Collinsworth to miss the first part of the 2012 season before a back injury finished him off.

Kelly said the injury would not require surgery.

Collinsworth was ND’s projected starter coming out of training camp, but two days before the Aug. 30 season opener with Rice, he suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the first four games.

He played as a reserve in ND’s 17-14 win over Stanford on Oct. 4, then started last Saturday against North Carolina. The 2013 starting safety lasted less than a quarter before suffering the injury.

Art Best dies

Former Notre Dame running back (1972-74) Art Best died Tuesday. According to his family, he was battling cancer and succumbed to a virus he couldn’t shake. He was residing in Pickerington, Ohio.


Notre Dame cornerback Cody Riggs knows this week's opponent, Florida State, well. Riggs is a Florida native and has previously faced off against the Seminoles. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)