Notre Dame's keys to beating Florida State go beyond Winston

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

Believe it or not, there are players on Florida State’s roster other than Jameis Winston. You just haven’t heard much about them this week as FSU’s star quarterback has earned headlines for matters other than football.

But if the Seminoles are to remain unbeaten — and end Notre Dame’s unbeaten season Saturday night in Tallahassee, Fla. — a number of other FSU players will have to come up big. The following is a look at three guys not named Winston, a position group and a mindset that may very well be instrumental for the Seminoles.

Roberto Aguayo, K

Florida State’s media notes this week call Aguayo “Mr. Perfect,” which is a misnomer. But not by much.

The sophomore has made 99.4 percent of his career kicks — all 121 extra-point attempts and 34 of 35 field-goal attempts. The only miss, in case you were curious, was a 43-yard attempt on Nov. 13, 2013 at Wake Forest. That means he’s never missed at FSU’s Doak Campbell Stadium.

With 66 points this season, Aguayo has outscored one entire FBS team, SMU, which has scored 36 points through five games.

The superlatives say a lot about Aguayo’s accuracy, but it also sends a warning shot about FSU’s propensity to put points on the board.

Kermit Whitfield, KR

Think back to the BCS National Championship Game. Auburn had just seized momentum, then made the poor decision of kicking to then-freshman Whitfield. A hundred yard return later — which took Whitfield about two nanoseconds to cover —and momentum had shifted back to the FSU sideline.

Remember how dangerous Stanford kick returner Ty Montgomery was considered two weeks ago? Whitfield’s average of 36.4 yards was six yards more per kick return than Montgomery last year as he led the nation.

Whitfield’s numbers are down this year, his average dipping to 20.9 per return, but opposing special teams coordinators have no doubt kicked away from, out of the end zone or put extra height on the ball. One mistake could turn this game, and Whitfield is the kind of guy who can capitalize.

Nick O’Leary, TE

The grandson of Jack Nicklaus has seen his production go up every year, and he already holds FSU records for tight ends in receptions, yardage and touchdowns.

When Winston is in a tight spot, keep an eye on O’Leary. Of his 24 catches this season, 15 have resulted in first downs, and all six of his third-down receptions have moved the chains.

O’Leary isn’t just a catch-and-crumple kind of tight end. His career 13.9 yards-per catch mark ranks favorably to this year’s averages posted by Notre Dame’s top two receivers — Will Fuller (14.4) and Corey Robinson (13.7).

Florida State’s D-line

Specifically, can ND run on these guys? Notre Dame ranks 67th nationally in rushing offense with 163.8 yards per outing. FSU’s defense is allowing 144.8 yards per game, good for a No. 54 national ranking.

What’s interesting is who has done what against FSU. The opponent with the best rushing total is … The Citadel with 250 yards.

Oklahoma State and North Carolina State each ran for 161, Clemson, the team that had the Seminoles on the ropes, produced just 101. Syracuse last week ran for 156 on the ‘Noles. By comparison, the Orange ran for 135 against ND.

There are parts there that can make this a tough matchup. Six-foot-44, 320-pound Eddie Goldman can be a menace. Freshman Lorenzo Featherston recently moved into the starting lineup and has been productive.

But starter Derrick Mitchell, a 6-4, 303-pound junior, has just five tackles this season. How it all shakes out against a Notre Dame offensive line that would still get an incomplete grade will be key.

Yes, Everett Golson is an accomplished passer, but if the Seminoles can force the Irish offense to become one-dimensional, FSU has a terrific chance of extending its winning streak to 23 games.

FSU’s mystique

Are the Seminoles distracted by all the Winston stuff? Or do they have the ability to tune everything out and just play football?

There have been some outings this season in which the Seminoles seemed ripe, but their talent has rescued them. That won’t last forever.

Still, there are some numbers posted during their 22-game winning streak that support just how dominant they’ve been.

• FSU has scored 91 more touchdowns than its opponents during that streak.

• Opponents have completed just 52.5 percent of their passes.

• Florida State is averaging 495.6 yards of total offense.

• FSU is outscoring opponents by more than five touchdowns a game during the stretch.

Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary is a weapon Jameis Winston looks to on third down. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)