Notre Dame can't hold on against Florida State
TALLAHASEE, Fla. — This was a referendum on Notre Dame football, Saturday night in Doak Campbell Stadium.
On ND’s recruiting patterns, on its player development mantra, on whether it could compete with elite talent-laden, brand-name college football teams and still stand for the things off the field it wanted to stand for.
Even as Everett Golson’s fourth-down-and-18 prayer fluttered into the arms of Florida State linebacker Jacob Pugh in the end zone with six seconds left in an epic 31-27 Seminole survival over the plucky but not lucky fifth-ranked Irish, the bigger-picture message is that Notre Dame is surging again.
Just not enough to take down the nation’s No. 2 team and defending national champions.
“When you coach college football, you dream of coaching in games like this,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It’s a true privilege.”
An apparent three-yard touchdown pass from Golson to Corey Robinson on the play immediately before the pick was wiped out by an offensive pass-interference infraction away from the ball, called on ND wide receiver C.J. Prosise.
"We needed to make one more play." Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly repeated twice when asked about the penalty, adding he didn't receive an explanation from the officials.
"We execute that play every day. We do it legally, and that's the way we coach it. We don't coach illegal plays."
Golson wasn’t about to pin the outcome on the ACC officiating crew.
"They called offensive pass interference, so that's something you can't argue with,” Golson said. “You’ve got to play through it. That last play on 4th-and-18, I probably could have made a play. I think that's what I'm more disappointed in.”
Golson had earlier converted a fourth-and-18 play in the final Irish drive, connecting with Robinson on a 20-yard play to the FSU 37.
The senior quarterback finished 31-of-52 for 313 yards with three TDs and two picks, playing much of the second half with leg cramps and receiving an IV in the locker room as sophomore backup Malik Zaire, with zero career pass attempts, warmed up. The 52 attempts are a career high.
Golson, who never actually missed a play, receiving treatment when Florida State had the ball, also ran for 33 yards on 11 carries, complementing sophomore tailback Tarean Folston.
The Cocoa, Fla., product became the first Irish back this season to crack either the 100-yard mark or the 20-carry barrier. He finished with 120 yards on 21 carries as the Irish outrushed the Seminoles, 157-50.
The Irish (6-1), in fact, dominated statistically, especially because they effectively played keep-away. Notre Dame ran 87 offensive plays to FSU’s 57, won time of possession (32:31 to 27:09), was better on third down (7-of-18 to 2-of-8) and outgained the Seminoles (7-0) overall, 470 to 323.
It still wasn’t enough to offset a brilliant second half by troubled-but-opulent FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who on Saturday night became the first FBS QB in the 2000s to win his first 20 starts.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner was 15-of-16 for 181 yards in the second half, as the Seminoles largely ditched their running game and rallied from a 17-10 halftime deficit. Winston’s final numbers were 23-of-31 for 273 yards and two TDs and one pick.
“We made some adjustments, got some pep in our step and got things going,” Fisher said of Winston’s second-half heroics.
It was the first time in a Winston start that Florida State didn’t reach the 34-point mark and the first time the Irish dropped a top five matchup on the road (now 5-1-1).
Florida State was without 66-year-old offensive line coach Rick Trickett, out with a health issue. Grad assistant David Spurlock filled in.
The school-record 28th night game that Kelly has coached probably kept the Irish at least on the back burner of the playoff discussion with five games left and all but cinched a berth for Florida State, but it’s a game that may not have yet defined them.
Are they a team that simply turns it on and off when they want, in between stretches of indifference? Or is this a much more flawed version than the one that bullied is way into the 16th and final BCS National Championship Game last January?
In either event, the Irish took full advantage in the first half, getting a pair of Golson-to-Robinson TD passes (the sophomore finished eight catches for 99 yards) and a 34-yard field goal by Kyle Brindza just before the half that nudged him past John Carney and into first place on ND’s career field goal list.
He later added a 46-yarder, with 11:40 left in the game, that gave him career No. 53 and the Irish their final lead of the game at 27-24.
FSU running back Karlos Williams’ one-yard lunge with 7:39 left gave the Seminoles their first lead of the game, 31-27, and their defense had just enough to make it stand up.
“Winston is a very good player,” Kelly said. “I thought our quarterback played better than him tonight. It just didn't show up on the scoreboard.
"We're obviously very disappointed. We came down here expecting to win and we didn't win the football game."