Five keys for Notre Dame against Florida State: Establish the run, tailor to Wimbush

Staff reports
ND Insider

Here are five keys for No. 3 Notre Dame (9-0) as it hosts Florida State (4-5) on Saturday.


For better and for worse, Brandon Wimbush plays nothing like Ian Book. ND’s offense, in turn, is likely to be tailored to Wimbush. Unlike Book, Wimbush’s strength is as a runner. Wimbush also can throw solid deep balls at times. The Irish will need to abandon Book’s offense of the short passing game — an area in which Wimbush often struggled. Expect the Irish to utilize Wimbush’s skills with an uptick in draws and outside runs. A healthy dose of deep balls, however, might be difficult considering the weather.


Florida State’s games can look ugly. The Seminoles are tied for No. 111 in turnovers and rank second-to-last in penalties. In the last two weeks, officials flagged FSU on 32 occasions. The way ND loses this game is if it shoots itself in the foot and does not win the turnover battle. The Irish can accomplish a clean game by relying on their defense — which ranks No. 26 in total defense — and establishing the run.


Michigan, Ball State, Pittsburgh and Northwestern each held ND under 150 rushing yards. All of those games were close. Ranked 17th against the run, FSU will be the second-best rush defense ND will face in the regular season. With the inclement weather and Wimbush’s inconsistencies through the air, FSU will likely load the box often. ND’s offensive line must provide enough push — and improve on reaching the second level — for its offense to establish the ground attack. It will help having sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong return. It’s also imperative that Wimbush moves the chains with his arm, as FSU will challenge him to do so.


No unit on Saturday is as bad as FSU’s offensive line. The Seminoles are tied for No. 119 in sacks allowed and second-to-last in tackles for loss yielded. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern’s quarterback, said after last week’s game that the reason for ND’s ninth-ranked pass efficiency defense is its defensive front. FSU quarterback James Blackman could earn his second straight start, and he has not faced many defenses as stout as ND’s. He has not played in weather as frigid as Saturday’s is expected to be, either. The Irish could fluster Blackman by sending pressure.


Expect Deondre Francois or Blackman to attempt to exploit Houston Griffith, the freshman nickel who has yet to show the improvement ND desires, assuming Griffith gets more opportunities. Against Pitt, defensive coordinator Clark Lea moved Julian Love to nickel on certain occasions and elevated freshman Tariq Bracy to starting cornerback. Bracy held his own, although he has not played much since. If Griffith struggles in coverage, the Irish will be likely to mix in their previous lineup that worked, especially on third down.

Notre Dame’s Jafar Armstrong (8) runs for a touchdown against Wake Forest Sept. 22 at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, NC.


At Notre Dame Stadium (77,622), South Bend, IND

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.