Weather conditions were the least of Florida State's problems in loss
SOUTH BEND — The third-coldest game in Notre Dame Stadium since 1980 cast no hindrance on the home team.
No. 3 Notre Dame (10-0) handled Florida State (4-6) — a team without experience in such conditions — 42-13 on Saturday through its hot start, rushing attack and defensive red-zone efficiency on a night in which the kickoff temperature was 27 degrees.
None were a product of the weather. The Irish simply took care of business.
“It didn’t. We just didn’t execute. No one was talking about the weather,” said Willie Taggart, FSU’s head coach. “We had a chance. The offense would move the ball at times, and then we were stepping in our own way. Defense, we gave up too many big plays, explosive plays.”
The Irish defense simplified the duties of Brandon Wimbush, who started in place of injured quarterback Ian Book. Meanwhile, six plays across FSU’s opening three drives resulted in eight yards and two turnovers.
Senior Nick Coleman earned his first extensive action since Ball State, replacing freshman Houston Griffith at nickel back. Te’von Coney tipped the game’s second pass, which Coleman hauled in for the interception. FSU’s ensuing possessions resulted in a three-and-out and a fumble — which Adetokunbo Ogundeji punched out and Daelin Hayes recovered.
The sequence sparked a 17-0 start from the Irish, scoring on three-yard and six-yard touchdown catches from Miles Boykin and Alizé Mack, respectively.
The Seminoles found success in the ground game but abandoned it due to the early deficit. Sophomore Cam Akers led FSU with 12 rushes for 63 yards and two touchdowns of seven and eight yards. Senior Jacques Patrick followed with 16 carries for 53 yards.
“It’s hard to run when you are down,” Patrick said. “You can’t spot good teams like that points.”
The spotted points further elevated the role of Dexter Williams. FSU allowed its first 200-yard rusher since 1982 in Williams, who finished with 202 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. The nation's No. 17 run defense entering the weekend allowed 365 rushing yards on 50 attempts.
In its 59-10 blowout victory over FSU two weeks ago, No. 2 Clemson carried it 33 times for 120 yards. The Seminoles must win out, or they will suffer their first losing season since 1976.
“I think we’ve got to tackle better,” Taggart said. “We’ve got to be better in our gaps, and as coaches, we have got to make sure we put our guys in the right position to make the plays we are capable of making.”
Aaron Banks stood out in his third start at left guard. The Irish elevated the sophomore in hopes of reviving their offensive line, which struggled against typically porous defenses in Ball State and Pittsburgh.
It was Banks who overpowered two defenders in the fourth quarter, allowing Williams to burst past the right of him for a 32-yard score. It was right tackle Robert Hainsey who sealed the edge on Williams’ 58-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
It was ND's offensive line that's collectively continuing to improve with the insertion of Banks, allowing zero sacks and zero tackles for loss on the night.
Wimbush threw two interceptions but was provided enough protection to register winning plays, finishing 12-of-25 for 130 yards and three touchdowns. He also recorded 68 rushing yards on 12 carries.
FSU's star defensive end Brian Burns finished with seven tackles but rarely created pressure.
“We are not getting there with our four-man rush,” Taggart said. “When we do blitz, they are throwing the ball and we get back and cover and get pass interference. That's not helping us as well.
“We have some talented players back there, and I think they can make more plays when they see things in front of them. Up front we've got to rush one-on-one. A lot of time they're chipping and double-teaming Burns, and that's when someone else needs to step up and make a play for us.”
Similar to ND’s quarterback situation, Deondre Francois regained the starting job later this week. The junior missed last week’s game against NC State with an injury. The early-game deficit prompted Francois to throw a season-high 47 passes, completing 23 of them for 216 yards and an interception.
The one-dimensional offense and numerous drops hindered the Seminoles, who scored 13 points despite entering ND territory on seven occasions. Taggart said he never considered replacing Francois with last week’s starter, James Blackman.
“I think any quarterback is going to struggle when you have a lot of drops, and you don't get into a rhythm,” Taggart said. “So I didn't think putting Blackman in was going to spark our football team, and I don't think putting him in was going to make you catch balls or anything like that.”
The Seminoles entered the weekend No. 119 in sacks allowed and second-to-last in tackles for loss yielded, yet the Irish managed just one and five on the night, respectively. FSU registered four drives of 10-plus plays, chewing over a quarter of clock. The latter two possessions concluded via turnovers on downs.
“I think our guys, for us, they have to score faster,” Taggart said. “Not have the long drives but score faster. The long drives we tend to make a mistake in, and part of that has to do with the young football team. We've got a lot of young guys, and they're trying their hearts out, but we've got to try it the right way.”
In other words, not the cold weather.
“Honestly, I don’t think it was that cold,” said Joshua Kaindoh, a sophomore defensive end.