Notre Dame barely could’ve scripted a better start to Saturday’s game forcing a turnover on the second play from scrimmage and quickly jumping out to a 17-0 lead just over halfway through the 1st quarter. It was never close beyond Florida State closing the gap briefly to 11 points before the Irish ran away with the game for good in the second half.
Let’s recap the Senior Day victory over the Seminoles.
|Yards Per Play||6.6||4.1|
At this point, we know who Brandon Wimbush is as a quarterback. Given that, he played a really strong game before some of his bad habits began creeping into his performance.
The good: Wimbush was great in the red zone with a trio of touchdown passes. In the first half, he connected on several sharp and accurate throws flashing the potential that has made him such an enticing quarterback. Best of all, Wimbush got it done on the important snaps. He was 5 of 6 for 53 yards on 3rd down with 4 throws that moved the chains or scored a touchdown. He also ran for first down 3 times on 3rd down, as well.
Wimbush was absolutely one of the best players on the field in the first half when the Irish built a 32-6 lead.
As the game wore on, Wimbush appeared to lose his groove as he has done many times throughout his career. He finished the game going 2 of 9 for 19 yards with a pair of interceptions. On his second pick with just over 8 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter the Irish buttoned things up and did not throw the ball the rest of the way. Smart, given the way the running game was performing at that point, but also a sign that Wimbush still has limits.
The protection was quite solid, Florida State ended up with only 2 hurries and no sacks. Give Wimbush credit for staying pretty calm in the pocket.
Alize Mack received the game ball and deservedly so. His pair of circus catch touchdowns were an early turning point that allowed Notre Dame to pull away in the first half and get Florida State out of their comfort zone–if they ever had one in the cold weather.
Most won’t remember that Notre Dame started this game with successful runs on only 3 of 10 snaps. No, this game will be drowned out by what followed afterward which is a testament to the players but also the coaching staff for remaining patient and slowly grinding Florida State down over time.
The Irish finished the game with 25 of 40 successful carries on the ground! Additionally, not one snap for Notre Dame ended with a loss of yards. Yes, zero tackles for loss for Florida State in addition to no sacks. That hasn’t happened to a Seminoles team in almost 2 decades.
Irish Running Success
Williams – 12 of 20 (60.0%)
Wimbush – 6 of 12 (50.0%)
Armstrong – 4 of 7 (57.1%)
Jones – 4 of 6 (66.6%)
Davis – 2 of 4 (50.0%)
Jurkovec – 0 of 1 (0.0%)
TOTAL – 28 of 50 (56.0%)
What a night from Dexter Williams who puts his mark on Senior Day with 202 rushing yards at 10.1 per carry. It was a vintage Dex performance with several long runs, including scores from 58 and 32 yards.
The 12-play drive for 97 yards that featured all running plays beginning with 3:40 remaining in the 3rd quarter and finishing in the end zone with 13:10 in the 4th quarter completely opened the floodgates to an outstanding rushing performance. This was one of the best rushing games of the Kelly era without a doubt.
Florida State’s final series before halftime was really apropos of their season. In the face of a Jerry Tillery pressure, Noles quarterback Deondre Francois tossed an absolute dime down the right sideline for 40 yards to the Irish 41-yard line with 1:30 remaining. Seven plays later, Florida State ran out of time after a pass from the Notre Dame 46-yard line fell well short of the 1st-down marker. Seven plays and they essentially went nowhere.
Francois ran hot and cold throughout the night and got very little help from his receivers. A deep pass down the left sideline in the end zone was dropped as were several others by wide open receivers. He was battered on several dropbacks, pressured quite often (4 more from Julian Okwara!) and finished with only 216 yards on 47 attempts.
Notre Dame finished with only 1 sack yet too many of Florida State’s completions were enough to keep drives alive (11 first downs through the air) but not enough to put more points on the board. The Seminoles turned the ball over on downs 3 separate times in Irish territory, including twice in the red zone. On the first, Francois finished the drive 2 of 5 for 23 yards while also being sacked. The second time, he couldn’t complete a pass into the end zone on 4th down inside the 5-yard line. The third time, Francois finished 1 of 4 for 19 yards as the final snap fell a yard short of the 1st-down marker.
The Noles crossed mid-field 7 different times and could only muster 13 points, yikes.
Ultimately it didn’t matter both because the game wasn’t close for long and Florida State was forced to throw the ball nearly 50 times in less than ideal conditions. However, the Noles made a little bit of hay on the ground getting a combined 116 yards from tailbacks Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers.
Their 3.53 rushing average was their 3rd best effort of the season while they were able to punch it in the end zone twice with their running backs.
Seminoles Running Success
Akers – 5 of 12 (41.6%)
Patrick – 8 of 16 (50.0%)
Francois – 1 of 1 (100.0%)
TOTAL – 14 of 29 (48.2%)
To me, it seemed like the Irish naturally took their foot off the gas in spots, were caught off guard that Florida State was actually running at times, and missed a few run fits as the Seminoles uncharacteristically bounced the ball outside for some nice gains.
It wasn’t a game to be remembered if you are a long-snapper. Each side blocked an extra-point although the hapless Seminoles saw their kick taken back for 2 points by Julian Love.
Chris Finke turned in another positive punt return, this time for 28 yards. Justin Yoon nailed both of his field goal attempts although he did kick one ball out of bounds after an Irish score. Overall, a good effort here for Notre Dame.
Florida State never really threatened in this game. They began with an interception, then a 3 & out before being faced with a big 3rd down snaps against the Irish offense just under halfway through the 1st quarter.
An incredible reception by Alize Mack looked like a 50-50 chance of being ruled out of bounds at first glance. But upon review, the Irish tight end literally used every millimeter of green turf available to stay in for the touchdown.
To me, this felt like an early “game over” moment. Florida State would fumble on their next snap and although the Irish settled for a field goal it was 17-0 in a hurry.
1 TE Alize Mack – Two sensational touchdowns in the first half were a big difference for the Irish.
2 RB Dexter Williams – A career-high 202 yards and his 3rd game of at least 20 carries this season.
3 QB Brandon Wimbush – In a small sample size actually a vintage Wimbush game.
Alize Mack has the 10th most receptions among all Power 5 tight ends now. Although it’s kind of surprising he scored just his 2nd and 3rd touchdowns of the season on Saturday.
There was a season-high 74 yards of penalties on Notre Dame against the Seminoles. Also, back-to-back weeks with 8 penalties which also ties the season-high. The Irish have been -97 in penalty yardage over the past 2 weeks and continue to win. No one really cares much about penalties when you’re winning.
Finishing drives is important and was a hallmark of the Wimbush era, prior to this season at least. As Bill C. points out, both the Irish and FSU generated 6 scoring opportunities on Saturday but Notre Dame was +4.5 in opportunity scoring margin.
The Irish hold steady in their S&P rankings: 6th overall, 27th on offense, and 3rd on defense.
The 2018 season yards per play differential jumped slightly to +1.60 thanks to a strong offensive performance. Notre Dame has been averaging 6.51 YPP with Book and on Saturday picked up a 6.60 YPP, the first time a Wimbush start was that high since the Navy game last year. This was the 4th best YPP for defense on the season while also Florida State’s 4th worst YPP effort on offense in 2018.
Notre Dame has completed its 3rd unbeaten season at home during the Kelly era, joining 2015 and 2012 in that category. The current home winning streak has been stretched to 11 games and could continue for a while with New Mexico, Virginia, and Bowling Green opening the 2019 schedule in South Bend before USC and Virginia Tech come to town. The next unquestioned elite team to come to Notre Dame is Clemson on November 7, 2020.