GAME WATCH PREVIEW: FSU
WHO: Notre Dame at Florida State (Doak Campbell Stadium, cap. 79,560 souls)
WHEN: SUNDAY, September 5, 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Blake Street Tavern: 2301 Blake Street, Denver, CO
PARKING: may be a bit of a problem if the Rockies game runs late but should be OK
BRING: Money for the traditional raffle; a designated Domer to drive; and a burning desire to see us off to a 1-0 start!
Florida State (0-0; 0-0 ACC) is coming off a tough couple of years (3-6 last year). This will be a bit of an emotional game for them as their Rockne, retired coach “Saint” Bobby Bowden, passed away a couple of weeks ago after amassing the second most wins as a head coach in NCAA history, and losing to ND in 1993 but winning the national championship a couple of weeks later over ND because . . . St. Bobby? But I’m not bitter. They may mention Bobby’s passing once or twice during the telecast, but you probably won’t even notice it. Unless you watch the game, that is. (Seriously, Bobby, RIP.)
Florida State welcomes 13 experienced transfers from other schools to its roster this year, making them a bit of a question mark. Many of them will start for the Seminoles. While Notre Dame beat FSU last year 42-26, this year’s team will not be the same one that visited South Bend, and is expected to be an improved team from last year. Probably a year or three from a full return to greatness, but the transfer portal has been kind to FSU, so who really knows for sure?
FSU has not designated a starter at QB yet, but that’s probably more gamesmanship than anything else; those “in the know” (and me!) expect the starter to be Travis Jordan, who racked up 300 yards against the Irish last year (96 on the ground). He is a dual threat QB and very mobile. “Co-starter” senior transfer QB McKenzie Milton was a really talented QB who has not been the same player since he suffered an horrific injury in 2018. He had played at the University of Central Florida (where he led them to a 12-0 season as a sophomore, claiming a national championship under then coach Scott Frost (where is he now?), but transferred to FSU to play for 2021).
Florida State also boasts an experienced offensive line – all of the starters return from last year.
Contrast this with Notre Dame – our offensive line is very talented, but very inexperienced, too. In fact, Notre Dame starts a true freshman, Blake Fisher, at left tackle, where he will be protecting starting QB Jack Coan’s blind side (I still can’t watch all of that clip; I remember watching that play live on a black and white tv in my bedroom when I was supposed to have been asleep). This is not the first time a true freshman has started on a Notre Dame offensive line, but this is the first time one has started at left tackle. It’s kind of a big deal.
Jack Coan is also a transfer, coming from Wisconsin, where he threw for 2,727 yards, 18 TDs and 5 interceptions in 2019. Prior to the 2020 season, Jack was a William V. Campbell Trophy semifinalist, was on the Maxwell Award watch list, the Manning Award watch list, the Davey O’Brien Award watch list, and the Unitas Golden Arm Award watch list. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for the Irish, he suffered an injury to his foot in the 2020 preseason, and missed all but the last three games in 2020. He did not play in any of them, preserving a year of eligibility to transfer to Notre Dame. In all, he played in 25 games and started 18 for Wisconsin from 2017-19, completing 68.0 percent of his passes for 3,278 yards with 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He compiled a 12-6 record as a starter. Brian Kelly named him the starter a couple of weeks ago over sophomore Drew Pine and “uber talented but still a freshman” Tyler Buchner, apparently fulfilling a lifelong dream Jack has had of suiting up as QB1 for the Irish.
The Irish defense this year will be directed by new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, who comes over from Cincinnati. If you were looking for a defensive coordinator after last season, Marcus Freeman was on your short list, and we got him. (Former defensive coordinator Clark Lea left to become the head coach at Vanderbilt (RIP). Go Commodores! Yay.)
Marcus Freeman has electrified recruiting, especially on the defensive side of the ball. His message to recruits is that he chose to play at Ohio State over Notre Dame, a decision he deeply regrets (and then he lists the reasons, presumably including that nobody really knows what Brutus Buckeye is, and ND alums can not only dot the “i’s” but also cross the “t’s”). Perhaps not coincidentally, Notre Dame currently boasts the Rivals number one recruiting class for 2022 (but it’s still early). (Still, “We’re number one! We’re number one!”) His defensive philosophy is to simplify the defense to let his players play more instinctively, but to disguise what they are doing so the offense doesn’t know where they will be on any given play. This should be a lot of fun to watch.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame recently lost the services of LB Marist Liufau, who broke his ankle in practice; he is lost for the season. This is a shame because members of the press who observed him at fall practice were giddy at how he was looking, and he will be sorely missed. However, despite some losses, the defense returns a lot of players this year, and should be a strength heading into the season. (Enjoy one last year with S Kyle Hamilton before he leaves early to cash his NFL paycheck.)
Bottom line: It is always tough for teams to overcome inexperience on the offensive line, especially early in the season. In all the years I have watch Notre Dame football, I have noticed that teams who have inexperienced offensive lines usually do not live up to fans’ expectations, no matter the school. Hopefully, the defense can carry the day for the first several games while a very talented but inexperienced offensive line begins to gel. Prove me wrong, big fellas!
The odds makers say Notre Dame is -7.5 in this game, but it’s the first week and it’s tough to make predictions. I hope they’re right.
Bill’s prediction: Notre Dame 32, Florida State 17.
Go Irish! Go to Blake Street! Sunday! 5:30 p.m.!
– Bill Webb, 88, 91JD