Oct. 24, 2002
By Kevin L. Crumb
A cold day in South Bend meant little to the Notre Dame football team. Instead, the Irish battled the heat and noise at an indoor practice at the Loftus Center as they made final preparations for Saturday’s match-up against Florida State. The Irish (7-0), ranked sixth in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches polls, depart for Tallahassee, Fla. on Friday where they will meet the Seminoles (5-2), ranked 11th and 13th, respectively.
Notre Dame’s overpowering defense looks to counter the potent offense of Florida State. The Irish defensive line will aggressively attack Florida State’s rushing and passing game. The primary task is to shut down the successful running game that the Seminoles have exhibited this season.
“Coach Willingham has been preaching that to us all week,” said senior defensive tackle Darrell Campbell. “If we can stop the run and dominate the way that we did at Air Force, then it should be a really good game. Florida State has backs that are extremely physical and fast, and they dominate by running.”
Greg Jones, Florida State’s highly-talented tailback and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s leading rusher, presents a new challenge for the Irish defense. Jones possesses a dangerous combination of speed and strength, with the Irish having faced no players that possess such a high degree of both this season.
“Big, fast backs are hard to take down,” said Campbell. “Then again, I don’t think that Florida State is used to our aggressive, smashmouth style of defense.”
Notre Dame also hopes to shut down Florida State’s passing attack, led by quarterback Chris Rix who is always a threat, whether running or passing the ball. The entire Irish defensive will focus on shutting Rix down.
“We want our defensive front to stop the run, which inevitably forces them into a passing situation; defensively, that is where we want to be,” said Campbell.
The Irish will enter a unique environment which includes a hostile stadium mixed with high temperatures and humidity, a significant reason that only four losses have been handed to Florida State at home in its past 89 games. This type of environment convinced the Irish to practice inside the Loftus Center, with the heat and noise at extremely high levels to prepare for Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.
“We feed off of all the attention and excitement generated from the fans and the media because this is a big-time game,” said Campbell. “We had the war chant going at practice, and the adrenaline flowing, and everyone is ready to go down there and play well.”
The Irish look to close the traditionally successful month of October with a victory over Florida State. Notre Dame has won 19 of its last 20 games in the month of October and a victory would improve the Irish to 8-0 on the season, its best start since the 1993 season when the Irish began 10-0. Coach Tyrone Willingham would also be the first Irish coach since Ara Parseghian, and third coach overall, to win his first eight games at Notre Dame.