FSU Preview

Florida State: Home Finale Poses Box To Check

They aren’t to be found on placards or billboards anywhere around the Guglielmino Athletics Complex or even Notre Dame Stadium.

Yet there’s no mistaking the objectives Irish football coach Brian Kelly laid out for his players in 2018 because they’ve been pronounced to them time and time again:

  • Beat Michigan.
  • Win at home.
  • Win in November.

The Irish accomplished the first of those three to start the season — a victory that looks more impressive by the week, especially given Michigan’s No. 4 ranking in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings.

And, after all, it’s hard to start a season with much momentum if you don’t win the first game.

So check that box.

The last of those three remains a work in progress, with three games remaining on third-ranked Notre Dame’s slate.

But the middle goal can become reality late Saturday night if the Irish can defeat Florida State to finish 6-0 for 2018 in games at Notre Dame Stadium. A victory would expand Notre Dame’s home winning streak to 11 games. The nation’s best current home streaks belong to Alabama (23), Clemson (13), UCF and Washington State (12 each) and UAB and Army (11 each).

And with 32 seniors being introduced pregame Saturday from the Notre Dame Stadium tunnel, don’t think there won’t be a fair share of emotion involved in the proceedings.

The November part got off to a solid start Saturday in Evanston with a 31-21 triumph over a game Northwestern squad — with a dominating third period paving the way for the Irish.

“I was pleased with the way that we went on the road — all the things that go along with having to play away from home against a Power 5 team,” says Kelly. “I think they handled it very well, extremely maturely. They played with good energy.

“In terms of what we have to do better, the penalties were much higher than they have been in the past. Plus, we’ve turned the ball over on the first series of each of the last two games.

“I think what we’ve learned is that when we play with a sense of urgency, this is a really, really good football team. If you take certain plays and areas of the game, considering we fumbled on the first drive, our defense was really up to the challenge and stopped the momentum of Northwestern in the game.

“We went on a 98-yard drive. We really turned things around in the second half. It seems like when this team is pushed, they really play well. So it’s my job now to get them to play with that sense of urgency for 72 plays, if that’s the average number of plays that you play.

“The challenge this week is to practice better, practice faster and be locked in for those six seconds. For 72 plays, that’s about seven minutes of playing time actually, that’s what we’ve got to get to. That’s what we learned about the game.”

Now comes the chance to check box number two, an opportunity to finish unbeaten for 2018 at Notre Dame Stadium.

“One of our goals this year was to defend our home field,” says Kelly. “This will be our last opportunity to do that. We certainly want to be able to finish that goal off. One of them internally we had was to protect this stadium — so finishing that off against Florida State is certainly very important to us. It’s the last home game for a number of seniors — that’s obviously important as well. But I think just playing to that standard that I talked about in terms of that sense of urgency is most important.”

Florida State comes in at 4-5, after losses in three of its past four outings (versus No. 2 Clemson, at No. 17 Miami and at No. 22 NC State). The ‘Noles play the most difficult schedule in the country to finish the year — at No. 3 Notre Dame, followed by home games versus No. 17 Boston College and No. 19 Florida. That trio of assignments lists the future Florida State slate at the top at 22-5 (versus FBS foes) for a .815 win percentage.

“Florida State is a talented football team. There’s no doubt about it,” says Kelly. “They’ve improved throughout the season. They’ve gone through a lot of flux on the offensive line. But what’s consistent are their playmakers.

“Their two quarterbacks, (Deondre) Francois and (James) Blackman, can certainly throw the football. They’ve got a number of really talented play-makers — Cam Akers at the running back position and then a big back in (Jacques) Patrick.

“(Keith) Gavin and (Nyqwan) Murray are as talented a tandem of receivers as we’re going to find so we’ll be really challenged. (D.J.) Matthews is a great return man as well. This is what you would expect from Florida State from a skill standpoint — just outstanding.

“Defensively (end Brian) Burns is as good as there is off the edge — he’s a great pass-rusher with great length. He plays with a good motor. Then there’s (Demarcus) Christmas inside. They play a lot of guys, a lot of defensive linemen — they roll them in and out.

“They are young at linebacker, but athletic. Then in the secondary they’ve lost some really good players, but they’ve got some young guys coming on.

“It’s an improving football team, one that has a lot of talent, one that you have to really respect. If not, they can certainly do some damage.

“For us, we have to play with a better sense of urgency for the entire four quarters and continue to play to our standard.”

Kelly appreciates the attitude his players have shown to reach 9-0 so far in 2018:

“The most important thing is for our guys to have an understanding of what traits are necessary to be a championship player. Our mission is to graduate all of our players and play for a national championship. What are the traits necessary to get to that end? What do you have to have?

“One that I talk about all the time is an attention to detail. That’s going to carry over on Saturdays. How does your locker look? Are you 10 minutes early for meetings? Do we have to remind you about study hours, going to class? That attention to detail is something that carries over. That’s part of our process.

“It’s something that you have to build within your program. Certainly you want to recruit players that already have that, but they’re not finished products. It is demanding it every single day, making sure that they’re accountable if they don’t reach those goals every day.”

Kelly also likes the focus that his Irish have been able to maintain day to day and week to week.

“I think all teams that I’ve had have had some form of focus. This group in particular just needs to be reminded about what to do on a day-to-day basis. Once they’re reminded about what to do, they go to work. There are other years where you could remind them, but they had a hard time doing it. Once you remind this team what to do, they stay on task.”

Yet another challenge based in the Florida State game is a chance to reach the 10-victory line for a second straight season. That has not happened at Notre Dame since 1991-92-93.

“When we get through the season, we’ve got to get to double-digits,” Kelly says. “Any time you get to that, it marks a stability in your program that everybody wants to work toward. I think that’s probably the most important thing.”

Kelly also will remind his players about the focus required this week on the Seminoles.

“They were really efficient, throwing for 421 yards last week against North Carolina State. NC State had a hard time slowing them down. Florida State just didn’t get enough possessions, but very easily, if they can make a couple of plays defensively, that’s a different game.

“They weren’t in some games early on. So that improvement has put them now in a position where with their talent and ability to eliminate some mistakes and penalties, now they’re back into some football games. They were having a hard time doing some of the very basic things in the first couple games. They’re past that now as we get later into the season.

Kelly and his staff are well aware that Seminole head coach Willie Taggart has handed over playcalling duties to his offensive coordinator.

“We have to worry about the receivers and the quarterback, and their backs are outstanding,” says Kelly. “They’re going to try to push the ball down the field vertically, so the passing game still becomes a legitimate threat whether (offensive coordinator Walt) Bell is calling it or Willie is calling it.”
“I thought Walt did a good job of calling plays (against NC State),” Taggart said Monday. “I’m sure there’s some plays — like every play-caller — there’s always some plays you would like to take back. But I thought he did well.
“I know, for myself, being able to see the game a little better and also interject and help out along the way, I thought that helped us on the offensive side of the ball.
“I’m going to always do what’s best for our program. And just because I give up playcalling doesn’t mean I’m not involved in it. I’m still going to be involved in everything and make suggestions when I need to.
“But I felt like this is what our football team needed.”
Fans of both the Seminoles and Irish will be interested to see who takes the field Saturday night at quarterback for Florida State.
After throwing for more than 400 yards and four touchdowns, and earning Atlantic Coast Conference quarterback of the week honors, Blackman made a solid case to play after Francois sat out Saturday’s game at NC State with an injury (though he was in uniform).
“We’ll see (who plays) on Saturday,” Taggart said Monday. “We’ve got to get through the week and see how Deondre is doing and see how those guys are practicing throughout the week. We’ll make that decision later in the week.
“It’s about having a great week of practice, running the offense and having the offense get executed and go. Pretty simple.”
Here are additional notes on the Irish and Seminoles:

  • Justin Yoon needs six field goals to break Kyle Brindza’s Notre Dame career mark for three-pointers.
  • It was 25 years ago that the ESPN College GameDay crew first took to the road for the Notre Dame-Florida State game in South Bend. The set was located on the second-floor Joyce Center concourse. 
  • Notre Dame in 2002 made its first visit to Tallahassee and won 34-24 to move to 8-0. The lone Irish series wins came in 1993 and 2002. 
  • Among 2018 Irish opponents, Michigan leads the Big Ten East at 6-0 (8-1 overall), Northwestern leads the Big Ten West at 5-1 (5-4 overall), USC is tied for the lead in the Pac-12 South at 4-3 (5-4 overall) and Pittsburgh leads the ACC Coastal at 4-1 (5-4 overall). Meanwhile Syracuse (7-2 overall) stands No. 13 this week according to the Associated Press.
  • 2018 marks the eighth time the Irish are 9-0 in the last 69 years.  
  • Florida State ranked 19th in both major polls heading into the season.
  • The Seminoles rate second in the ACC in passing offense (283.2 yards per game) and have completed more throws in 2018 than any other league team (204).
  • Florida State’s D.J. Matthews leads the ACC in punt returns (13.8 yards each).
  • The ‘Noles Brian Burns paces the league in sacks (1.0 per game).
  • Florida State has never played two top-three opponents in a three-game stretch (also No. 2 Clemson on Oct. 27). 
  • The ‘Noles Tamorrion Terry is fourth nationally in yards per catch (21.96 each). 
  • Only twice in 2018 has Florida State allowed more than 120 opponent rushing yards (222 by Syracuse, 177 by NC State). Meanwhile, the ‘Noles in six of nine games have rushed for 94 or fewer yards.

Here are details of presentations and introductions that will take place Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium when Notre Dame and Florida State face off:

  • These are the 32 senior Notre Dame football players who will be introduced on the field with their family members prior to kickoff.



Keenan Sweeney

Tight End

Snellville, GA


Matt Bushland

Long Snapper

Dallas, TX


Jeff Riney


Katy, TX


Jimmy Thompson


Hinsdale, IL


Brian Ball


Indianapolis, IN


Kier Murphy


Rock Island, IL


Devyn Spruell


Warren, NJ


Nolan Henry


Vancouver, WA


Brandon Hutson

Defensive Lineman

Battle Creek, MI


Robby Regan


Darien, IL


Lincoln Feist

Defensive Lineman

Rapid City, SD


Logan Plantz

Offensive Lineman

Frankfort, IL


Asmar Bilal


Indianapolis, IN


Micah Dew-Treadway

Defensive Lineman

Bolingbrook, IL


Trevor Ruhland

Offensive Lineman

Cary, IL


Shaun Crawford


Lakewood, OH


Miles Boykin

Wide Receiver

Tinley Park, IL


Chris Finke

Wide Receiver

Dayton, OH


Brandon Wimbush


Teaneck, NJ


Alize Mack

Tight End

Las Vegas, NV


Nicco Ferttita


Las Vegas, NV


Nick Coleman


Dayton, OH


Justin Yoon

Place Kicker

Nashville, TN


Dexter Williams

Running Back

Orlando, FL


Te’von Coney


Palm Beach Gardens, FL


Jerry Tillery

Defensive Lineman

Shreveport, LA


Jonathan Bonner

Defensive Lineman

Chesterfield, MO


Nic Weisher

Tight End

Midlothian, IL


Alex Bars

Offensive Lineman

Nashville, TN


Tyler Newsome


Carrollton, GA


Sam Mustipher

Offensive Lineman

Owings Mills, MD


Drue Tranquill


Fort Wayne, IN

  • These are the senior cheerleaders making their final Notre Dame Stadium appearance Saturday night: Sloan Austermann, Nicholas Azar, Andrew Bub, Kendall Fox, Gunner Garner, Edwina King, Mary Katherine Nagengast, Jack Sheehan, Matthew Valenti and John Veschi. They will be recognized at the third timeout of the third period.
  • These are the senior Irish football office staff members who will be recognized Saturday night (second period, second timeout): Nick Rocco, Mikey Fernan and Max Hammersmith (analytics); Casey Fraleigh, Rose Baldonado and Matt Geenen (equipment); Kayla Perez,  Meghan Baker, Annie Clare and Katie Gabanic (nutrition); David Brann, Gabrielle Brookins, Alexa Coubal, Michael Davis, Brynne DuBois, Grant Kercher, Meredith Kisla, Shelby Leib, Ashlyn Maes, Nate Miller, Taja Reynolds, Eric Thomas, Makayla Vasquez, Sabrina Victor and Nicole White (recruiting); and Juan Baus, Claire Boyce, Urban Cornett, Daniel Corr, Rose Hart and Sean Kelly (sports medicine).
  • The national colors will be presented by Adm. Christopher Grady. A 1984 graduate of Notre Dame, he is commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command and commander of U.S. Naval Forces Northern Command. He is a four-star admiral and the highest ranking military officer from Notre Dame.
  • The Team Irish Award (first quarter, fourth timeout) goes to the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement that serves as a resource for undergraduate students who are embarking on directed or independent research and for those who wish to apply for national and international fellowships. By extending student outreach and increasing student preparation for major fellowship competitions, the center’s work has increased the number of student winners for these prestigious fellowships.
  • The 1993 Irish football team will be recognized for its 25-year reunion at the first-quarter break. Former Irish head coach Lou Holtz led nine straight teams to New Year’s Day bowl games — and one of the most accomplished of those was that ’93 squad. On its way to an 11-1 record, those Irish defeated third-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor and ran off 10 straight wins to open the year. The last of those was a landmark game at Notre Dame Stadium as unbeaten and second-rated Notre Dame defeated top-rated and unbeaten Florida State. The Irish went on to defeat seventh-ranked Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl and finished second in the final polls. Notre Dame was led by unanimous All-American and Lombardi Award winner Aaron Taylor, consensus pick Jeff Burris at safety and first-team center Tim Ruddy. The Irish finished sixth nationally in rushing, ninth in scoring and fourth in rush defense. This marked the last of the five Holtz teams that won 10 or more games.
  • Former Irish golfer (and 2012 graduate) Becca Huffer will be recognized (second period, fourth timeout) after earning her LPGA Tour Card for finishing in 10th place at the recent LPGA Q-Series at Pinehurst Course in Pinehurst, North Carolina. A four-time monogram winner, Huffer has played on the minor Symetra Tour since 2013. She has recorded 10 career top-10 Symetra Tour finishes, including three in 2018. This season, she ranks fifth in sub par holes (223), sixth on the tour in birdies (218), seventh in total rounds played (59) and ninth in eagles (5) and has tallied a hole-in-one. Prior to joining the Symetra Tour, Huffer was a three-time winner on the Cactus Tour and won the 2013 Colorado Women’s Open. In 2012, she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open Championship where she shot a 161/+17 to miss the cut. As a senior with the Irish, Huffer served as captain and led the team in scoring average (75.34), rounds in the 70s (27), top 10 finishes (4) and won the 2011 Hoosier Fall Invitational Crooked Stick. She was a four-time All-BIG EAST honoree (including the 2009 BIG EAST Rookie of the Year) and named the BIG EAST Sport Scholar-Athlete Award winner as a senior. She finished in the top 10 three times at the BIG EAST Championships (2010, 2011, 2012) and helped the Irish advance to the NCAA Championship in 2011, when the team finished 24th. 
  • At halftime the Notre Dame Alumni Association will honor retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Robert Noonan (class of 1968) with the Rev. William Corby, C.S.C., Award, which recognizes an alum who has distinguished himself or herself in military service. Noonan’s 35-year Army career began as a lieutenant in Vietnam, where he advised South Vietnamese units in the Mekong Delta. A challenging series of command and staff assignments took him everywhere from South Korea to the Balkans to Iraq and Afghanistan. He finished his career as a lieutenant general serving as the Army’s senior intelligence officer in the Pentagon. Presenting the award will Alumni Association executive director Dolly Duffy and board president Chris Simms.
  • The Notre Dame band will perform at halftime (10:30 set) and acknowledge its senior band members.
  • The Notre Dame faculty recognition (third period, second timeout) goes to Laura Dassow Walls, William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English.
  • The student military recognition (fourth period, second timeout) honors Robert J. Dulin, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and 2019 Notre Dame MBA candidate. Dulin attended Virginia Tech for his undergraduate degree where he double majored in history and geology, graduating in 2011. He was deployed to Tripoli, Libya, in support of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force AFRICOM where he reinforced the U.S. Embassy. In August 2014 he and his team participated in a WESTPAC deployment to Japan, Korea, and Camp Plum, New Caledonia, where he graduated from French Commando Course, Americal II. Returning to the United States, Dulin decided to pursue an officer commission in the Marine Corps Reserve, eventually being selected to and completing Officer Candidates School in 2015. He was then assigned to Detachment 2, Supply Company in Anacostia, District of Columbia, where he continues to serve in a reserve capacity.
  • The official game program for the Notre Dame-Florida State game will include feature stories on the evolving history and tradition of the brickwork on the Notre Dame campus (by John Heisler), a retrospective on the 1993 Irish football team’s game versus No. 1 Florida State (by Jerry Barca), “ESPN GameDay: Then and Now” (by Denise Skwarcan), a piece on Notre Dame Stadium preparing to play host to the NHL Winter Classic (by Josh Flynt) and a photo tribute, “Meet the #DogsOfNDFB” (by Joanne Norell and Katie Meyers).
  • The Notre Dame-Florida State pep rally will be held at the Compton Family Ice Arena from 6-7 p.m. Friday.
  • Fans coming to campus this weekend also can attend the following Irish home events: men’s basketball at 7 p.m. Thursday vs. Chicago State, women’s basketball at 4 p.m. Friday vs. Harvard, volleyball at 8 p.m. Friday vs. North Carolina State.

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is the author, co-author or editor of 12 books (one a New York Times bestseller) and editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.