Oct. 24, 2002
By Peter J. Stuhldreher
While the weather in South Bend turns colder, the college football season is heating up. Fresh off a big win over undefeated Air Force, the Notre Dame football team is preparing to take on #11 Florida State this Saturday at noon eastern daylight time. The Irish take their undefeated 7-0 record and the confidence gained from a solid offensive performance to Tallahassee, Fla., where they will face a tough test in the Seminoles.
The offense, especially the running game, gained much confidence in a strong showing at Air Force. The Irish gained 335 yards on the ground, of which sophomore Ryan Grant accounted for 190. That outburst has given the Irish offense and Grant some confidence going into Florida State.
“It helps to know that we can do those things,” said Grant.
“We always knew that we could make some things happen on offense, but to have the week that we did and play well offensively gives us some motivation and steamrolls us heading into the next week. The key for us is to stay focused.”
The offensive line has played a big part in the running game for the Irish this year and their play has improved steadily each week. Along with their improvement, Grant has also improved a great deal since the beginning of the year. Notre Dame fans may have been surprised by his breakout game against Air Force, but Grant was not.
“I expect those type of performances from myself every week,” said Grant.
“I was not really surprised. I know the type of ability I have and I know that we have a good offensive line so it’s just a matter of me going out there and performing.”
This weekend, the Seminole defense will try to make it as difficult as possible on Grant and the entire Irish offense to be as productive as they were against Air Force. Florida State’s defense is fast and athletic and will look to stifle the Notre Dame offense in Doak Campbell Stadium. Grant and the Irish will have to find a way to produce against the Florida State defense if they want to keep their hopes for an undefeated season alive.
“You have to match their speed and intensity,” said Grant.
“They have a lot of athletes that play hard and play fast, so if we match and even exceed their intensity, it’s going to come down to will. It’s going to be a dogfight out there and we know that going into the game, so we just have to go out there and give 100-percent effort.”
The game figures to be a close contest between two heavyweights of college football. Close games are not new territory for the Irish with five games this season being decided by seven points or less. This year, Notre Dame has found a way to win all of those close games and may have to do it again at Florida State.
“We have guys that are going to compete for all 60 minutes of each game and that’s something we take pride in,” said Grant.
“We are going to play hard and fast the whole game. We have been in close games and won, so we know how to handle ourselves if it comes down to that situation.”
With all the talk of Notre Dame being situated third in the first BCS ranking of the season, the Irish have kept very focused on the showdown with the Seminoles. Being undefeated and having played the toughest schedule in the nation and still being ranked only third has not affected the Irish attitude heading into Tallahassee on Saturday.
“It really doesn’t make a difference to us,” said Grant.
“The only poll that does matter is the one at the end of the season. Right now it’s nice to be in there and be where we are, but we still have to win games and the rankings will take care of themselves.”