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  • Bowling for Pride

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame and Florida State, college football heavyweights in search of a positive end to a somewhat disappointing season, will square off in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando Florida on December 29. Both teams harbored BCS dreams in September, but each suffered mind-numbing losses in winnable games due to sloppy play and finished the regular season at 8-4.

    Head coaches Brian Kelly for the Irish and FSU’s Jimbo Fisher are in the second year of their respective efforts to restore these proud programs to elite status, and this matchup has resulted in a sellout for the first time in the game’s history. ESPN will provide national television coverage starting at 5:30 PM EST.

    The play of the quarterbacks will hold the key to the outcome. The Seminoles are led by E.J. Manuel, a 6’5” junior whose injured shoulder was a critical factor in their three game losing streak earlier this year. Tommy Rees, who took over the reins during an 0-2 stumble out of the gate in September, will start for the Irish. Andrew Hendrix is also expected to play, but the exact timing and distribution of snaps is something Kelly is still pondering.

    “We know he’s going to play,” Kelly said regarding Hendrix. “He’s prepared to play. I don’t know how it’s going to eventualize itself. I haven’t said in my own mind what it’s going to be, but I know he’s going to be in the game.”

    The teams share three common opponents during the season. Notre Dame defeated Maryland, Boston College and Wake Forest while Florida State went 2-1 against that same trio. The Seminoles played Wake Forest during the period where Manuel was not 100% healthy, and they compounded the problem by committing five turnovers to none for the Deacons. Irish fans can certainly identify with that statistic to explain an upset loss.

    Notre Dame remains without the services of a pair of key linemen in center Braxton Cave and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore. Ethan Johnson and Manti Te’o should give the defense a boost since they have had time to heal from nagging leg injuries, but the offense will continue to miss Cave and running back Jonas Gray. Florida State has a few problems of its own on the offensive side. Wideout Bert Reed and guard Jacob Fahrenkrug are injured and unlikely to play, and backup tailback Jermaine Thomas has been declared academically ineligible.


    Notre Dame will face a very tough front seven that may be the best they have played this season. The Seminoles rank among the nation’s best in run defense and have yielded only 15 points per game. Their 4-3 alignment boasts a solid rotation of 300 pound tackles and physical pass-rushing ends. Fisher’s teams specialize in pressuring the passer, so Kelly may be forced to utilize Hendrix if the Irish line falters in protection and the less-mobile Rees cannot withstand the heat.

    Florida State’s linebackers have above average size and speed. Nigel Bradham is the leading tackler for the Noles, and running mates Christian Jones and Vince Williams are right behind him in that category. It will be tough to run right at this defense, but they are fast enough to pursue to the sidelines as well. Rees will be called upon to throw quick, short passes with a high degree of accuracy, and Notre Dame must run the ball often enough to keep the sack-happy Noles from teeing off on the quarterback. Quick-hitting traps should be more effective than slow-developing stretch plays against FSU, and Cierre Wood will have to get to the hole fast and make decisive cuts.

    The Irish will again rely on Michael Floyd to create opportunities in the passing game, which is not a surprise given his selection as the team’s most valuable player for the second consecutive year. Tight end Tyler Eifert must also be effective, and Notre Dame fans can only hope that this game won’t be his last as a Domer as is the case with Floyd. Theo Riddick’s return to the running back position does not remove him as a threat to catch the ball downfield, but the Irish will need him to share some of the workload with Wood now that Gray is unavailable.

    The Florida State secondary has benefitted from the consistently strong pass rush, but there is considerable depth and some very talented players in the mix. Terrance Parks and Lamarcus Joyner start at safety, but Terrance Brooks is a playmaking backup who is also a demon on special teams. Fisher has three cornerbacks that he trusts in Xavier Rhodes, Mike Harris and the super quick Greg Reid. Rhodes, who is 6’2” and 215 pounds, would appear to be in line to match up with Floyd.


    The Seminoles average nearly 32 points per game and have a solid defense, so four losses seem excessive. Upon investigation, a few reasons for these failures begin to emerge. The offensive line appears to be the culprit, with 36 sacks allowed and an anemic running game. A rash of penalties has also hurt the Noles this season, while their turnover margin is slightly favorable.

    Freshman Devonta Freeman took over the starting tailback job in October after seniors Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas failed to distinguish themselves during the early going. Thomas is academically ineligible for this bowl game, so another freshman, James Wilder, Jr., will likely be the first man in to share the workload. The ground game is marginally better since Freeman took over, but many of the yards were piled up against the weaker ACC opponents. In games against Miami and Florida, the Noles had a combines 75 carries for only 93 rushing yards.

    Injuries continue to plague Florida State on this side of the ball. The loss of Reed and Fahrenkrug remove a productive wide receiver and perhaps the team’s best offensive lineman from the equation. The line is already a patchwork group of young players as prior injuries have taken their toll, and another true freshman, either Tre’ Jackson or Josue Matias, could start in Fahrenkrug’s spot.

    Manuel will spread the ball around in the passing game to a group of capable receivers, but there is no superstar among them. Freshman Rashad Green will replace Reed, joining 6’6” Rodney Smith and Kenny Shaw in the lineup. Christian Green is another young but talented receiver who will see action in this contest. Tight end Beau Reliford is a huge target, but the Seminoles use him almost exclusively as a blocker.

    The key for Notre Dame is to stop the Florida State running game with its front seven and take away the deep pass. This will force Manuel into passing situations where his accuracy and patience will be tested. The Irish should be able to hold their own in the trenches, while the Noles will try to exploit their linebackers in pass coverage.


    Florida State boasts a pair of outstanding specialists in punter Shawn Powell and kicker Dustin Hopkins. Each has been recognized on various All-American teams, with good reason. Powell averaged 47 yards per punt this season and very few were returned. Hopkins has tremendous range and is deadly accurate. The Noles have excellent coverage teams, and the stats of return men Reid and Joyner are well above average. Any of these weapons could be the deciding factor in a close ballgame.

    Kicker David Ruffer will be playing his last game for Notre Dame. The former walk-on started slowly this season but has steadily returned to form in the field goal department. The depth of Kyle Brindza’s kickoffs diminished as the season progressed as various bumps and bruises took their toll, but he should be sufficiently healed by now and will be counted upon to get the ball past the goal line. Punter Ben Turk has improved his consistency, but occasionally gets off a short boot or one that can be returned for significant yardage.


    Both defenses should have the upper hand in a low scoring game. The team that best protects the passer, establishes a respectable running game and avoids costly turnovers and penalties will emerge victorious. The Seminoles have an edge in special teams that could also tip the scales in their favor. The Irish in particular will need to start fast to avoid playing from behind, which means that Rees must be sharp if he indeed gets the starting nod. The first team that is forced to become one-dimensional will find itself in trouble.

    Motivation is also a significant factor in bowl games. Notre Dame was the beneficiary last year when the Miami Hurricanes came to the Sun Bowl in disarray just after Coach Randy Shannon was fired, and the Canes appeared disinterested as the Irish put them away early. This season, both teams should have equal motivation, as the game carries significance to both programs despite the lack of impact on the national polls.

    Here are a few questions that will have a bearing on the outcome:

    Which offensive line will best be able to protect the passer?

    Can either team generate over 100 yards in the running game?

    Which team will overcome the effects of the long layoff and avoid costly mistakes?

    Can either Irish quarterback have success against the formidable FSU defense?

    Which special teams will have the most influence on the outcome?

    Will Michael Floyd be able to get open against the Seminole secondary?

    Are the Seminole War Chant and Tomahawk Chop more obnoxious than USC’s “Conquest”?


    It’s almost certain that the outcome will be decided on a few critical plays – a turnover, an untimely penalty, a dropped pass or a missed block resulting in a sack could be enough to tip the scales. Field position will also play a role in that both defenses are not likely to yield long scoring marches. The Noles’ formidable defensive front seven, the absence of Irish center Braxton Cave, and Florida State’s special teams add up to a slight edge for Fisher’s squad.


    34 Responses to “Bowling for Pride”

    1. Notre Dame 38
      Florida St. 17

      The “turn the corner” game has finally arrived ! (I think…)

    2. I would not characterize this as a ‘turn-the’corner’ game but I would be happy to admit I was wrong – a score of 38-17 sounds like domination on all 3 fronts – offense, defense and special teams. I would love to see that.

    3. Our special teams stink- since Kelly has not fixed the punt return game,we are at a big disadvntage against the Noles.

    4. This game is it… No high school football mistakes… No interceptions… No poor time management… No injuries… No poor quarterbacking and perhaps a developing QB that we stay with longer than a year… No times when I turn to my family while watching and scream OMG! What just happened? And no ND football hangovers that require me to contemplate why I still even care. GO IRISH!!

    5. ” Are the Seminole War Chant and Tomahawk Chop more obnoxious than USC’s “Conquest”? ”

      Actually, both are no more obnoxious – or ridiculous – than when our band plays the 1812 Overture and (many) people in the stadium stand up and flail their arms like a bunch of zombies.

    6. Irish will roll. 38 – 14. Mark it down.

    7. FSU starting 4 TRUE freshman on there offensive line…. Lets get em !!!

      GO IRISH !!!!

    8. It sounds again as if Kelly can’t make up his mind re QB’s. This generally results in disaster, and the very least. another loss.

      FSU: 35 ND 20

    9. Scranton Dave says:

      Hopefully Rees wont be in long. it’s very likely he struggles against this defense and if he does, I hope he doesnt get more than 2 series. Actually, I wish he didnt play at all but Kelly is too stubborn to admit he was wrong all year so he needs to give Rees at least the start. Hopefully our defense can win this game, and hopefully once Hendrix comes in our offense can do enough against a tough defense. Hendrix starts the 2nd Q and ND wins 24-14, and we never se Rees get a meaningful snap again….. At least that’s what I hope happens.

      Go Irish!!

      • couldn’t agree more. i have very low expectations for this game. hopefully FSU’s offense isas inept as ours and our defense makes aplay to win it…of course then we will all have to endure the well worn “TR record as starter” argument as to why he should start in ’12!

    10. SterlingJames says:

      “The team that best protects the passer (PUSH), establishes a respectable running game (PUSH) and avoids costly turnovers (-ND) and penalties (-ND)… and special teams (+FSU)”

      This isn’t going to be a close game at all and ignore the spread — FSU 41 ND 17. (DEFENSE WINS GAMES) i.e. LSU, ALA…

      How can anyone expect Rees to be effective? Did you not see what SC/Stanford/Pitt and lowly BC did to him? BK is already conceding positive yardage on special teams and now he’s going to waste a series or two on Rees. BK can make this a “Holtz” moment or “C’mon Man” game. History shows..?

    11. Everyone continues to talk about their defense and how great it’s been. Let’s be fair…it’s a good defense that hasn’t played anyone with any running game ALL SEASON. Their schedule has been filled with D-1AA teams, and running games that rank btwn #80-114. The best running game they’ve played is Maryland.

      We average 5.0 YPC. We’re the best thing they’ve faced. We’ll miss Jonah, but at least we offer them a challenge. We’ll see how good their defense is.

    12. Need to see some real gains in this bowl game! An opportunity to improve and going into the spring practice!

    13. I see the Irish losing a close game to FSU. 24-21. Just another under achieving year for the Irish even if they do win. I”ll stick to my original prediction on the day Kelly got hired: He is way over his head at ND.

    14. Robbie Robinson says:

      I’m looking at this “game” as just that, a game. After the last 15 years of hoping and wishing, I hope we finally regain our status as a real meaningful college football program. I have come to realize that what ever the scoreboard reads after the game that our boys will have given everything for Our Lady and go back to SB and look forward to September 2012. GO IRISH!

    15. The Irish D should fair well against a Seminole offense that has been below average all season. Agree with Sterling James above, even Pitt and BC handled Tommy Rees with no problem. Kelley needs to go to Hendrix early and stick with him to have any chance offensively. Can easily make an arguement that this game will be won by the team that gets the better in game coaching, let’s see if Kelley can coach ’em to a win. great head coaches are capable of that.

    16. Cant put lipstick on a pig agan this time around. Its gona be ugly – Irish lose to a faster FSU team and get never get on track ofensively. No imagination on offense for the Irish is what I see.

    17. BRING BACK HOLTZ says:

      My only fear is with the DBs…..I hope they had some basic tackling practice this week…..If I see Mota run away from a tackle agian I`m going to scream!….this is the best secondary ND can put on the feild?…..come on you are ND!!!….get some recruits…

    18. I’m not feeling too good about this one. The team just got worse as the year went on. I really think we played our best in the first 3 games of the year even though 2 of them were losses!!!..and I think Cave was a MUCH bigger loss for the offense than people realize. Hope I’m wrong but I’m going FSU 34 ND 20.

      • I hope you’re wrong too.

      • What a disappointing ending to a terrible season. Blitzing entire first half, crushing their will, then no blitzes dialed up in the second half. Reese throwing two more red zone interceptions (the touchdown to Floyd would have been #3). I have always tried not to view things as half empty, but, this team has taken twenty steps backwards from last season. Next season for me will be the true test. Tougher schedule and how will this bowl collapse affect the off season program. I am keeping hope alive, but, it’s on life support!

    19. Everyone’s fears have been realized. The speedy FSU WR’s had their way with the ND defensive backs in the second half and that, coupled with ND’s usual offensive inconsistency resulted in FSU overtaking the Irish.

      There’s always next year but as an ND fan I’ve been saying that for 15 years now and it’s getting tiring.

    20. GraceHallChapel86 says:

      Can anybody say “Golson”? Anyone?

    21. Another disappointing performance tonight. Another underachieving season. Unfortunately, this has become the norm for the better part of the last decade plus. I’ve been following ND since Terry Hanratty was throwing to Jim Seymour. During the down stretch when Gerry Faust was at the helm, I always felt ND would be back. Lou Holtz brought them back. However after Davie, Willingham, Weis and now Kelly, I can’t help feel the glory days of ND Football are gone forever.

      Special note to Brian Kelly; pick a quarterback and stick with him. How can you expect any of these kids to gain confidence when they’re shuttled in and out with regularity.

    22. irishhawk50 says:

      Well ND lost another game it should have won and Rees clearly showed he doesn’t have much of a future in football. I was an early supporter but his time has come and gone. Don’t like the two QB switch, once again came back to bite. The fact that ND couldn’t take care of a lead or a depleted FSU secondary raises questions about coaching but I still think Kelly can win with his type quarterback. Hope springs eternal, there is always next year.

    23. Sterling James says:

      This was the worst coaching I have seen since the TW/Weis era. I blame this loss on BRIAN KELLY. Really, you start Rees and DIACO stops blitzing…shit!

      BK is going to be on the hot seat next year. I thought we won this game after 3 quarters, WTF?

      Here is an idea let’s start Rees next year…How can you lose to this FSU team — THEY SUCK!

      This team is worst that last year’s 8-5. WOW!

    24. Sterling James says:

      Brian Kelly SUX.

    25. Ended the season just like we started it. Stupid mistakes and poor play.

    26. We are in desperate need of a QB. BTW – where was Floyd on the final drive? Perfect send off for Charlie’s #2 rated recruiting class.

    27. I love this web site. Happy New Year.

    28. Why does BK stay with Reese..?? He looks like he is 12. And he played like he was 12 today. Thanks Tommy for another turnover ridden game!!!

    29. I hope Golson can play

    30. I left work early to watch a repeat of the Michigan game? The best team again found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Same defensive back watching receivers catch big passes. Same quarterback turning the ball over in the redzone. Same second half collapse. Same inexplicable coaching decisions. The good news is ND fans won’t have to start the New Year watching another mind numbing loss. We can delay that experience until the fall.

    31. Scranton Dave says:

      Let’s hope that is the end of Rees. He is a sunk cost. Hendrix and Golson have to get 100 % of the snaps in the spring and summer so they can learn the offense. Any snap Rees gets is a total waste of time. A season that couldve been 10-3 or 11-2 ended up 8-5 because Kelly and his ego had to show us that he was right for benching Crist for Rees. I hope Crist throws for 4000 yards next year and leads Kansas to a Bowl game.