They’ve seen the season-opening disaster to Virginia Tech, a team the Irish would go on to defeat by three touchdowns in Blacksburg. They know about the 23-point loss to Syracuse, a top 15 team the Irish play in a week.
They’re aware of the valiant effort against Miami, only to lose a 20-point lead and fall by a point. They know what Clemson did to them a couple of weeks ago and the pass-heavy albeit losing effort at N.C. State last Saturday.
The Notre Dame players are aware of what a 4-5 Florida State team looks like after coming off a 7-6 season in 2017. They say they refuse to be fooled.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly is pounding that point home.
“Florida State is a talented football team,” Kelly said. “They’ve improved throughout the season.”
Improved? Really? Two weeks ago, Clemson defeated Florida State, 59-10. Last week, N.C. State defeated them, 47-28, holding the Seminoles to 3-of-15 on third down.
“They threw for 421 yards last week against North Carolina State,” said Kelly when asked to state his case further. “(N.C. State) had a hard time slowing them down. (Florida State) didn’t get enough possessions, but very easily – if they make a couple plays defensively – that’s a different game.”
Kelly said his comments are accurate as it relates to the Seminoles early in September.
“They weren’t in some games early on,” Kelly said. “They were literally not in games. So that improvement has put them in a position where if their talent (comes to the forefront) and (they) eliminate mistakes and penalties, now they’re back in some football games.”
Florida State does some things well. The Seminoles are 21st nationally in sacks with 25, led by Brian Burns’ nine. The 2.84 yards allowed per rushing attempt is sixth in the country. James Blackman supplanted Deondre Francois at quarterback last week and threw for the above-mentioned 421 yards and four touchdowns.
The Irish players are wary because, quite frankly, they know a lot of the Florida State players. Ten players on the Irish roster are from the state of Florida; others crossed paths amidst star-studded prep careers.
“There’s so much familiarity on this team with those guys,” said Irish center Sam Mustipher, who hails from Maryland. “We were all recruited by big-time schools. We were with some of these guys on (recruiting) visits. You’ve got guys from Florida on our team who still talk to these guys and know the talent they have.”
Talent, says Irish captain Drue Tranquill, is not the issue with Florida State.
“They’re a really talented football team that hasn’t played to its potential and hasn’t come together as a team this year,” Tranquill said. “But when you have athletes like they do, they can be dangerous because at any moment when it clicks, when their culture and their camaraderie comes together, they’ll be a dangerous football team.”
Make no mistake, there are many areas of weakness on the Florida State team. They’re dead last in the FBS – 130th – on third-down conversions offensively. They’re 128th running the football. Penalties? 124th. Sacks allowed? 117th.
But when the receiving corps clicks – Tamorrion Terry had five catches for 142 yards and a touchdown last week; Nyquan Murray had eight catches for 131 yards and a score against Wake Forest — they’re potentially lethal.
“They have some explosive wide receivers that stretch the field,” said Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman. “They have a capable quarterback who can stretch the field with his arm.”
Although the Irish players admit to surprise that Florida State has lost five games by a combined 113 points, they’re gearing themselves up for a tussle.
“(Their struggles are) a little surprising, but we’ve talked about it all week,” said Irish wide receiver Miles Boykin. “You look at their roster and they’re filled with talent. They play hard every game.
“It’s just a matter of being in the right spot at the right time for them. They’re an extremely physical bunch. They check all the boxes. Just speaking of their defense, they’re extremely talented.”
Rather than assume the Seminoles will roll over and die on what promises to be a fairly frigid Saturday night in Notre Dame Stadium, Irish wide receiver Chris Finke wants to add Notre Dame’s name to the list.
“I think it does the opposite,” said Finke of Notre Dame’s reaction to Florida State’s lopsided losses. “Instead of, ‘They just got blown out by this team; we’ll walk by them,’ for me at least, it’s more, ‘This team really put it on them. Let’s do that too. Let’s really prepare and do the same thing.’”
With so much at stake, particularly in the last game of the season in Notre Dame Stadium, leaving anything to chance would be the most foolish thing the Irish could do. Tranquill speaks from experience.
“As (4-8) was for us in 2016, (a 4-5 record is) unacceptable at Florida State, a school that is used to contending for national championships,” Tranquill said. “But anybody can get beat on any given day and they’re coming in here to beat us. We have to respect our opponent and approach it with humility.”
“At the beginning of the season, when we looked at the schedule, this probably seemed like it was going to be a ranked vs. ranked matchup,” Finke added. “They’ve had some struggles this season, but at the same time, every week is a new week and you kind of feel like it’s 0-0 vs. 0-0.”
Wipe the slate clean. The Seminoles are coming to town.