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Florida State Seminoles vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish Game Preview and Prediction

Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston

College football’s premier matchup for Week 8 takes place in Tallahassee, as Florida State hosts Notre Dame in a meeting of two teams with national title and playoff aspirations. Off-field issues have surrounded both teams since the opener, as quarterback Jameis Winston is under the spotlight once again for the Seminoles, while the Fighting Irish finally learned the fate of the five players suspended due to academic issues earlier this week.

While neither team will be able to completely close the door on discussing the off-field issues over the next two days, the 60-minute matchup should at least turn the attention back to the field and the quest to finish unbeaten and earn a spot in the playoff.

The Seminoles enter Saturday night’s game on a 17-game winning streak, while the Fighting Irish are off to a 6-0 start and defeated their first four opponents by at least 16 points in each contest.

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Florida State and Notre Dame have met only seven previous times. The Seminoles own a 5-2 series edge against the Fighting Irish and have won the last two games in this series. Notre Dame’s last win over the Seminoles occurred in 2002.

Notre Dame at Florida State


Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -11.5


Three Things to Watch


1. Stopping Jameis Winston
In the first five games of the year, the Fighting Irish allowed 60 points. In last Saturday’s win over North Carolina, Notre Dame allowed 43 points and gave up 6.1 yards per play. With that in mind, which is the real Fighting Irish defense? The college football world should have a good idea by Saturday night, as Florida State’s offense is the best this defense has played in 2014. The Seminoles are averaging 39 points per game and 6.6 yards per play, and coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has a talented core of skill players, headlined by receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary. At running back, Karlos Williams, Mario Pender (out for Saturday due to injury) and Dalvin Cook are all big-time talents with the threat to score each time they touch the ball. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder likes to be aggressive in his play-calling, which will allow Winston and his receivers to hit on big plays – assuming the offensive line can handle the blitz packages. If Winston has time to throw, that’s a bad sign for a Fighting Irish secondary that was torched for 326 yards against North Carolina last week. But if VanGorder can generate pressure and get Winston out of rhythm, Notre Dame’s defense will have a chance to force three-and-outs, giving the offense good field position early and often.

2. Everett Golson vs. Florida State’s Defense
Everett Golson is 16-0 as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback during the regular season. Golson’s only loss with the Fighting Irish was a loss to Alabama in the 2013 BCS Championship. And after missing all of last season due to academic issues, Golson has showed little rush through the first six games. The junior has passed for 1,683 yards and 16 touchdowns and is completing 62.5 percent of his throws in 2014. While those numbers are impressive, turnovers have been a problem for the junior. Over the last three games, Golson has lost nine turnovers, including an interception in three consecutive contests. Winning in Tallahassee requires a flawless effort from Notre Dame – but there will be plays available against Florida State’s defense. The Seminoles owned one of the top defenses in the nation last year, but injuries and a turnover in personnel in the front seven have contributed to some early-season struggles. But even though Florida State is not as dominant on the defensive side as it was last year, the Seminoles are still holding opponents to 20.7 points a game and rank third in the ACC in red zone defense. Golson has a solid receiving corps at his disposal, including William Fuller (14.4 ypc, 7 TDs) and Corey Robinson (13.7 ypc). Can Golson limit his mistakes and attack a Florida State secondary that has already allowed two teams to throw for 300 yards this year?

3. Which defense steps up?
As we mentioned in the previous sections of the preview, both teams have experienced their share of problems – and success – on defense this season. Florida State’s biggest concern is the defensive tackle spot, as replacing Timmy Jernigan is no easy assignment, and starter Nile Lawrence-Stample was lost for the year due to injury. The Seminoles are eighth in the ACC against the run and are allowing 5.0 yards per play – almost a full yard increase from last season. But Florida State has made stops when it matters, ranking third in the ACC in red zone defense. Notre Dame has options at running back, but Tarean Folston is the team’s leading rusher at just 263 yards. If the Fighting Irish is going to win, quarterback Everett Golson has to have a huge game. Of course, that means Golson also has to limit his mistakes, and Florida State has forced 11 turnovers in six games. Can the Seminoles force a couple of turnovers? When Florida State has the ball, will Notre Dame’s defense hold its own at the point of attack and limit the Seminoles’ ground game? If the Fighting Irish can limit Florida State on early downs on rushing attempts, Winston will have third-and-long situations to navigate on offense, allowing VanGorder to send extra pressure or drop more into coverage to limit the big-play ability of Greene or Jesus Wilson.


Final Analysis

Florida State has yet to play a complete game this year. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the teams on the Seminoles’ schedule, starting with Notre Dame on Saturday night. Injuries and suspensions slowed Florida State’s development early in the year, but this team should get better over the second half of 2014. As long as Jameis Winston is in the lineup, the Seminoles should win this matchup. The Fighting Irish need a perfect effort to win on Saturday, including zero turnovers from Golson and better play from a secondary that was torched by North Carolina last week. Notre Dame tacks on a late touchdown to cover the spread, but Florida State controls this one from the opening kick.


Prediction: Florida State 34, Notre Dame 27