A late-December win over the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame will help secure a treasured recruiting class for the Seminoles of Florida State, and this is precisely what should be motivating Jimbo Fisher and his staff.
In Tallahassee, the expectations will be high next year—losses to teams like Wake Forest and Virginia will be completely inexcusable—and it all starts with recruiting. FSU is pipelining blue chips like it did during the 1990s, and this bowl game will help determine how many more elite commitments FSU fields between now and signing day. The FSU staff has masterfully mopped up the mess from the fallout of the Wake Forest loss, but a win over Notre Dame, a storied program, is still needed, and here’s how it can happen.
Spread out the Offense and Reign in the Run Game
It's no Seminole secret that FSU's running game has been atrocious this year—and it all stems from its porous offensive line. There’s no chance FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett will have his unit understanding his zone blocking scheme come December 29th, so Fisher will have to turn to his speedy wide receivers.
The bad news for FSU is that senior wide receiver Bert Reed will be out—he pulled a hamstring earlier in the week—but FSU has plenty of targets still available. Kenny Shaw, Rashad Greene, Rodney Smith, Jared Haggins, Christian Greene, Greg Dent and Nick O’Leary are at Fisher’s disposal, and that’s no sandlot unit. Those men are fast—faster than Notre Dame—and they have all proven themselves at some point during the season.
Fisher doesn’t usually run a four- or five-receiver offense, but until the offensive line learns how to run-block, FSU will have to spread it out, pass protect and go downfield. If nothing opens up, EJ can tuck and run as a last resort.
The Defense Just Needs to Stick to Its Assignments
In this year’s clash against the Florida Gators, FSU’s secondary looked like the vaunted unit everyone had been expecting before the season began. And, as usual, the defensive line got off the bus.
Florida’s line was shredded apart by the Seminoles’ front seven—unfriendly guys like Brandon Jenkins, Timmy Jernigan and Nigel Bradham embarrassed the Florida running attack—and, for maybe only the second time all season, the secondary covered its zone assignments and worked in sync with the big boys up front.
This is what FSU must do to shut down the Irish.
Bryan Kelly has said on record that he is going to throw different quarterback looks at FSU—by this he means Hendrix will run/throw and Rees will throw—so the Seminoles need to play smart football (i.e., stick to their assignments). Xavier Rhodes needs to worry about Michael Floyd; Greg Reid needs to worry about his side of the field; the safeties need to do what Stoops tells them to do. And the front seven will do their job. If all units play in sync, the Notre Dame punter will be getting plenty of screen time.
Special Teams Must Win the Game
FSU placekicker and Lou Groza Award-finalist Dustin Hopkins kicked four field goals in last year’s bowl win over South Carolina. His golden shoes must do the same this year.
Even if Fisher tweaks his offense and manufactures some yards, I still can’t see FSU getting into the end zone very much. There are still just too many problems on that side of the ball, and the Notre Dame defense has proven itself in some good outings this year.
But if Greg Reid can generate some magic on punt returns, and if EJ Manuel can spread it around and consistently get the offense in Hopkins’ field goal range, which is 50-55 yards, I think the man with the golden shoes can win the game for the Seminoles.