Notre Dame Football: Manti Te'o and Key Players Against Florida State
If Notre Dame wants to pull out a victory in the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State, it is going to need stellar performances out of a few of its best players.
Florida State is better than its 8-4 record shows. Its starting quarterback, E.J. Manuel, was knocked out of a close game against Oklahoma, and he didn't play at all the next week in a 35-30 loss versus Clemson.
Like Notre Dame, Florida State could easily be 10-2. Here are the players who will be key to stopping a Florida State team that is more dangerous then it gets credit for.
Every Single Receiver
Florida State has a pretty good pass defense. It is ranked 35th against the pass, but its run defense is second in the nation.
Therefore, Notre Dame might have some trouble running the ball. The Irish will need to throw early and often.
With quite a bit of time to prepare for the Notre Dame offense, Florida State will be well-schooled in the Irish offense. The Seminoles will know that when Michael Floyd isn't producing, the Irish offense stagnates.
Brian Kelly will need to throw a few wrinkles in the offense. Kelly will have to make sure to have Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix spread the ball around.
Tyler Eifert will have to have a big day if Floyd is double-covered, but T.J. Jones, Robby Toma and Theo Riddick will need to stay involved. Each player can expect to get targeted more than they have all season.
Kelly will need to call some quick-developing playing to quell Florida State's pass-rush. The Seminoles are tied for ninth in sacks, so to help Rees and Hendrix stay upright, Kelly will be calling wide receiver screens, quick out routes and throws to Cierre Wood out of the backfield.
The Irish are going to have to try to keep Florida State's outstanding defense on its toes, and quick plays or spreading the ball around may be the only way to do so.
Zack Martin may have the toughest task of any player on the whole Notre Dame roster. He will be facing Florida State's best pass-rusher, defensive end Brandon Jenkins.
Martin is the best player on a fantastic offensive line, but Jenkins is among the best defensive ends in the nation.
Jenkins is tied for 42nd in the FBS for sacks with seven, he has three quarterback hurries and 27 solo tackles (as well as 12 assisted tackles).
It plays in Notre Dame's favor that its offensive line is tied for 17th in the nation in sacks allowed with 13, but that number will rise dramatically if Martin can't stop the deadly edge-rusher.
E.J. Manuel hasn't had a great year for Florida State. He has thrown for an impressive 2,417 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he has eight interceptions and is averaging just 1.7 yards in his 99 rush attempts.
However, he is still capable of having a big game.
One thing Manuel does very well is spread the ball around. Florida State has five receivers with more than 25 receptions, but not a single receiver has more than 32 catches. That means that shutting down one player won't hurt Florida State's passing attack.
That makes Harrison Smith extremely important for more than one reason. Smith will be keeping an eye on any receivers who try to sneak downfield or beat their defenders, and he will also be watching out in case Manuel takes off running.
While Manuel doesn't have a great rushing average, he has run 99 times and scored four touchdowns. Smith will be the last line of defense to keep Manuel out of the end zone.
Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt and Ethan Johnson will play two vital roles for the Irish in the Champs Sports Bowl.
First, the defensive ends will have to keep contain on the edge. They will get some help from the Notre Dame linebackers, but with a quarterback in E.J. Manuel who won't hesitate to run, the defensive ends have to be cognizant of where Manuel is.
If the defensive line gets too far behind Manuel, they can expect him to take off running.
But this could be a game where the defensive line really shines. Florida State is tied for 111th in sacks allowed.
Florida State has given up 36 sacks on the season, and with the talent of Lynch and Tuitt, both players could have a field day.
Of course, Manti Te'o is truly the heart of the Notre Dame defense. His presence on the field is important to the demeanor of the entire defense, but he too will have a few important roles for the Irish when playing against Florida State.
Te'o will be tasked will helping the defensive ends keep tabs on E.J. Manuel, but I'm sure Bob Diaco will give Te'o a few chances to rush Manuel as well.
And Te'o will need to be all over the field when it comes to stopping the Florida State running game.
The Seminoles run the ball with smaller, quicker players to the outside, but they also have some big backs who can run up the gut for short yardage.
Te'o will see a number of different rushers, and he is Notre Dame's best chance at shutting down a Florida State rushing attack that ranks just 99th in the FBS.