FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame can take some comfort in the fact that it has a victory over a top-10 defense this year as it prepares to play No. 25 Florida State’s imposing squad in the Champs Sports Bowl on Thursday.
The Irish (8-4) defeated Michigan State, which is ranked No. 5 in overall defense (272.7 yards per game), 31-13 on Nov. 17.
The Seminoles (8-4) enter the game in Orlando, Fla., only a notch below the Spartans in total defense, giving up 274.6 yards per game.
Florida State is also No. 2 in rushing defense (81.8 yards per game), No. 4 in scoring defense (15.2 points per game) and No. 19 in pass defense (192.8 yards per game).
They are a good team, really good on defense, Irish quarterback Tommy Rees said. They’ve got a lot of good players that they are going to use. They have a lot of athleticism and speed on defense.
We have faced a number of good defenses, but for pure athleticism, they are definitely up there.
Florida State does a lot of damage behind the line of scrimmage.
The Seminoles average three sacks per game, ninth most in the nation, and they are No. 5 in tackles for loss with 7.7 per game.
Defensive end Brandon Jenkins leads the defensive push with 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Defensive end Bjoern Werner has 10 tackles for loss and six sacks, and linebacker Nigel Bradham leads the team in tackles with 77 and has nine tackles for loss.
They don’t stay blocked, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. You may catch them for a second, but they keep their feet moving. They’re a very athletic group, well-coached. Up front they have a very good scheme in a sense that they don’t ask them to do too much. They ask them to obviously get after the football.
It reminds you of the Miami defense from last year, and a lot more engaged.
Notre Dame will be one of the best running teams Florida State has tried to stop this season.
The Irish average 166 rushing yards and are led by Cierre Wood’s 1,042 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
Notre Dame will not be at full force in the backfield after losing senior running back Jonas Gray to a knee injury in a 16-14 win over Boston College on Nov. 19.
Theo Riddick, who had moved to slot receiver from running back as a sophomore, returned to the backfield and gained six yards on four carries against Stanford in the season finale. He will team with Wood again against the Seminoles.
Notre Dame will also try to boost its running attack by using Andrew Hendrix as a change-of-pace quarterback. Hendrix ran for 136 yards and a touchdown in four games.
This is a very, very fast defense, and probably one of the best defenses that we will face this year, Wood said. Their defense is not like anything we have seen so far. Basically everybody across the board has a lot of speed, and as they say speed kills.
We are just going to line up and do what we do best.
Notre Dame’s best chance to puncture Florida State’s defense will likely be through the air with receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Tyler Eifert, a Bishop Dwenger graduate.
Floyd leads the offense with 95 receptions for 1,106 yards and eight touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 224-pound senior owns the school’s records for career receptions (266), receiving yards (3,645), touchdown receptions (36), receiving yards per game (86.8) and 100-yard receiving games (17).
Eifert was second on the team with 57 receptions for 713 yards with five touchdowns. The 6-6, 249-pound junior led FBS tight ends in catches and ranked second in receiving yards among tight ends. He broke the single-season school record for receptions by a tight end.
I don’t think there is any question about it, if you are going to move the ball against Florida State, No. 1, you have got to get your athletes matched up with their athletes, and you’ve got to win the individual battles, tight ends coach Mike Denbrock said.