Notre Dame leads Florida State 17-14 at halftime. Here are my first half thoughts.
The Notre Dame offense came out hot against Florida State, going right down the field on the opener but the unit stalled after that despite getting multiple possessions in Seminole territory. Here are some early thoughts from the opening half.
*** Quarterback Jack Coan started off well, going through his reads and getting the ball where it was supposed to go, including finding tight end Michael Mayer for a 41-yard touchdown on a blown coverage. Notre Dame ran a smash concept with a back out of the backfield and no one covered Mayer.
*** A dropped pass by Mayer on the next series stalled a drive but an under throw by Coan on a flea flicker also kept the Irish from capitalizing on great field position.
*** The story of the first half was the play of the Notre Dame offensive line. As a unit they struggled for much of the half. Notre Dame got no push in the run game as a result of a combination of the line not coming off the ball with any force, FSU beating them off the line and poorly timed combo blocks. There was little room for the Irish backs to work and outside of a draw play most of the positive run yards were a result of the backs making good cuts and picking up yards.
*** Notre Dame’s OL also struggled in pass pro and the result was Coan rarely getting much time to look past his first target. Florida State was playing a lot of man coverage and single high safety looks to the field but Notre Dame couldn’t get time to get their pass combinations going to attack those looks.
*** There was too much sloppiness from the offense early and it wasted really good field position. Notre Dame got into FSU territory on its first three drives and came away with just one score.
*** After falling behind 14-7 OC Tommy Rees decided to push the tempo and Notre Dame took the drive deep into FSU territory. Coan had Braden Lenzy open on a deep route but left guard Zeke Correll allowed penetration and Coan couldn’t set his feet and get to Lenzy. A poor call on 3rd-and-5 stalled the drive. Rees called a QB Counter play to Coan and it was blown up. I get the call and it was likely a 2-down territory situation if you got positive yards, but with the OL getting pushed back as much as it was in the first half that shouldn’t have been the call.
*** Coan and the offense made up for it on the next series. After a Kyle Hamilton interception Notre Dame went back to its smash concept for a 15-yard gain to Mayer. On third-down Coan had two options. He had Wilkins on a one-on-one backside and he had Lawrence Keys III coming open over the middle. Coan went with the one-on-one for the score. It wasn’t a great throw but he gave his receiver a chance and Wilkins made a great play. That’s what you want from your QB, take the shot, give your wideouts a chance and Wilkins rewarded him with it. Coan also did a good job climbing into the pocket on that throw to avoid a wide rush and the interior of the OL gave him a pocket.
Inconsistency was the name of the game for the Notre Dame offense in the first half. There were some really, really impressive plays by the defense but when the unit made mistakes it resulted in huge plays for the Seminoles.
*** Defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman threw a lot at FSU in the opening half. Notre Dame went with 3-4 personnel on the first series and had two rovers on the field. On the second series it was 4-3 personnel and the Irish mixed up those looks throughout the half.
*** One issue in the first half is that Notre Dame made too many wholesale rotation changes, which means at times almost the entire second team was in the game. You have to play your backups and many of them had some really good moments, but both of Florida State’s early touchdown drives came with mostly the second team on the field.
*** Notre Dame’s first team defense and a couple second teamers (Justin Ademilola, Rylie Mills) were dominant in the first half. They were in the FSU backfield all game long and made multiple big stops behind the line. Edge Isaiah Foskey and defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola were especially disruptive in the first half, and the Ademilola brothers combined on a drive killing sack early in the first quarter. Foskey had two sacks in the first half.
*** Notre Dame’s linebackers were very, very aggressive in the first half, especially the first team backers. Drew White was all over the field and the rovers were very active on outside pressures and coming up against the run.
*** The pass game was a different story for the linebackers and the safeties to a degree. The linebackers - and most noticeably Isaiah Pryor and Bo Bauer - were often caught peaking into the backfield when QB Jordan Travis went to throw and the result was backs and receivers getting open room, and on one occasion the result was a conversion of a third-and-long against Bauer. Pryor also got sucked inside on a bootleg near the goal line that opened up a touchdown run for Travis.
*** All-American safety Kyle Hamilton completely whiffed on the long touchdown run in the first quarter. He was a bit out of control and Jashaun Corbin made him miss with ease. Hamilton also got caught peaking into the backfield on an early pass that went for good yards but he was bailed out by an offensive penalty from Florida State. Hamilton made up for it later when he picked off a Travis pass. Hamilton was covering a deep corner route and Travis threw it on the run but Hamilton cut in front of the receiver and hauled it in. Notre Dame scored on the next series.
*** The Irish cornerbacks were very sticky in coverage in the opening half, especially boundary corner Cam Hart, who also blew up a perimeter screen on the first defensive play of the game. TaRiq Bracy was also sticky in coverage in the opening half.
*** There was a lot of good from the Irish defense in the opening half but they have to be a bit smarter on the rotations (mix and match the two units a bit more) and they have to clean up some coverage some coverage miscues on the second level, some of which FSU didn’t have time to exploit.
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