Key Takeaways From The Notre Dame Win Over Florida State: Offense
Notre Dame improved to 3-0 with a 42-26 victory over Florida State. It marks the first time Notre Dame has won back-to-back games against the Seminoles.
It wasn’t always pretty, but the Irish did what they needed to do to get the victory. There were plenty of takeaways from the win. Let’s begin by looking at the Irish offense.
Notre Dame Ground Attack Is On Fire
The Notre Dame ground attack was dominant against Florida State, and it was a group effort. Up front the Irish blockers were physical and efficient. There were some areas that need to be cleaned up, which isn’t surprising considering the layoff, but the unit was physical at the point of attack and pushed the Florida State defensive line around.
Notre Dame’s interior blockers had a tough matchup, and they not only handled themselves, the controlled the action. When left tackle Liam Eichenberg went down, left guard Aaron Banks bumped out to tackle and senior Dillan Gibbons stepped in at guard, and the Irish offense continued to roll.
In the last two games, Notre Dame is averaging 317 rushing yards per game and 7.3 yards per rush attempt. Running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree have combined for 415 yards, four touchdowns and averaged 8.6 yards per rush in the last two contests. Williams was at 9.7 yards per carry against the Seminoles and Tyree was at 9.4 yards per attempt. They combined for 288 yards on 30 carries (9.6 YPC) last night.
Beyond the statistics, the level of play has been highly impressive. The offensive line is playing at a very high level. It’s not quite where the 2017 line was, but it’s not that far away so far. What was impressive about the performance against Florida State is that no one lineman had a great game.
What made the unit so effective is that they got strong play across the board, they played extremely well as a unit, which is more important than having a dominant player or two. That is partly what made the 2017 unit so good, and so far it’s also what we are seeing from the 2020 squad.
What we also saw more of in this game, and it’s something we’ve seen in all three games, is the running backs are quite adept at making defenders miss behind the line, at the line and downfield. When you combine that with the strong play of the line and the excellent downfield blocking from the wide receivers and tight ends, the Irish have the look of a team that has a truly outstanding run game, not just a talented unit beating up on lesser opponents.
McKinley Has A Much-Needed Breakout
Notre Dame’s wide receivers struggled in the first two games, and there’s still plenty of work to be done with that unit, but getting a breakout from senior Javon McKinley against the Seminoles provided a huge boost for the offense. McKinley finished with five catches for 107 yards, and his numbers could have been even better. Of course, McKinley’s run blocking was also excellent, which has been true each week so far in the season.
McKinley stretched the field, hauling in throws for 38 and 36 yards, which was a great sign. His second downfield catch was a one-on-one against Florida State star cornerback Asante Samuel Jr.. In fact, three of McKinley’s five catches were in matchups against Samuel, which is an even better sign.
McKinley breaking out wasn’t just about him. For weeks a big complaint of mine with quarterback Ian Book has been an unwillingness to throw the ball to wideouts unless they were clearly open, especially McKinley, who has shown the ability to win contested balls in the past. Against Florida State he showed more of a willingness to give McKinley an opportunity to make plays, and the veteran rewarded his quarterback.
If this becomes a pattern the pass game is going to continue getting better and better. The next step is a complementary piece or two stepping up, something we have yet to see.
Vertical Pass Game Finally Shows Up
Building on the previous point, Notre Dame was far more willing to take shots down the field. Some they hit, some they didn’t. Book went just 2-6 down the field, but it was progress, and much-needed progress. If Notre Dame is going to build around its punishing ground game it must be more willing to take shots down the field, and we saw that against Florida State.
Notre Dame attempted six throws of at least 20 yards past the line, which is more than they attempted in the first two games combined. The next step is hitting more of those throws.
Third-Down Offense Struggles
Notre Dame was good on third-down in the first two games of the season, but the third-down offense struggled against the Seminoles. Notre Dame went just 2-8 in the game, relying on big plays to get the ball into the end zone. Against better opponents the Irish will need to combine the explosiveness we saw against Florida State, but it will also need to be better on third-down.
Too Many Missed Opportunities
Part of the struggles on third-down was Notre Dame missing some opportunities to make plays that will need to be made against better opponents. Two of Notre Dame’s failed third-downs were due to drops, one by Williams and the other by Joe Wilkins Jr. The throw to Wilkins from Book had far too much gas on it, and the placement was not good on the throw, but Wilkins still needs to make that catch.
Book had a chance to hit Lenzy down the field and missed, and he also missed Tremble for a touchdown in the third quarter. That miss was followed by the Williams drop, forcing a field goal attempt that was missed. The Irish also failed to punch their last red zone drive into the end zone. It didn’t cost Notre Dame against Florida State, who is now 1-3 on the season, but in future games they’ll need to clean up those mistakes and execute.
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