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Notre Dame Football

Things to Watch Against FSU (and Beyond)

October 7, 2020

It will be three weeks since Notre Dame has played a football game when they face Florida State on Saturday night. Having that much time off and the uncertainty surrounding who might not be available to play makes it difficult to know what to expect from a team who looked really good in their previous game.

Notre Dame is heavily favored (by 21 points at the time of writing this). They may cover that number. I wouldn’t feel confident betting it, though, because we don’t know if it might take the Irish awhile to get back to where they left off before their unplanned break.

I might not know what to expect from Brian Kelly’s team when they take the field this weekend, but here’s some things that will be important to see this week and in the weeks ahead for this Notre Dame football team.

A similar level of execution in the running game

The execution in the running game was not where it needed to be against Duke. Things looked much better against South Florida with the backs, offensive line, tight ends, and receivers in sync in a way that looked better than it had since 2017.

I don’t expect Notre Dame to have another game of double digit runs of 10-yards or more like they had against USF because the opponent will be much better. If Notre Dame can block at a level where they are averaging over 5.0 yards per carry on first down, then that would say a lot about how good this running game can be in 2020.

FSU is giving up 4.03 YPC on first downs this fall.

More deep shots

Notre Dame may not need to hit the deep ball to beat FSU. They are going to need to hit it in other games, though. They can’t go another game without at least trying to stretch the field vertically more than they have.

Ian Book has only attempted four passes of 20-yards or longer this season. There are going to be some games this season where he might need to attempt double that amount.

Kelly has said Kevin Austin will be available for 15-20 plays in this game. Lawrence Keys should be back healthy and Braden Lenzy will be on the field as well. These three need to be playmakers for the Irish and should be targeted deep.

More play-action

Book is 11 of 14 off of play-action passes this season and he’s averaging 11.7 yards per attempt on those throws.

Part of this is that he excels when throwing in rhythm and part of it is that Notre Dame is lining up in heavier formations. That’s setting up more chances to be successful in play-action.

Right now about ¼ of Book’s drop backs are play-action passes. I’d like to see that continue to trend up with how successful he’s been so far through two games.

Same level of Havoc

Yes, it was only Duke and USF. But no one can deny that a Havoc Rate of 24.0% is exactly the kind of production Notre Dame fans want to see from their defense. If they can keep racking up those tackles for loss and getting their hands on the football in coverage, then the Havoc will keep piling up.

If they can finish with some interceptions (they have dropped a few this year) and get to the quarterback to force more fumbles (they finished second in the country in FFs last season), that would be even better.

Edge rushers dominating

Florida State’s offensive tackles have not been good in protection. Left tackle Darius Washington in particular was abused in the Georgia Tech and Miami games (a combined 11 pressures given up). This is a perfect game for Notre Dame’s edge rushers to feast on FSU’s O-line.

Ade Ogundeji and Isaiah Foskey in particular have made an early impact and look primed to harass quarterbacks all season. They and the other edge defenders might have a chance to go off in this game and beyond with several shaky offensive lines across the conference.

Kyle Hamilton

Everyone wants to see him back healthy and making the kind of impact they know he can make. Some others might have forgotten about him. I know Notre Dame fans haven’t.

In a game where FSU is going to try and attack with deep shots and run their quarterback a lot, it should be a perfect showcase for Hamilton to show he can do multiple things to help make the defense great.

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