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Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs Florida State Seminoles - Champs Sports Bowl preview

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Notre Dame vs Florida State
Date: Dec. 29, 2011
Site: The Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (65,438)
Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. ET
Television: ESPN
Coaches: Notre Dame — Brian Kelly (16-9, second season), Florida State — Jimbo Fisher (18-8, second season).
Series Facts: This will be the seventh meeting between the two programs and the second matchup in a bowl game. Florida State holds a 4-2 advantage in the series. The most recent meeting was on Nov. 1, 2003, when the Seminoles blanked the Fighting Irish, 37-0.

Seminoles Run Game vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

The run game has been the weakest link for Florida State this season. The Seminoles average 118.1 yards per game on the ground, which puts them at 99th in the country. Quarterback EJ Manuel’s speed and size (6-5, 245 pounds) make him a tough dual threat to bring down. He and leading rusher Devonta Freeman are the team’s two main weapons out of the backfield. Freeman ran for 531 yards on 107 attempts this season.

Notre Dame has slipped down to the nation’s 58th-best run defense, allowing 147.1 yards per game. The month long break should help some key run stoppers heal for the Irish. Junior linebacker Manti Te’o leads the team in tackles with 115 and should have no problem with his lingering ankle injury against Florida State. Freshman defensive end Stephon Tuitt also adds depth to the defensive front with his return after missing the final two games of the regular season with an illness.

EDGE: Notre Dame

Seminoles Passing Game vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Manuel does a good job spreading the ball across the field in Florida State’s attack. Five different Seminole receivers have at least 25 receptions this season. Freshman speedster Rashad Greene leads that bunch with 33 catches for 497 yards and six touchdowns despite missing four games with an Achilles’ injury. Redshirt freshman Clint Trickett has also played in nine games at quarterback. He started two games earlier in the year, but has not played since Nov. 3. Both Trickett and Manuel have dealt with a good deal of pressure, with Florida State’s opponents averaging three sacks per game this season.

If Notre Dame can create some havoc with the pass rush, its veteran secondary should be able to keep the Seminoles from any big plays. At least three Irish defensive backs will be playing their final college game in Orlando, Fla., and that experience can be a big factor. Fifth-year safety Harrison Smith had three interceptions in last year’s bowl win over Miami.

EDGE: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Running Game vs. Seminoles Run Defense

Despite an 8-4 record, Florida State outscored its opponents by an average of two touchdowns this season. Most of that credit goes to the country’s fourth-best scoring defense (15.2 points allowed per game). Fast and physical defenses have been the Seminoles’ calling card for a long time, and this is one of their better ones. Only Alabama has given up less than Florida State’s 81.8 rushing yards per game this season. The defense is led by linebacker Nigel Bradham (77 tackles, including nine for loss) and Berlin, Germany, import Bjoern Werner. The versatile sophomore has six sacks to go with eight pass breakups and an interception from his defensive end position.

Irish juniors Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick will get the majority of the work in the run game. Riddick has moved to the backfield after senior Jonas Gray went down Nov.19 with a season-ending ACL injury against Boston College. The Irish struggled in their season finale without Gray, gaining only 57 yards on the ground against another tough defense in Stanford. Wood ran for 1,042 yards this season, but had his worst showings on the big stage against the Cardinal and USC earlier in the year. Sophomore quarterback Andrew Hendrix could add another wrinkle to the
Irish run game if he sees significant playing time.

EDGE: Florida State

Notre Dame Passing Game vs. Seminoles Pass Defense

Irish head coach Brian Kelly swiftly put an end to any quarterback debate before bowl practice began. Sophomore Tommy Rees will start against the Seminoles, but Hendrix is expected to see the field as well. The “changeup” sophomore played the entire second half against Stanford after the offense floundered early.Whoever is in the game will be looking to get the ball to senior Michael Floyd, who enters the game five receptions away from breaking 100 in his last season for the Irish. Floyd has consistently been the team’s biggest weapon this fall, racking up 1,106 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

Sophomore cornerback Xavier Rhodes (6-2, 215 pounds) matches up best with Floyd and will probably be charged with trying to slow him down. Upperclassmen comprise the rest of the Seminoles secondary, which finished the season as the 32nd-ranked pass defense (192.8 yards allowed per game) in the country. They get a lot of help from a speedy front seven that averages three sacks per game. With uncertainty at quarterback for Notre Dame, Florida State
takes the edge in this category.

EDGE: Florida State

Special Teams

With two defenses that are expected to control the game,field position becomes a huge factor. That doesn’t bode well for the Irish. Notre Dame finished the regular season 104th in net punting, while Florida State was No. 1. Senior punter Shawn Powell averages 47.0 yards per kick and has pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line 21 times this season. On the other end, junior Greg Reid (11.4 yards per return) was one of only 26 players in the country to average double-digit yards on punt returns this season. Both teams have a “go-to” guy as a field goal kicker. Notre Dame’s David Ruffer missed a chip shot at Stanford, but had hit eight in a row before that. Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins is 20 of 25 this season, including a 53-yarder against Oklahoma.

EDGE: Florida State

Prediction:

Florida State boasts one of the best and perhaps the quickest defense in the nation. The Fighting Irish will have their work cut out for them on the Offense also, with the loss of Jonas Gray and the uncertainty at the QB position. I do not envisage this being a shootout, but if the Irish start turning the ball over like they have had in their previous losses to USF, Michigan, USC and Stanford, then Irish fans can sit back and watch yet another loss unfold before their very eyes.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 17-21 Florida State Seminoles

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