Takeaways: A Thin Line Between Rub and Pick

by Matthew Thompson

This is why I love football. The Florida State-Notre Dame matchup on Saturday night was best game I’ve watched since last year’s National Championship. Despite being the right call (and going in my team’s favor), I do wish there didn’t have to be a penalty on such a pivotal play, but it didn’t mar what was a riveting showdown between two of last few remaining unbeaten teams in the country.

Jameis Winston 2

Jameis Winston reminded us why he won the Heisman last season in the second half after struggling early in the game. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

The Seminoles got off to a slow start which didn’t surprise me. This is not the dominant 2013 team that ran away from teams right from the opening whistle. I think the most frustrating part of the first half to me was watching Notre Dame slowly methodically move the ball on us. So many third downs, but they continued to shuffle down the field. Our offense struggled as well. Despite being as talented as any QB in the country, Jameis makes some really silly throws and the heave he made off his backfoot right after the defense took it away from a driving Irish was as bad as it gets. Our biggest issue on offense was upfront though. Notre Dame was making the FSU O-Line look like a JV squad. Our running game was non-existent and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was under pressure for most of the first two quarters. Despite how much the Fighting Irish dominated the game, the Noles were only down seven and the second half would be a different story.

Florida State came out on fire led by a flawless Winston who completed all seven passes on the second half’s opening drive for 70 yards and a TD. From here, the two teams traded scores. The Noles didn’t take their first lead until there was only 7:39 remaining in the game. Then a Notre Dame punt pinned FSU deep after the following drive. I was a little peeved that they didn’t let Winston throw on this next series. Despite him being 15 of 16 in the second half, they opted to play it safe and run on third and long. This would lead to the Irish’s final drive including the controversial penalty call that helped decide it.

From the FSU 3-yard line with 17 seconds remaining, Notre Dame seems to make the game-winning TD, but a flag was thrown. They ran a pick play just like they had run earlier in the game on a first-half score. This time the WR (or maybe two) didn’t even try to pretend it wasn’t a pick. It was certainly a penalty. I was happy they called it of course, but I’d have preferred us to have just stopped them without this. I don’t feel too bad in the end though because Notre Dame could have still won on the next play or not allowed our previous score. I guess I just look at it like a football game is lost because of many plays, not just one, so they weren’t without other opportunities.

Everett Golson

Everett Golson outplayed Winston for a large part of the game. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

I came away from the game impressed with Notre Dame and remain a little unimpressed with the Seminoles. The difference is expectations.  It feels like this FSU team should be better. They still struggle to run the ball and the lack of balance has hurt the passing game. Their defense isn’t nearly as dominant as a year ago. Yet they continue to win. And I still think they will go undefeated through the ACC Championship game. But the question is will they be good enough to win in the new four-team playoff? Not if they don’t improve between now and then.

A couple more things:

  • My Final Four: I’d keep Florida State and Oregon in like the last time I did Takeaways. Though I’d swap Mississippi State in for Alabama. The fourth team is a tough one. Baylor is out obviously. I’ll say Michigan State for now, but a second SEC team seems like a possibility. And maybe even Notre Dame.
  • Heisman Frontrunner: I’d give the edge to Dak Prescott at the moment. I do think Miss. St. loses a game and then it becomes a toss-up between him and Mariota, both of whom I have in the playoff right now.

That was a hell of a game on Saturday night and I’m looking forward to seeing how both of these teams play going forward. Next week we will also get our first rankings from the selection committee which I’ll be sure to chime in on. Well that is all for this week. Thanks for reading!

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