NOTRE DAME, Ind. – In 2003, the Florida State football team went to Notre Dame and dealt the Fighting Irish a humbling, lopsided defeat.
Fifteen years later, the Seminoles returned to South Bend and the Fighting Irish returned the favor.
Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Brandon Wimbush added three scores through the air as the Fighting Irish cruised to a 42-13 victory on a below-freezing night at Notre Dame Stadium.
Williams is the first running back to run for 200 yards against Florida State since 1982. And his effort overshadowed an otherwise encouraging effort from FSU’s Cam Akers, who had his best game in a month with two touchdowns and 63 yards on 12 carries.
“We came in and said we wanted to start fast,” coach Willie Taggart said. “And we didn’t.”
It wasn’t for lack of effort.
After winning the coin toss, the Seminoles chose to receive the opening kickoff – a departure from Taggart’s usual philosophy.
But rather than get the ball, march down the field and score a touchdown that might have silenced the 76,622 in attendance, FSU turned the ball over on its second play from scrimmage.
That happened when a pass from Deondre Francois bounced off of tight end Tre’ McKitty and into the arms of Notre Dame’s Nick Coleman. Coleman returned his interception 27 yards to the Florida State three-yard line and, two plays later Wimbush connected with Miles for a touchdown.
“(The interception) was a dropped pass, and they caught it,” Taggart said.
Things then snowballed quickly. The Seminoles went three-and-out on their ensuing possession and the Irish then embarked on a 14-play, 81-yard touchdown drive that made it 14-0.
And on Florida State’s very next play, Akers fumbled an exchange, the ball fell to the ground and the Irish recovered at the FSU 14-yard line.
The Seminoles’ defense held Notre Dame to a field goal, but, by then, the Irish had a 17-point lead before Florida State had a first down.
“We had an interception early in the game and a turnover early in the game on our side of the field,” Taggart said. “And against a good football team, you can’t do that. And for our football team, we definitely can’t do that right now.”
The game was Florida State’s third consecutive against a ranked opponent. And anyone who saw the first two would recognize the third:
A slow start on offense leads to a double-digit deficit. The deficit leads to pressing too hard in all three phases. The pressing leads to mistakes. The mistakes lead to a bigger deficit.
The Seminoles must flip that script if they’re going to salvage their season and reach a bowl game.
FSU now has no margin for error in that quest. At 4-6, the Seminoles must beat both No. 17 Boston College and No. 15 Florida at home to reach the postseason.
“It’s very tough,” sophomore defensive tackle Marvin Wilson said, “knowing that you’re going out there and putting your all into practice (and) coming up, not just short, but by a lot.
“I’m going to keep my faith in God and come back ready to work. Just like all my teammates, we’re going to get this fixed.”
Notre Dame’s victory is just its third in nine tries against Florida State. The Seminoles entered the game with a .714 winning percentage against the Irish, the highest ever for an opponent to face Notre Dame at least five times.
And the Irish mostly exploited FSU’s rush defense to get one back on the ledger.
Led by Jackson’s big day, Notre Dame racked up 365 yards on the ground, 224 of which came in the second half.
The Irish didn’t throw a single pass after the 8:04 mark of the third quarter.
“It’s very frustrating,” said linebacker Dontavious Jackson, who intercepted Notre Dame’s last pass attempt. “I know we’re better than that, than what we’re putting on the field.”
The Seminoles’ run defense is one problem.
The pass rush is another.
After hovering near the top of the national sack leaderboard a few weeks ago, the Seminoles have now gone three consecutive games without bringing down an opposing quarterback.
The official box score shows that Notre Dame’s Wimbush, making his first start in more six games, was hurried just twice.
“Teams are starting to scheme us really well up front,” Wilson said. “It’s something where we’ve got to get back in our bag, add some new moves, get better.”
The Seminoles intend to get better, both in that regard and many others.
Taggart knows it’s no small task, particularly with an upcoming game against a Boston College team that gave Clemson its toughest game in a month.
But the only way through is to go forward.
“No one needs to hold their heads down or anything,” he said. “We pick our heads up and keep working and try to find a way to get out of this storm that we’re in.
“And that’s what we’re going to do.”