SOUTH BEND - What sometimes can be considered a slight against an opponent can end up being just the opposite. Consider what Notre Dame senior offensive lineman Chris Watt said about Florida State's defense this week.
“They are pretty vanilla,” said Watt about the Seminoles' defensive front. “But they have the players to be able to do that.”
Translation: A Florida State defense that ranked ninth in the country in sacks (36) and eighth in tackles for loss (91) doesn't need to be too fancy to create chaos in the offensive backfield.
That talent will have to be identified and contained if the Fighting Irish are to beat the Seminoles in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando next Thursday.
“They don't stay blocked,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said about Florida State's defensive line. “You may catch them for a second, but they keep their feet moving. It's a very athletic group.”
The bookends of the Seminole line are defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner. The two have combined for 13 sacks and are the top two on the team in tackles for loss.
“They are well-coached up front,” Kelly said. “They have a very good scheme in the sense that they don't ask them to do too much, they ask them to get after the football.”
Kelly said the Florida State group, with its quickness and athleticism, reminds him a lot of Miami a year ago, but the Seminoles will not be showing up to a bowl game rudderless without a head coach and disinterested as the Hurricanes were in the Sun Bowl.
Notre Dame has an experienced offensive line, with Zack Martin, Trevor Robinson and Taylor Dever joining Watt up front along with center Mike Golic Jr. Having a veteran group will help in curtailing what will surely be a fired-up Florida State defense that has recorded at least three sacks in seven of its games this season.
“I'd say their defense is as talented as any we have played,” Robinson said.
Florida State's prowess in the trenches could also be its downfall. With the ability to get to the quarterback without using too many stunts or gimmicks, it may be potentially easier to game-plan on how to slow that rush down.
“Some of the teams you see throw a ton of things at you that you've never seen on film - twists, games, blitzes - all that stuff,” Watt said. “From what we have seen on film, they come at you pretty vanilla on first and second down. It's got to be something we take advantage of.”