Notre Dame and Florida State Set To Battle In Opener
As we discussed yesterday on offense, Notre Dame and Florida State feel like a mismatch. The Irish have distinct advantages at tight end and running back, along with a more experienced quarterback. The wide receiver and offensive line are relatively even, but the Irish look better entering the opener. Defense is a different matter. Both teams lost exceptional contributors to the NFL Draft, with new starters preparing to step up. How do they match up on the depth chart?
Notre Dame and Florida State Defensive Comparison
Florida State’s secondary was supposedly the strength of their team last year, but they didn’t look the part against Notre Dame. Future NFL draft selection Asante Samuel Jr. was repeatedly torched by Javion McKinley. Travis Jay and Jarvis Brownlee got some run last season and are expected to start at cornerback for the Seminoles. The Seminoles may have the edge at cornerback, where the Irish will start two players with zero career interceptions. Clarence Lewis took over as the Irish’s second cornerback midway through 2021. Cam Hart joins him as a starter, bringing intriguing talent but no experience.
While the cornerback edge may go to Florida State, the safety position undoubtedly belongs to the Irish. Kyle Hamilton is the best safety in the country and a potential top-10 draft pick in 2022. He’s joined by Houston Griffith, who has looked superb in the spring. Florida State plans to start redshirt sophomore, Akeem Dent. He’s a solid talent with upside, but with just six games played last season, he has nowhere near the pedigree of Hamilton.
Notre Dame’s depth at this position took a slight hit when Marist Liufau went down for the season. Even still, the depth chart is full of players with game experience, and some very strong players. Drew White is a captain this season and will lead the unit. He’ll be flanked by rover Jack Kiser and newly dubbed starter J.D. Bertrand. There’s a little bit of inexperience with Bertrand, but Kiser stepped up in a big way last season. Bo Bauer and Shayne Simon offer veteran experience off the bench and will likely see a lot of snaps on the field.
Amari Gainer is the big name here for Florida State. He’ll line up at outside linebacker in all likelihood, trying to get to Irish quarterback Jack Coan and stop the lethal Irish running game. He’s joined by an inexperienced corps, with two other starters combining for ten games in 2020. Brendan Gant will start at buck linebacker, and he’ll also look to provide some veteran experience to the Seminoles. For Notre Dame and Florida State, Drew White and Amari Gainer are of similar talent, but the Irish’s depth at this position exceeds that of the Seminoles.
Edge: Notre Dame
The defensive line is going to be an early strength for Notre Dame. Key 2020 contributors Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa return to the lineup in pleasantly surprising decisions. The duo combined for 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season. They’ll be joined by the freakishly athletic Isaiah Foskey, who has had moments of brilliance in his first two seasons. Considered a solid draft prospect, Foskey is seeking consistency to match the potential he’s flashed. Jayson Ademilola steps into a starting role at defensive tackle, as the former rarely used role player parlayed his fantastic offseason into a first-string slot. He’s the biggest question mark on a fairly experienced defensive line.
For Florida State, there are some exciting unknowns on the defensive line. Jermaine Johnson transferred from Georgia after a 4-sack season. Keir Thomas comes to Tallahassee from South Carolina, where he recorded 19 tackles and three sacks. Fabien Lovett, another former SEC transfer, enters his second year with the Seminoles, while Dennis Briggs rounds out the starting group. It’s an extremely tough position to call, as it may be a position of strength for both teams. Notre Dame has the returning veterans, but the transfer duo from the SEC may give the Seminoles a big boost against the Irish’s offensive line.
Another interesting position to compare. The Seminoles split the kicking duties between Ryan Fitzgerald and Parker Grothaus in 2020. The pair put up near-identical numbers, but Fitzgerald is the starter entering the Notre Dame clash. He was 4-7 on field-goal efforts, to go with a 12-13 on extra points. Meanwhile, Jonathan Doerer is back in uniform for the Irish. The veteran kicker remains automatic on PATs, going 49-49 last season. However, his field-goal accuracy wavered down the stretch. Doerer missed key field goals in the ACC Championship and Rose Bowl, both Notre Dame losses. He finished 15-23 on the year. Neither kicker enters the 2021 season as a major strength for their squad.
Irish punter Jay Bramblett is an underrated part of the Notre Dame squad, albeit one they hope to not utilize frequently. However, his average of 42.8 net yards per punt is very solid, as the junior enters his third year as a starter. However, Florida State also has a booming leg in Alex Mastromanno, who averaged 43.5 yards per punt. The redshirt freshman figures to improve in 2021. Travis Jay may be the biggest X-Factor here, as he was an exciting return man for the Seminoles last season. While the Irish has Tyree and speedster, Matt Salerno, returning kickoffs and punts, it never amounted to much. Tyree averaged under 21 yards per return, and Salerno returned just 10 punts for 45 yards. With the kicking positions relatively even, the return game separates Florida State just enough.
Edge: Florida State