With the Fighting Irish set to take on Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl tomorrow, I started taking a look at the teams stats to see if anything stood out as a key to the game: not surprisingly, it was turnovers. Much as Notre Dame has suffered because of its propensity to turn the ball over, it’s clear the Seminoles have benefited from just the opposite. Breaking things down a little further, it looks like this:
Combined Interceptions and Fumbles:
- Notre Dame: 26 (12 fumbles, 14 ints)
- FSU: 18 (6 fumbles, 12 ints)
Of course, in their first two games, Notre Dame gave up a combined total of 5 fumbles and 5 interceptions, which would seem to suggest they played pretty respectably the rest of the way, right? Well, sort of. Certainly 7 fumbles and 9 interceptions in 10 games isn’t terrible, but it’s not FSU either. The Seminoles’ versions of USF and Michigan were Oklahoma and Wake Forest, where they turned the ball over 3 and 5 times, respectively. Removing those two performances gives them 5 fumbles and 5 interceptions the rest of the way. What’s more, four times in 2011 Florida State finished on the plus side of the ledger in turnover margin:
- NC State: +2 (W, 34-0)
- BC: +3 (W, 38-7)
- Miami: +3 (W, 23-19)
- Florida: +3 (W, 21-7)
Notre Dame, conversely, came up on the plus side just three times:
- Purdue: +1 (W, 38-10)
- Air Force: +2 (W, 59-33)
- Maryland: +1 (W, 45-21)
The clear inference here is that, Notre Dame found ways to win without creating turnovers and, in Florida State’s case, it’s likely they could not have beaten either Miami or Florida without creating such significant turnover margins. That’s your key to the game right there. If Notre Dame can somehow win or be neutral on turnovers (FSU lost on turnovers 5 times and were neutral 3 others in 2011), they have a good chance to win. In all four of the Seminoles losses this season, they were either minus or flat on turnover margin. Deny them short fields and better opportunities, and you can stifle their mediocre offense (73rd nationally), particularly with four freshman likely to start on the Seminole offensive line.
While this seems easy enough in theory, Notre Dame’s offense is in a tricky spot. For one, the QB situation does not suggest a great deal of ball protection. Tommy Rees has certainly shown a tendency towards turning the ball over, and with an inexperienced QB like Andrew Hendrix playing against such a solid defense, mistakes are always a possibility. At running back, dependable workhorse Jonas Gray is gone, leaving Cierre Wood and inexperienced backs like Theo Riddick, George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel to carry the load. Again, the potential for turning the ball over increases.
Not turning the ball over against FSU will be a tall order, but not insurmountable. The Seminoles defense created 20 turnovers in 2011, tied for just 66th nationally. In fact, four opponents (FCS team Charleston Southern, Wake Forest, Maryland and Virginia) didn’t turn the ball over against them at all. With FSU sporting the 6th ranked total defense in the country, and given the importance of turnover margin to this team’s success, this is both a little surprising as well as an opportunity for the Irish.
What’s certain is, if Notre Dame can manage to exorcise the turnover demon, which has reared its head too often this season, and put in a mistake-free game, they will be walking out of Orlando with a win under their belts.