Before the 2011-2012 college football season began, both the Florida State Seminoles and Notre Dame Fighting Irish were expecting to have successful seasons; now that Bowl Season is upon us, each team’s destination is a bit of a consolation prize: the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl. Though the two teams had hoped for a more distinguished postseason game, the Seminoles get the benefit of what will essentially be a home game in Orlando, Florida; not that the average college football player wants to stay close to campus when it comes to Bowl Games, of course!
Even though Notre Dame is the designated home team for this Bowl Game match-up, I opted to wear their road whites in Florida; a reflection of the Seminoles healthy fan presence for this game. With a slight ratings deficit, the game was set to be very competitive. Could I begin a new winning streak with a second consecutive victory?
The game began with Notre Dame kicking off to Florida State, and the Seminoles yielded a sack on third down to go three-and-out and punt the ball back to the Irish. This set up a series of consecutive three-and-outs where Notre Dame punted back to the Seminoles and Florida State was forced to give possession back to the Irish on their next possession. Notre Dame’s next possession, however, ended in an interception that FSU was able to return into Notre Dame territory. With 3:15 remaining in the first quarter, FSU’s HB #23 took a 39 yard run on the first play of the drive into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
With possession back in hand, Notre Dame suffered another three-and-out due to penalties and had to punt the ball back to Florida State. The Seminoles converted a 4th-and-2 opportunity to keep their drive alive but eventually had to settle for a 29 yard field goal just under half a minute into the second quarter. With a 10-0 lead, FSU picked off Notre Dame for the second time in the first half and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown, extending the lead to 17-0 with just under five minutes left in the first half.
Notre Dame was finally able to put together some plays on their next possession, ending with a 6-yard rushing touchdown with 3:29 remaining in the second quarter. The momentum of the game seemed to be swinging when the Seminoles went for it on 4th-and-3 on their next drive and Notre Dame intercepted the pass and got the ball back in FSU territory. Unfortunately for the Irish, they were forced to settle for a field goal and still trailed 17-10. With just over 30 seconds to work with before halftime, however, FSU drove to the 6-yard-line of Notre Dame and converted a 23-yard field goal to take a 20-10 lead into the break.
With a 10-point deficit as I received the third quarter kickoff, I knew that I would have to put together a good drive to keep myself in the game. What resulted was a 14-play drive ending with a 1-yard fullback dive to cut the lead to 3 points. On FSU’s next possession they had to punt the ball away, and just 10 seconds into the fourth quarter Notre Dame’s HB #25 took a 71-yard touchdown run into the end zone to take their first lead of the game in the final quarter of the game.
Momentum had clearly swung in my favor when the next Florida State drive was halted by a forced fumble recovered by Notre Dame’s defense. With 2:15 remaining in the game, Notre Dame put more points on the board with a 2-yard touchdown run by HB #31. When the Seminoles got the ball back the Fighting Irish defense stepped up again with an interception. However, FSU used their timeouts to force Notre Dame to punt the ball back, and a 49-yard touchdown pass for the Seminoles brought them back within striking distance.
Down 31-26, FSU decided to attempt the 2-point conversion and scored on a rush to pull within a field goal. With the onside kick coming up, Notre Dame’s “hands team” was ready and pulled in the kick to secure possession. Lacking any timeouts, the Irish were able to run the clock down and preserve the 31-28 victory in this staging of the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl.
In terms of Total Offense, this game between the Seminoles and Fighting Irish was quite close. However, the two sides got their yards in very different ways. Notre Dame turned to running the ball after interception issues in the first half, carrying 44 times for a total of 231 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Florida State, on the other hand, gained 203 yards through the air including one touchdown. Notre Dame’s 3rd-Down Conversion rate was exponentially better than Florida State’s—the Seminoles only managed to convert a single 3rd Down in 7 opportunities—and their Red Zone conversion percentage was much better as well. Although Notre Dame suffered from turnovers early in the game, they ended up with a positive number in takeaways after forcing a fumble and picking off two passes by Florida State in the second half.
Notre Dame’s HB #25 earned Player of the Game honors thanks to a 151-yard rushing effort including two touchdowns on the day. With QB #11 passing for only 92 yards and 2 interceptions, it’s a good thing that the running backs were able to deliver. Florida State’s HB #23 nearly reached the 100-yard plateau himself—accounting for a single rushing touchdown as well—but he coughed up a fumble that helped Notre Dame take control of the game. The Seminoles CB #5 scored the pick-6 for Florida State as they built their early 17-point lead, while his “opposite number”—Notre Dame’s CB #12—came up with both interceptions in the game for the Fighting Irish.
Though I was disappointed at another slow start playing in NCAA Football 12—reminsicent of the 2011 MAACO Bowl Las Vegas where I fell behind Boise State 24-0 playing as Arizona State last week—I was once again thrilled to be able to recover from the early deficit to fight my way back into the game and hold on for the victory. It was disappointing to give up the late touchdown pass that kept Florida State in the game—especially since I felt I had called the right play for the situation—but in the end another victory was what mattered as Bowl Season continues.
Be sure to check in tomorrow as I take the Tulsa Golden Hurricane against the BYU Cougars in the 2011 Armed Forces Bowl!