With an offensive line that consisted of four true freshman, head coach Jimbo Fisher knew there would be some rough points in the game, but that if he showed patience the young fellas would find their groove.
After putting zero points on the board and allowing four sacks in the first half, a turnaround by the young O-line seemed unlikely. But in the second half the young guns settled and gave EJ Manuel time to throw the ball downfield.
Manuel finished the game 20 of 31 for 249 yards and two touchdowns. There were a few times where he avoided the rush on his own, and other times he looked to run into sacks, but overall a pretty impressive performance by the redshirt junior signal caller.
His top target was Rashad Greene who had five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown, earning MVP honors.
Orlando native Kenny Shaw also had a solid game as he hauled in four catches for 64 yards.
Senior Bert Reed finished his career with just one catch in the game, but it was a big one. He came up with an 18-yard touchdown in the endzone on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Rodney Smith was also involved as he caught four passes for 34 yards.
Overall passing game grade: B-
In the first half the pressure from Notre Dame didn't allow Manuel to do much of anything, but once things got settled up front he got into a groove. Five sacks is still too many, but when it mattered Manuel had time to make the throws needed for a Florida State comeback.
Top Performer: Rashad Greene
Greene was the spark FSU was looking for in the second half. All five of his catches came after halftime. He made two tremendous grabs on deep balls of 33 and 42 yards to help keep crucial scoring drives alive. He also made an equally impressive 15-yard touchdown grab in the back of the endzone.
Like the passing game the running game was hampered early by the struggle up front. Once the young lineman found their comfort zone, FSU was down 14-0 and needed to air it out.
The Seminoles finished the game with 41 yards rushing on 29 carries, but those stats are a bit misleading as Manuel lost 44 yards on five sacks (which goes against rushing yards).
Devonta Freeman led the way with 48 yards on 13 carries. Fellow freshman James Wilder ran for 10 yards on four carries.
Manuel also kept the Fighting Irish on its toes as rushed for 24 yards. On the first scoring FSU touchdown drive it was a run by Manuel to keep the drive alive that set up his touchdown pass to Reed.
Overall running game grade: C+
Even with the lost yards on the sacks, FSU would have finished the game with 85 yards on 24 carries, an average of 3.5 yards per carry. But with a four-point lead in the final minutes of the game, Freeman rushed for 19 yards on five plays and more importantly, ran 2:35 off of the clock and force ND to use its final timeouts.
Top performer: Devonta Freeman
Freeman average 3.7 yards per carry against Notre Dame and showed signs of maturity as he was able to put a costly first quarter fumble behind him.
Coming into Thursday, the Notre Dame offensive lineman had only allowed 13 sacks all season long. The Florida State defensive line got to the Irish signal callers four times in the bowl game.
FSU was also able to keep 1,000-yard rusher Cierre Wood in check, as he finished with 60 yards on 18 carries (an average of 3.3 per rush). As a team ND finished with 93 yards (121 without yardage lost on sacks) on 35 attempts.
Like he has all season, Nigel Bradham led the way for the Seminole defense. He finished the game with a team-high nine tackles, 0.5 for loss, two pass breakups and a critical interception to set up the go-ahead touchdown for FSU.
Telvin Smith had an impressive performance with five tackles, one for loss, nad a pass breakup.
Defensive ends Cornellius Carradine, Bjoern Werner, Brandon Jenkins, and defensive tackle Everett Dawkins each recorded a sack.
Overall front seven grade: A-
Thursday was an impressive performance by a unit that been dominant much of the year. ND moved the ball down the field with easy on its first drive but after that drive, the FSU front seven controlled the line of scrimmage and the game.
Top performer: Nigel Bradham
The senior linebacker finished his career much like the majority of his senior campaign. There is no doubt that replacing No. 13 next season will be no easy task for the Seminole defense.
Aided by the pressure up front, the FSU secondary did a tremendous job of containing all the ND weapons in the passing game.
ND quarterbacks Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix finished the game a combined 19 of 35 for 187 yards and three interceptions.
Making the secondary's performance more impressive is the fact that both starting cornerbacks Greg Reid (concussion symptoms) and Xavier Rhodes (knee) were forced to leave the game with injuries.
Before the injury Rhodes was doing a great job covering dynamic wideout Michael Floyd, who finished with five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown, but didn't have a reception longer than 13 yards.
Rhodes recorded four solo tackles and a QB hurry.Mike Harris had a nice final game of his career with five tackles, one for loss, and a pass break-up.
Terrence Brooks came in the game at safety after Reid and Rhodes were injured and came away with the game-sealing interception.
While he struggled with beastly ND tight end Tyler Eifert (six catches for 90 yards), senior safety Terrance Parks made some plays, finishing with seven tackles, five solo, and a PBU.
Overall secondary grade: A
FSU did a good job of not allowing the big play. A 34-yard completion to Eifert was the longest play of the day for the Irish. All three interceptions came at critical points in the game for FSU, and the secondary turned in another solid performance.
Top performer: Lamarcus Joyner
Joyner finished the game with seven solo tackles. He also had a big interception in his own endzone after ND seemed to move the ball down the field with ease on its opening possession. When Rhodes and Reid went down with injuries Joyner moved from his starting safety spot to cornerback and still helped line up the rest of the secondary.
Special Teams Grades
After being stellar throughout the entire season, the special team's unit had a few miscues on Thursday evening.
Floyd's 41-yard punt return was the longest of the season. All-American punter Shawn Powell punted the ball eight times for an average of 47.2 yards per punt (36.6 net), pinned two inside the 20, and had two sail into the endzone for touchbacks.
Reid never was able to find any room on punt returns and after his injury, FSU trotted out just 10 players on one return.
Dustin Hopkins connected on both his field goal attempts from 42 and 29 yards.
The big play from the special teams unit came from Joyner who broke free for a 77-yard kickoff return in the second half.
Overall secondary grade: C+
FSU was supposed to have a decided advantage in the special teams game, but ND held its own. Hopkins failed to record a touchback on kickoff, and Powell was unable to pin ND deep on punts until late in the game.
Top performer: Lamarcus Joyner
Down 14-0 Joyner's big kickoff return was the energy boost that FSU needed to not quit. It only led to a filed goal but was part of the momentum shift that led to 18 unanswered points.
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