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Brian Kelly Previews Florida State

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Kelly said his team will not take the Seminoles lightly despite their struggles.
BGI/Bill Panzica

The Fighting Irish welcome a struggling Florida State (4-5) program to South Bend on Saturday, but do not expect them to look past the Seminoles.

Following a 59-10 home defeat at the hands of Clemson two weeks ago and a 47-28 loss at North Carolina State last week, Florida State’s streak of 36 straight bowl appearances is in serious jeopardy. The Noles likely need to win two of their final three games, which all come against ranked foes (No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 17 Boston College and No. 15 Florida).

Despite their struggles, the Seminoles will not be taken lightly by the Irish coaches and players because they are aware of head coach Willie Taggart’s loaded roster.

“Florida State is a talented football team,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said on Tuesday. “There’s no doubt about it. … An improving football team, one that has a lot of talent, one that you have to really respect.

“If not, they can certainly do some damage.”

Over the past five recruiting cycles (2014-18), Florida State finished inside the top five of the Rivals team rankings four times and were 10th the other year (2018). Per the service, the Seminoles signed 78 players that were ranked as four-star prospects or better.

Although FSU ranks 106th in total offense (361.9 yards per game) and 105th in scoring (23.8 points per game), Kelly is impressed by the skill players the Seminoles can put on the field at any given time.

“What’s consistent are their playmakers,” Kelly noted. “Two quarterbacks, [redshirt junior] Deondre Francois and [sophomore] James Blackman, that can certainly throw the football. They’ve got a number of really talented playmakers like [sophomore] Cam Akers at the running back position [and] a big back in [senior] Jacques Patrick.

“[Junior] Keith Gavin and [senior] Nyqwan Murray are as talented a tandem of receivers that we’re going to find. All three of them are outstanding players. We’ll be really challenged. [Sophomore] D.J. Matthews is a great return man, as well. This is what you would expect from Florida State from a skill standpoint — outstanding.”

The defense has been the better of the two units, ranking 17th in rushing yards allowed per game (111.1), 65th in total yards allowed per game (393.7) and tied for 85th points allowed per game (30.4).

Junior defensive end Brian Burns, who has 9.0 sacks on the season, is one of the leaders for Florida State. Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas and sophomore nose guard Marvin Wilson (3.5 sacks) are names to know inside that help complement Burns on the outside.

“Burns is as good as there is off the edge,” Kelly explained. “Great pass rusher, great length. He plays with a good motor. Christmas inside [also is a good player].

“They play a lot of guys, a lot of defensive linemen. They roll them in and out. Young at linebacker, but athletic.”

A Seminoles secondary that has allowed 282.6 yards per game through the air will be tested against junior quarterback Ian Book and the Irish wide receivers.Taggart could start a sophomore (Stanford Samuels) and a true freshman (Asante Samuel) at cornerback, and a sophomore (Hamsah Nasirideen) at safety.

“In the secondary, they've lost some really good players, but they got some young guys coming,” Kelly noted. “… For us, we have to play with a better sense of urgency for the entire four quarters and continue to play to our standard.”

Along with maintaining a perfect record in an effort to secure a bid into the College Football Playoff, Saturday will carry additional meaning for several players on the Irish roster.

“Last home game for a number of seniors,” Kelly began. “That's obviously important, as well. But I think just playing to that standard that I talked about in terms of that sense of urgency is most important.

“One of our goals this year was to defend our home field. This will be our last opportunity to do that. We certainly want to be able to finish that goal off. One of them internally we had was to protect this stadium. Finishing that off against Florida State is certainly very important to us.”


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