Rocky Boiman, a distinguished linebacker and former team captain of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, showcased his talents from 1998 to 2001.
In tonight’s matchup at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL, we witness the #5 ranked Irish facing off against the reigning national champions, the #2 ranked Florida State Seminoles.
Boiman shares his expertise on what the Irish defense must execute to secure a victory against the formidable champions on their opponent’s turf.
Could Saturday be the game where Jameis Winston falters? The grandest stage, perhaps the moment where Winston fumbles and surrenders possession for once in his career. Or where he simply lacks that crucial edge in a pivotal juncture?
Well, I wouldn’t place too much faith in that scenario. The individual struggling with off-field decisions has displayed near flawlessness on the field.
As a freshman last season, he never exhibited any “rookie” moments where his performance wavered or his decision-making faltered.
This season has been much the same: consistently excelling in pivotal moments.
Personally, I find it remarkable how, despite the numerous highly publicized off-the-field issues, none of this seems to have affected him on the field.
He hasn’t buckled under the weight of off-field scrutiny or opposing defenses.
It could happen on Saturday, but it’s not something to base an entire defensive strategy around.
Unless Notre Dame is banking on Winston finally experiencing a breakdown and stumbling, there are crucial steps the Irish defense can take to gain an advantage on Saturday night:
Key #1: Pressure Winston without opening up escape lanes
The Irish’s primary objective is to disrupt Winston’s comfort in the pocket, all the while ensuring no openings emerge for him to exploit with his legs, which is his forte.
Despite Winston having just 39 net yards on the ground for the season, the more significant concern lies in his ability to reposition the pocket through escape routes, setting up for substantial downfield throws.
While Winston’s overall rushing statistics may seem modest on paper, one cannot disregard his knack for maneuvering from the pocket to secure pivotal first downs.
As a defender, you can observe on film how he adeptly tucks the ball away when rushers press too far upfield. That facet of his game demands respect.
Throughout my years of playing, few things are more disheartening than executing a flawless defense, only for the quarterback to rush for a first down effortlessly.
The critical factor here is that ND’s defense, led by DC Brian Van Gorder, has excelled in employing the zone blitz.
This strategy involves dispatching rapid linebackers like Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, and their colleagues at unexpected junctures.
In contrast to man-to-man schemes, zone blitzing allows the back-end defenders to maintain focus on the quarterback, enabling them to react promptly and make tackles when Winston takes off.
Key #2: Take away FSU’s big-play threat WR Rashad Greene
Notre Dame cornerbacks Cody Riggs and Cole Luke face a daunting task: neutralizing Winston’s primary target.
Greene, recently crowned FSU’s all-time receptions leader, is a dynamic force capable of stretching any defense to its limits.
His versatility as a wide receiver is unparalleled; boasting a blistering 4.3 speed, exceptional short-area quickness, and a knack for artful route-running, Greene poses a challenge for any lone defender.
Anticipate the cornerbacks receiving assistance from deep-covering safeties.
However, there will be a void left by the absence of the astute and strategic presence of safety Austin Collinsworth, who’s sidelined for the season with a minor labrum tear in his left shoulder.
The imperative task is to thwart Greene from converting catches into substantial gains, particularly as the safeties close in for tackles.
Key #3: FORCE Turnovers
Notre Dame’s defense has genuinely shone this year, exemplified by their impressive tally of 14 turnovers in six games, a notable uptick from the 17 they secured in the entirety of the previous season.
Their style is characterized by disruption and aggression, and their potential to clinch victory hinges on achieving a turnover margin of +2 or more in this game.
Generating turnovers entails more than simply acquiring possession; it involves a keen awareness of the ball’s whereabouts and a relentless pursuit of it from the Seminole ball carriers.
This demands solid tackling combined with an unyielding commitment to seizing opportunities.
Considering FSU’s diverse approach with multiple backs and Winston’s penchant for distributing the ball to a sizable array of receivers, the emphasis must be on mounting concerted and forceful team efforts to challenge each ball carrier.
Of course, it’s important to remember that the Notre Dame defense can only influence half of the turnover differential equation.
Football is inherently a game of cooperation. If the defense fulfills its role by generating turnovers, and Everett Golson & Company do their part by safeguarding the ball, a triumph for the Irish in the unfriendly confines of Doak Campbell Stadium is well within their grasp.