Another hurdle awaits as the Fighting Irish (9-0) prepare to host Florida State (4-5) on Saturday.
“Now we come home,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told reporters this week. “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.
“(It’s the) last home game for a number of seniors. 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.”
It has been a magical season for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are 5-0 at home and 3-0 in true road games thanks to a sturdy defense and a rejuvenated offense under junior quarterback Ian Book.
It appears Notre Dame controls its own destiny for a spot in the College Football Playoffs with what is shaping up as a revolving door behind it at No. 4. Should No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson and the Fighting Irish win out, there positions are not likely to change.
Notre Dame is a 17 1/2-point favorite over Florida State, which has lost back-to-back games against ranked foes Clemson and No. 14 North Carolina State. But the Seminoles are desperate because a loss could end their 36-year bowl streak.
This week, Florida State coach Willie Taggart said he turned over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Walt Bell.
“I think that our football team, where we’re at right now, we have a fragile football team that’s been through a lot over this last two years,” Taggart said in comments published by the Tallahassee Democrat. “I think our entire football team needs me in other areas than where I was. … I’m making sure I’m giving all my time and effort to our entire football team and coaches to make sure that we get everything right.”
If history is any indication, this weekend’s game could be close regardless of the teams’ records. This is the ninth meeting with six of the first eight games having been decided by seven points or fewer.
The most famous showdown took place in 1993 in what was dubbed as “The Game of the Century” because it featured No. 1 Florida State against No. 2 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish held on for a 31-24 win at home.
This contest lacks the same national buzz, but plenty will be tuning in to see if Notre Dame can uphold its perfect season.
Kelly does not want Florida State to be the only team that plays with desperation.
“It seems like when this team is pushed, they really play well,” he said. “So it’s my job now to get them to play with that sense of urgency for 72 plays, if that’s the average number of plays that you play. I think that’s what I’ve learned about this football team, is when they play with a sense of urgency, it’s a really, really fine football team.”
Book is completing 74.5 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has thrown for at least 264 yards in the six games since taking over the starting job from senior Brandon Wimbush.
Senior wide receiver Miles Boykin is Book’s favorite target, recording 32 of his 40 receptions since Book became the starter and totalling 624 yards and seven touchdowns this season.