Teammates support Wimbush as No. 3 Irish welcome Seminoles
By JOHN FINERAN
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Sam Mustipher gets to run out of the home tunnel one final time for No. 3 Notre Dame on Saturday night against Florida State.
The graduate center just never thought he'd be snapping the ball to senior Brandon Wimbush again.
With Ian Book nursing an injury, Wimbush is expected to be the starting quarterback when the Fighting Irish (9-0, No. 3 CFP) face the Seminoles (4-5).
Coach Brian Kelly indicated Wimbush has been getting the majority of Mustipher's snaps this week with the No. 1 offense and that freshman Phil Jurkovec has increased his work load after Book suffered an upper-body injury while accounting for 399 total yards and a victory-securing touchdown run in Notre Dame's 31-21 win last week at Northwestern.
The Irish believe they can continue their quest for their first national championship in 30 years with Wimbush running things - and he is likely to run if he can. Mustipher reminisced this week about Wimbush's breakout performance - 207 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a 49-20 victory last season at Boston College.
"(Wimbush) took over that game," Mustipher said. "He made some moves I've never seen a quarterback make in a game. He's a great player and a great young man. He'll be successful in whatever he decides to do in life."
The Irish, of course, just want Wimbush to be successful against a Seminoles defense that has been stingy against the run.
Opponents are averaging just 2.84 yards per carry (sixth-best nationally) and 111.1 yards per game (17th) against end Brian Burns (13.5 tackles for loss) and behemoth tackles Demarcus Christmas (6-4, 305), Fredrick Jones (6-2, 304), Marvin Wilson (6-5, 317) and Cory Durden (6-5, 290). The Seminoles have piled up 25 sacks.
"I don't think their offense is going to change much," Florida State coach Willie Taggart said. "They have a capable backup quarterback that's played a lot for them and won some games for them, too."
Florida State has been vulnerable through the air, allowing 282.6 yards per game and Wimbush averaged just 196.3 yards per game while throwing for one score in the three victories before he was replaced by Book, who averaged 301.8 yards and had 15 TD passes in the six victories.
"Brandon has handled it better than anybody else I know could have being put in that position," said senior wide receiver Miles Boykin, who leads the Irish with 40 receptions for 624 yards and seven touchdowns. "I haven't seen him hang his head once."
TALE OF TWO QBs
Taggart has a little quarterback dilemma of his own: whether to start junior Deondre Francois, who has completed nearly 61 percent of his passes for 2,039 yards and 13 touchdowns before leaving the 59-10 Clemson loss with a concussion, or sophomore James Blackman, who replaced Francois and threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns in Florida State's 47-28 loss at North Carolina State.
"We'll see on Saturday," Taggart said.
Francois, who has been receiving most of the snaps with the No. 1 unit during the open portions of the team's morning practices this week, believes it will be him.
"I'm still the No. 1 guy - coach Taggart continues to make that clear," Francois said. "James understands that, but James is always ready to go if anything happens to me."
BABY, IT'S (GOING TO BE) COLD OUTSIDE
The Seminoles, who have been practicing in summer-like conditions, may see snow upon their arrival in South Bend, where the wind chill for Saturday night's kickoff is expected to be 23 degrees.
"I've been through tougher times than this," said the 6-foot-5, 181-pound Blackman, who has been through hurricanes in his native Florida. "Ah, man, it's football. I ain't going to let the weather get to us."
"I've played in some pretty cold games," said middle linebacker Dontavious Jackson, who played high school ball near Houston. "Never played in the snow - I'm looking forward to it. People think we're not because we're Southern boys, but I'm actually looking forward to it.
GAME OF THE CENTURY
Florida State holds a 6-2 edge (and has won the last three) in the series that has seen six games decided by seven points or less. Perhaps the best of the bunch came on Nov. 13, 1993, when Lou Holtz's second-ranked Irish were a touchdown underdog at home against Bobby Bowden's top-ranked Seminoles. In that "Game of the Century," the Irish took a 31-17 lead late into the fourth quarter before eventual Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward mounted a late comeback. The quarterback connected with Kez McCorvey on a fourth-and-20 play for a touchdown with 1:39 remaining.
After the Irish went three-and-out, Ward got his team to the 14 with three seconds remaining. But Shawn Wooden, playing with a torn knee ligament, knocked down Ward's pass in the end zone to preserve Notre Dame's 31-24 victory. The No. 1 Irish lost 41-39 to Boston College the following week, clearing the way for the Seminoles to earn their first national title with an 18-16 victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
Bob Ferrante, a freelance reporter for the AP Tallahassee bureau, contributed to this preview.
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Updated November 9, 2018