In its 37-0 win over Notre Dame, Florida State went with a formula that almost always will work: a total defensive effort for four quarters. Saturday, at hallowed Notre Dame Stadium, it led to a dominating victory.
It also led to a bit of retribution. FSU's defense gave up 14 points off three turnovers a year ago; the offense had three turnovers again Saturday.
"We fussed a little bit about that a little bit this week, but our defense didn't let it happen," coach Bobby Bowden said.
In giving up 146 yards rushing, the Seminoles didn't completely stifle the Fighting Irish on the ground as they did against Virginia (minus-5 yards). Notre Dame's 321 total yards were more than the 289.1 average allowed by the nation's eighth-ranked defense. But the Seminoles played with a bend-but-don't-break mentality, and FSU didn't crack, giving Notre Dame its first home shutout since 1978.
"It seemed like we bent and gave up some yards and gave up a couple long plays, but when we got them down in the red zone we just kind of bowed our necks and wouldn't let them get in the end zone," FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "This is a great team win for us."
The defense, which held freshman quarterback Brady Quinn to 20-of-52 passing, only allowed Notre Dame to convert six of 21 third-down attempts. FSU also got stops when needed, including all five times the Irish went for it on fourth down. Meantime, the Seminoles preserved the shutout with big plays all over the field.
"They went for it and we stepped up for the challenge as a defense," said senior defensive end Jeff Womble, who came away with his first career interception. "That's been one thing we have been trying to pride ourselves on this year, and that's playing goal-line defense."
FSU stopped a 14-play drive at the 9-yard line late in the third by forcing a Quinn incompletion. On their next drive, one that lasted 10 plays, the Fighting Irish were unable to convert on fourth and goal. Later in the fourth, the FSU secondary came through again when cornerback Leroy Smith took an interception back for a 90-yard touchdown.
"He's got a knack for making big plays, and he certainly made a big one tonight," Andrews said.
It was the big plays that made the difference in South Bend.
"Last year we had several breakdowns when they got in our red zone," Smith said. "This year we just wanted to keep focused and fight to the end."