NCF Nation: 2011 Champs Bowl

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Michael Floyd's 100th catch of his history-making season ended up being his last in a Notre Dame uniform. But despite not being able to finish the final quarter of his college career, the senior receiver managed to exit in style.

[+] EnlargeMichael Floyd
Brad Barr/US PresswireMichael Floyd's final catch for Notre Dame accounted for the Irish's only offensive touchdown of the night.
That last catch may be the one replayed the most (it reached No. 3 on SportsCenter's top plays segment Thursday night), as it accounted for the Irish's only offensive touchdown on the night and their last of the season. Floyd made a circus 5-yard grab from Tommy Rees, ripping the ball out of the hands of Florida State cornerback Greg Reid and then bobbling the ball five times before securing it and absorbing a hit from Nigel Bradham.

Reid (concussion) and Floyd (upper-body injury) both left the game afterward.

"He's such a good player," Rees said of Floyd. "His concentration to find it and secure it was unbelievable."

Floyd finished the night with five catches for 41 yards. He also returned the game's first punt 41 yards, a huge jolt to an Irish punt return unit that averaged 0.3 yards per return during the regular season.

"Just an incredible competitor," coach Brian Kelly said of Floyd. "This is my 22nd year and I've had great players, guys that have gone on to great careers in the NFL, are doctors and lawyers. And you remember the guys that overcome, the guys that compete in battle, and he did that today."

Floyd finished the season with 1,147 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches. His 100 receptions this year are a Notre Dame single-season record.

Notre Dame's 10th two-time MVP, Floyd sits atop the school list for career receptions (271), touchdown receptions (37) and receiving yards (3,686), though he was less than pleased with how it ended.

"It's very frustrating," he said of the 18-14 loss. "To end the season you always want to get a 'W.' Unfortunately we didn't get the job done tonight. But you leave a lot of positive things and the underclassmen going back to school, making sure they do the little things right, stay disciplined and show some leadership."

That leadership mantle was taken away from Floyd after he was arrested for drunken driving in March, his third alcohol-related brush with the law since 2009. An offseason suspension followed, and his role as a season captain was stripped. Floyd's probation status from school prohibited him from being a game captain during the regular season.

Having graduated this month, Floyd was named a game captain for the Champs Sports Bowl, joining season captain Harrison Smith for the pregame coin toss.

"That's something that he's deserved," Smith said. "He's done everything that people have asked of him, whether it's on the field, off the field, in the classroom. And he's earned it. He's worked his way to this point and he definitely deserved it, and it was an honor being a captain alongside him."

What we learned about Irish in bowl game

December, 30, 2011
1) Another quarterback controversy awaits: Dayne Crist beat out Tommy Rees going into 2011, then lost his job after one half. Andrew Hendrix replaced Rees after the first half of the last regular-season game, and neither impressed in shared action during the Champs Sports Bowl. Freshman Everett Golson sat out this season and figures to compete in the three-man offseason race that can play a big role in determining Notre Dame's 2012 season and beyond.

2) Turnovers are killer: Evidently this wasn't learned, as Notre Dame began its season with a goal-line fumble and five-turnover performance in a loss and ended it with a pair of end-zone interceptions that proved costly in a game in which offensive opportunities were hard to come by.

3) The front seven has bright days ahead of it: Five sacks, seven tackles for loss and four hurries have to get Notre Dame fans excited about the future of the front-seven, especially the young defensive line. In their first years playing, Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix all stood out, making life miserable for E.J. Manuel and the Florida State offensive line for three quarters. Throw in the return of Manti Te'o next season and the pass rush could be lethal.

4) Special teams actually played in ND's favor: Few expected that given the teams' performances in the regular season. But Michael Floyd's 41-yard punt return was 38 yards more than Notre Dame's net punt return yards on the season, George Atkinson had a 37-yard kick return to open the second half that set up a touchdown drive and Ben Turk pinned FSU at the 1 when Notre Dame needed him to most. Of course, a 77-yard return by Lamarcus Joyner stings, but Notre Dame's defense made sure the Seminoles got only three points out of the field position.
ORLANDO, Fla. — The aftermath of a turnover-plagued defeat was no time for Tyler Eifert to make a decision about his college future.

"No," the tight end said simply when asked if he was thinking about it.

Eifert hauled in a game-high six catches for 90 yards in Notre Dame's 18-14 loss Thursday to Florida State. The Mackey Award finalist finished his junior year with 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns.

Now comes the hard part, as the likely second- or third-round pick must choose whether to return to an offense of which he would likely be the focal point or capitalize on a 2011 campaign that earned him Walter Camp (first team) and Associated Press (second team) All-America honors.

Entering the Champs Sports Bowl, Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench Insider had Eifert fourth among draft-eligible tight ends and wrote that any of the top four at that position could be drafted in the first two rounds.

"I mean, there's not much more information I can get to make a decision," Eifert later told reporters after the loss. "I think I have pretty much everything I need. It's just a matter of what I personally want to do and figuring it out."

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is Jan. 15.

Irish season ends just like it began

December, 29, 2011

ORLANDO, Fla. -- One team surrendered five sacks, averaged 1.4 yards per rush and gave up a defensive touchdown.

This was the other coach after the game:

"We turn the ball over. And we cannot win football games at the highest level if we continue to turn the ball over. The coach has got to get better. The players got to get better and we have to solve this issue if we're going to be an elite football team."

That was Brian Kelly, because his Notre Dame team gave up four sacks, gave the ball away three times -- including two end-zone interceptions -- and was actually outgained by 10 yards in a Champs Sports Bowl that was anything but an offensive clinic.

Florida State emerged on the winning end of an 18-14 contest Thursday, bouncing back from an atrocious first half and a two-touchdown deficit to rattle off 15 points in the final quarter and finish 9-4 on the season.

Thirty minutes before the final horn, it looked like the Seminoles would have trouble even getting on the board.

Four sacks, two false-start penalties and a fumble that Irish safety Zeke Motta returned 29 yards for the half's lone score highlighted a less-than-inspiring offensive performance. Much of the third quarter played out in similar fashion, though Dustin Hopkins did manage a 42-yard field goal to get Florida State on the board -- after a 77-yard kickoff return was followed by a four-play, minus-3 yard drive.

But EJ Manuel scraped together the game's most impressive drive just as the third quarter was winding down, taking the Seminoles 84 yards in 10 plays, the last of which -- an 18-yard touchdown pass to Bert Reed -- kicked off a fourth quarter that the Irish will want back.

The second half of Notre Dame's two-quarterback system, Andrew Hendrix, threw an interception to Nigel Bradham three plays later, and Manuel capitalized two plays after that by connecting with game MVP Rashad Greene for a 15-yard score to make it 15-14. Greene finished with 99 yards on five catches.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Brooks
AP Photo/John RaouxThis interception by Terrence Brooks, right, ended Notre Dame's chances at a late comeback.
Field position, poor punting and a facemask penalty allowed Notre Dame to begin its second-to-last drive at Florida State's 28, but the Irish's chance went out the door when Tommy Rees' pass for the double-covered John Goodman was picked off in the end zone by Terrence Brooks.

Rees took the Irish to the Florida State 4 on the their first drive of the game, but was picked off in the end zone that time by Lamarcus Joyner.

Notre Dame entered with the plan to play both sophomore quarterbacks, and Rees saw most of the action. He completed 16 of 27 passes for 163 yards and a highlight-reel worthy touchdown, which Michael Floyd hauled in from five yards out after ripping the ball away from Greg Reid, bobbling it five times and hanging on for good while absorbing a hit from Bradham. Both Floyd (upper-body injury) and Reid (concussion) were hurt on the play and did not return.

Hendrix, who was used sparingly throughout the season, finished 3 of 8 for 24 yards.

"It's all those things -- frustrating, disappointing," Rees said. "It's not something you can hang your head on, though. As a quarterback and a leader you got to keep your head up regardless of the situation and be there for your teammates. The worst part is sending your seniors off with a loss, and a game that we had an opportunity to win makes it that much worse."

Kelly laughed at the notion that he started at Notre Dame in 2010 as an offensive guy -- "Well, I guess I'm not an offensive guy" -- and said earlier that the unit has some catching up to do after the performance his defense put forth.

"It's nice to be able to talk about a Notre Dame football team that plays championship defense, because they did that today," Kelly said. "Now we've got to get our offense obviously to play that level as well, and that will be the next step for our football program, is getting our offense to play at the same level that our defense is evolving to."

Coming off an 8-5 campaign, Notre Dame entered 2011 with BCS-bowl hopes and a quarterback controversy. On its first drive of the season, a goal-line fumble portended a two-week opening stretch that saw two close losses, 10 total turnovers and postseason goals all but go up in flames.

More than 16 weeks later, the campaign ended in a turnover-plagued slugfest that saw Notre Dame's final chance get picked off in the end zone.

"We see it as we could've run the table this year," Floyd said, "but with our mistakes and not being disciplined at certain times, we fell short."

Instant analysis: FSU 18, Notre Dame 14

December, 29, 2011

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida State scored 15 points in the final frame to storm back and beat Notre Dame 18-14 to win the Champs Sports Bowl. Here's how it went down:

Turning point: In a less-than-two-minute span to start the fourth quarter, Florida State made up for the first three. EJ Manuel hit Bert Reed for an 18-yard score, Nigel Bradham picked off Andrew Hendrix on the ensuing drive and Manuel then hit Rashad Greene for a 15-yard score to make it 15-14 with 13:18 left. Twelve quick points after just three through the first 45 minutes were enough for the Seminoles.

Stat of the game: Pick your poison: Ten combined penalties or four combined turnovers? This game was sloppy on both ends for three quarters, and Florida State was able to capitalize on the miscues at the end and come out victorious.

Player of the game: Greene proved a tough man to stop in the second half. He finished the game with five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown, including an outstanding 42-yard grab that he bobbled and hung onto near the sideline on a third-and-6 in the fourth quarter. (It was challenged and upheld.)

Second guessing: Tommy Rees threw two interceptions in the end zone and might have had a third if not for a spectacular touchdown grab by Michael Floyd. In a game that was dominated by both defenses, Notre Dame simply could not afford to give away its precious few opportunities.

What it means: Florida State got its ninth victory and will likely finish the season ranked. Notre Dame falls to 8-5, its same record as last season, and questions will continue to mount about the quarterback position, which has nearly as many questions to end the season as it did to begin.

Record performance: Jamoris Slaughter's two sacks were two more than he had his entire career and were a Champs Sports Bowl record. The 68,305 in attendance made up the bowl's biggest crowd since it moved to Orlando.

Less than two minutes later, FSU leads

December, 29, 2011
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Florida State entered the fourth quarter trailing 14-3. Naturally, it has scored two touchdowns in the first 1:42 of the final frame, giving the Seminoles a 15-14 lead with 13:18 left.

E.J. Manuel hit Bert Reed for an 18-yard strike on the quarter's first play, Nigel Bradham picked off Andrew Hendrix four plays later and, just like that, Manuel hit Rashad Greene with a 15-yard touchdown pass on the drive's second play.

For a game lacking in offense most of the way, we have ourselves a thriller here with just more than 13 minutes left.

3Q: Notre Dame 14, FSU 3

December, 29, 2011
ORLANDO, Fla. — The fourth quarter begins with the Notre Dame holding a two-possession lead over Florida State, with the Seminoles offense finally putting together a nice drive.

FSU has gained 63 yards on nine plays and has reached the Irish 21, giving the offense as good a chance to get into the end zone as it has had all night.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, could not get anything going after a productive half-opening drive that ended with Michael Floyd's circus touchdown catch.

The Seminoles defense has been as good as advertised and is capable of making a game-changing play, something it might need to do if the offense cannot keep up this newfound burst of consistency. It will be without Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid, however, who have suffered a leg injury and concussion, respectively. That is a big blow for the Seminoles' secondary, and you wonder if Notre Dame might take some chances downfield despite having the lead the next time it gets the ball.
ORLANDO, Fla. — Bowl season has found its best play of 2011.

Michael Floyd's 5-yard touchdown grab was anything but simple, as Tommy Rees' fade pass was underthrown and nearly picked off by Greg Reid. Floyd managed to pry it loose from Reid before engaging in a juggling act — all the while absorbing a hit from Nigel Bradham just as he secured the ball.

Touchdown, Irish.

Floyd's 100th catch of the season made it 14-0 Notre Dame, which is anything but your conventional two-score lead in a game that has lacked for offensive fire power.

The Seminoles appeared to be on the verge of closing the gap after Lamarcus Joyner's 77-yard kickoff return, but the offense followed with a three-and-out that was punctuated by a — you guessed it — sack of EJ Manuel, this time by Aaron Lynch for a loss of 15.

Dustin Hopkins kicked a 42-yard field goal to get FSU on the board and cut the lead to 14-3.

The Irish offense, meanwhile, went with both quarterbacks on its first drive of the half, putting Andrew Hendrix in at the 23 yard line. He carried it three times for 18 yards before Rees entered at first-and-goal from the 5, setting up the touchdown play.

George Atkinson deserves credit for setting the Irish up so well with a 37-yard kickoff return to open the half, as well as stopping Joyner from going all the way on the ensuing kickoff.

Halftime: Notre Dame 7, FSU 0

December, 29, 2011
ORLANDO, Fla. — Notre Dame's offense was actually in position to score twice, which gives it the slight edge over Florida State's attack right now. Fittingly, a defensive touchdown has been the difference through 30 minutes so far.

Turning point: Manti Te'o hit Devonta Freeman, forcing the ball loose. Zeke Motta scooped it up and went 29 yards untouched for the only score of the game, giving Notre Dame a 7-0 lead. The play was all the more significant after the Irish gave away their chance earlier, as Tommy Rees threw an interception into the end zone on first-and-goal from the 4. Honorable mention goes to Michael Floyd's drop of a deep ball thrown by Rees on first-and-10 from the Irish 37.

Stat of the half: Floyd returned the game's first punt 41 yards, setting the Irish up at the Seminoles 37-yard line. Considering Notre Dame notched just three total yards in punt returns all season long, this takes the cake as best stat of the half.

Best player in the half: Jamoris Slaughter has a pair of sacks, a Champs Sports Bowl record. Really, the entire Notre Dame defensive front deserves a share of this honor. The Irish have sacked E.J. Manuel four times and have made life miserable for the Seminoles' offense, which also has a pair of false starts and is responsible for the game's only touchdown — just not in its favor. The Irish offense has not fared much better, actually getting outgained, 104 yards to 91. Rees has been sacked twice. Andrew Hendrix saw action on just one series.

FSU offense struggling mightily

December, 29, 2011
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Four sacks, two false starts, one surrendered touchdown and 3.16 yards per play.

Not the best first half for Florida State's offense.

E.J. Manuel's 23-yard pass to Kenny Shaw helped the Seminoles reach 79 yards of offense this half, but Manuel has been running around like a madman as the Notre Dame front-seven makes its presence felt in the backfield.

As a team, FSU has 9 rushing yards on 14 carries.

Chad Abram's sneak on a fake punt went for nearly 4 yards, but that came up inches short of a first down.

The Seminoles need to get creative if they ever want to move the ball with any sort of consistency the rest of the way.

A few more pregame notes

December, 29, 2011
ORLANDO, Fla. — Here are a couple of items worth nothing as we approach kickoff:

  • Ethan Johnson, Louis Nix and Aaron Lynch took reps with the first-team defensive line. This is as healthy as the group has been since the middle of the season. Johnson says he is fully recovered from a sprained right ankle that sidelined him for four games this season, and freshman end Stephon Tuitt is expected to be fine after missing the last two games because of an illness. Against an undermanned Florida State offensive line, this could be key.
  • Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher was given a one-year contract extension earlier today, locking him up through 2016.
  • This crowd is PUMPED. The fans went wild during a few pee-wee touchdowns when kids took the field before the game, and several parachuters into the stadium only amped them up even more. Hopefully the play on the field can live up to the excitement.
ORLANDO, Fla. — Greetings from the Sunshine State, where Notre Dame and Florida State will take the field in the Champs Sports Bowl just less than an hour from now.

The game certainly has a different feel for a December bowl. It is a sellout, for one. Fans from both schools packed the parking lots from the early-afternoon on, an impressive showing for a mid-week, late-afternoon contest.

The game also has seemed to draw more interest than its sister bowl, the Capital One Bowl, to be played here Tuesday between Nebraska and South Carolina.

Notre Dame is officially the home team, and the Irish players are wearing their blue jerseys with names on the back for just the third time in school history, after doing it in the 2008 Hawaii bowl and 1973 Orange Bowl.

The seats are filling up as fans take in a pair of pee-wee games on the field right now. Don't go anywhere, as we'll have complete coverage from the main event throughout the evening.

Video: Champs Sports Bowl preview

December, 29, 2011
PM ET's Matt Fortuna previews Florida State-Notre Dame.

Video: Champs Sports Bowl preview

December, 29, 2011

Todd McShay breaks down the players to watch in the matchup between Florida State and Notre Dame.

Video: Champs Sports Bowl preview

December, 29, 2011

Matt Fortuna previews the Champs Sports Bowl between Florida State and Notre Dame.