Notre Dame faces stingy 'Noles run defense

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
10:35
AM ET

US Presswire/Matt CashoreCierre Wood (with ball) will be a player to watch in tonight's Citrus Bowl

Two of college football’s most prestigious programs may not have had the best of seasons, but both have significant reasons for wanting to win today’s Champs Sports Bowl matchup (ESPN, 5:30 ET).

Here’s a closer look at this matchup:

History
It’s the first meeting between the two storied programs since 2003 (a 37-0 win by FSU in South Bend). This is their second bowl meeting.

The first bowl meeting came in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1996 when Florida State rallied from a 26-14 fourth-quarter deficit by scoring 17 points in the final 9:47 of the game for a 31-26 victory.

Overall, Florida State leads the series 4-2.

Florida State is 7-0-2 all-time in games played in Orlando. One of those games is a 23-16 win over Notre Dame on November 12, 1994. This is the Seminoles’ second appearance in the Champs Sports Bowl. They defeated Wisconsin 42-13 in the 2008 edition.

Keys to the Matchup
The biggest battle in this game will be Notre Dame rushing the football against one of the best run defenses in the country.

Florida State holds opponents to 2.3 yards per rush (fewest in FBS) because it does not allow opponents to gain yards in chunks.

Fewer than a quarter of Florida State opponents’ rushes gain five or more yards. The Seminoles have only allowed 104 rushes of at least five yards out of 423 attempts.

The Irish, led by Cierre Wood (1,042 yards) and Jonas Gray (791), rank 20th among FBS schools in yards per carry, netting just over five yards per rush. In fact, the team gains at least five yards on 43 percent of its rushes, the sixth-best rate among FBS schools.

Notre Dame will have to take care of the football. The Irish enter the game fifth-worst in the FBS in turnover margin, with a minus-13 turnover differential. Much of that is attributable to quarterback Tommy Rees, who has thrown 12 interceptions and lost five fumbles. In the past eight games, they've trimmed that differential to minus-3.

This will be the third bowl game and second start for Florida State QB E.J. Manuel. Manuel is 28-for-39 for 273 yards in two previous bowl appearances, with one touchdown throw and no interceptions.

Over the past four games, Manuel has thrown 83 passes and not thrown an interception.

Manuel’s success at throwing the long pass could be significant in this contest. In the three Seminoles losses in which he played, he was 1-for-12 with two interceptions when throwing the ball at least 20 yards downfield.

In his other games, he is 13-for-29 on pass attempts of at least 20 yards, with six touchdowns and one interception.

Stats of the Game
Florida State is appearing in a bowl game for the 30th consecutive season, the longest active streak in FBS (though the NCAA does not recognize FSU’s 2006 Emerald Bowl).

Brian Kelly is trying to become the first coach in Notre Dame history to win bowl games in each of his first two seasons there.

Keep in mind, the Fighting Irish did not play in a bowl from the 1926-68 seasons because of a self-imposed bowl ban.

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