SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Neither a lengthy layoff nor an early fumble could deter Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams, who flashed back to second grade in order to press forward.
Williams, after fumbling at his own 32 on the game’s second play from scrimmage, ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns and the No. 5 Fighting Irish beat Florida State 42-26 on Saturday night.
“Obviously. it was kind of hard coming in at first after not being able to play in 21 days and seeing live action and live bullets right away,” said Williams, who had 130 yards and both his scores during the first half to help Notre Dame build a 35-20 lead.
“We had to get into our groove,” Williams said of the Irish being idle the previous two weekends, one of those due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the team.
“I had to feel comfortable again. I just had to tell myself after the fumble, just to reset and just to play how I always play the game of football. I tell myself all day it’s been the same game since second grade. I just kept that mindset after I fumbled.”
“We just reminded (Kyren) about ball security,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, whose team lost several workouts due to the pandemic. “He wasn’t hit a lot (in recent weeks). We only had one opportunity in these last three weeks to go live with our guys. I’m not up here to make excuses for guys, but he’s a great competitor. He bounced back. Great competitors put that play behind them and move on.”
Ian Book completed 16 of 25 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 58 yards and another score as Notre Dame improved to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Irish safety Shawn Crawford helped thwart a potential comeback by Florida State (1-3, 0-3) with a goal-line interception at 8:21 remaining after the Seminoles had driven 73 yards to the ND 5.
“We’re all disappointed,” Florida State coach Mike Norvell said. “You invest so much time and effort into a game to win that contest. We didn’t do that and we didn’t do (things) consistently enough, even with some bright spots throughout the course.”
The Irish were too powerful despite a solid performance by Jordan Travis for the Seminoles.
Making his first start after shining in relief last week against Jacksonville State, Travis completed 13 of 24 passes for 204 yards and led Florida State in rushing with 96 yards on 19 keepers, even with a pair of sacks mixed in. He threw a TD pass and ran for a score.
“I thought he played extremely tough,” Norvell said about the Seminoles’ third starting QB this season. “He had a lot of different looks thrown his way and made some really good decisions, and there’s some things he’ll learn, but I thought it was a gutsy performance.”
Travis was relieved for Florida State’s last possession by James Blackman after suffering an apparent hand injury. Norvell didn’t detail the extent of it.
Florida State’s Tamorrion Terry caught seven passes for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Irish wideout Javon McKinley had five receptions for 107 yards. Chris Tyree joined Williams in surpassing 100 yards on the ground, closing at 103 on 11 carries with a TD.
Florida State: The Seminoles, who gave up 52 points two weeks ago at Miami, looked overwhelmed at times on defense, but did improve in the second half. Not only did the Irish offensive line have no trouble knocking Florida State off the ball — little surprise given Notre Dame’s ranking as the nation’s best unit — but Seminole linebackers other than Amari Gainer often were unable to step up and close gaps. Notre Dame had 240 rushing yards by halftime on 20 attempts.
Notre Dame: The Irish offense was often lethal, especially once it stopped hurting its own cause. Notre Dame had five touchdowns and 365 yards in the first half and finished with 554 yards. The damage could’ve been worse if not for Williams’ fumble and a special teams turnover, those leading to 10 Seminoles points in the first quarter for a 17-14 FSU lead.
The Irish, given No. 4 Florida’s loss at No. 21 Texas A&M earlier in the day, stand poised to move up to that fourth slot, although they are also the lone club in the current top five yet to face a ranked opponent.
Kelly presented game balls to athletic trainer Rob Hunt and team physician Matt Leiszler.
“We couldn’t have been out here today without their extraordinary efforts to get our football team safe and healthy,” Kelly said.
After Notre Dame had 25 players in isolation with positive tests and 14 others in quarantine due to contact tracing on Sept. 28, just two players of note — starting defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and backup linebacker Jack Kiser — were missing Saturday.
It was not confirmed that they were necessarily out due to the coronavirus.
Standout cornerback Asante Samuel’s first-quarter fumble recovery for the Seminoles was his fifth takeaway of the season, giving him at least one in each of Florida State’s first four games.
That count includes three interceptions, which led the nation entering the day.
Florida State faces its second straight Top 10 opponent when No. 8 North Carolina visits Doak Campbell Stadium on Oct. 17.
Notre Dame is home for the fourth straight game to start the season when Louisville visits Oct. 17.