Thursday, November 17, 2011

a civil conversation with Tomahawk Nation

We don't see much of Florida State these days, and won't see 'em again until 2015**, so to get us all edjikated up on the Seminoles, it's time for another Q&A session.  I exchanged pleasantries with Bud and Dylan at Tomahawk Nation, and here is the result.  As ever, you know the drill; when TN posts the other half, you'll get your linky right here.  (Here you go with the other half.  They asked better questions than I did, so I think it's a good read if I do say so myself.)

**Or maybe later, since by 2015 the conference will be bigger.

1. FSU has a ton of talent, and sits at or near the top of the stat sheet in a lot of categories offensive and defensive. But it hasn't really been there every single week; what did the teams that beat FSU do to come out on top?

- When Oklahoma came to Tallahassee in week three, reasonable fans didn’t expect FSU to come out on top. The ‘Noles played arguably their best game of the season against OU, but EJ Manuel went down early in the second half with a shoulder injury. Oklahoma simply outgunned Florida State. The Sooners benefit from years of relative staff continuity and have recruited phenomenally, finding themselves among the best programs in the nation for a decade. Seminole faithful would have loved to dethrone OU in primetime, but the outcome didn’t alarm or anger reasonable fans.

With Manuel out with his shoulder injury FSU then traveled to Clemson the following week. Freshman Clint Trickett made his first career start in Death Valley and played an outstanding game. The disappointing part of this game was that the Seminole defense, the strength of the team, wasn’t able to keep pace with the freshman-led offense playing over its head. Clemson’s offense is quite good and ‘Noles cornerback Greg Reid was out with an injury, which kept FSU from playing nickel on defense. However, this game left a sour taste in the mouths of Florida State fans because Trickett and the offense gave the ‘Noles a chance to win the game and the defense couldn’t keep pace.

After a bye week, the debacle that ensued had Seminole fans in meltdown mode. Trickett again started, but simply played like a freshman with multiple turnovers early. Manuel came in, but it was passing-skeleton, stationary EJ who isn’t nearly as effective as the mobile version. The FSU offense was anemic and continually put its defense in terrible positions, but the defense had its struggles as well. It was unacceptable for FSU to play the way it did off of a bye week against Wake Forest and it was an indictment of everyone involved with the program, despite the large number of injuries the‘Noles were dealing with.

There really hasn’t been a template for beating Florida State this year. One common theme in the games that FSU has lost is that EJ Manuel has been out for at least some portion of the game. The Seminole offense without a fully functional, mobile EJ isn’t nearly as effective as it is with him. Florida State also struggled mightily with injuries early in the season. The defense has continued to improve and is a very good unit that has remained relatively healthy.

2. Why hasn't the running game been very productive?
- This is the area in which the offensive line woes have really shown up. Zero of FSU’s current five o-line starters began the season as the starter at their current positions. Senior left tackle Andrew Datko was lost for the season with a shoulder injury and senior Zebrie Sanders moved from his right tackle position to the left, and 17 year old freshman Bobby Hart stepped in to fill the void there. The second game of the season saw a position switch between FSU’s center and left guard, and right guard David Spulock has also suffered an injury. Since that time, center Bryan Stork has been injured and true freshman Austin Barron filled in, though he was relieved by Stork against Miami. The line simply hasn’t been able to play as a cohesive unit, which is paramount in a zone blocking system.

The FSU backs were also culpable in the early season, missing their fair share of the holes that were created. Freshman Devonta Freeman has become the guy at running back, and the running game has improved over the weeks since the Wake Forest debacle. FSU’s rushing attack needs a fully mobile EJ Manuel. He’s a fluid runner who’s has a great feel for the option, and his legs are a staple of the ‘Noles offense when he’s healthy. The threat of his legs is the basis for the running game when it’s at its best.

3. On the flip side, what's the secret to EJ Manuel's success?

Manuel is 6’5” 240lbs and an amazingly smooth runner with long strides, and is very difficult to bring down. As mentioned above, he has a great feel for the option, though it sometimes causes him to make risky late pitches. When defenses respect his legs it opens up the rest of the game for him. He has an excellent arm and can make all of the throws he needs to make. The concerns about EJ at quarterback, for us, arise from his handling of the aspects of the game at which Christian Ponder excelled. Christian was outstanding in the pre-snap phase of the game, making checks and getting the‘Noles into the correct play based upon his reads. He was afforded greater control over the offense than any quarterback that Jimbo Fisher has ever had. Ponder was also adept at going through his progressions to find the open receiver. EJ Manuel struggled with his checks in the early part of the season and is sometimes too quick to take off running rather than staying in the pocket and going through his reads. FSU fans think and hope that EJ is improving in these areas, as his development as a player depends on him doing so.

4. Tell UVA fans about the FSU defense.

- The Seminole defense is excellent, especially against the run. Most of this is attributable to an extremely talented and deep defensive line. Though the ‘Noles lost starting defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel for the year with an ankle injury, the 10+ linemen that FSU will play are able to take this loss in stride. Bjoern Werner is a monster at defensive end, and Brandon Jenkins is excellent on the opposite side, often playing a roaming position while standing. The interior features Amp McCloud, who has been very solid in clogging the middle this season, and RS freshman Cam Erving has been excellent as well. True freshman Timmy Jernigan is the freak of the group, wowing everyone as his snaps have increased.

The line sometimes masks the inconsistencies of the linebacker corps. Nigel Bradham and Vince Williams struggle in coverage (though Bradham played phenomenally against Miami), prompting more playing time from Telvin Smith and Jeff Luc. Christian Jones is a freak, and #7 will be seen making plenty of plays on Saturday. Though the corners haven’t stood out as much as they did last year, we still feel that the‘Noles have three NFL-bound players at that position. The most important player on defense, though, is roaming safety true sophomore Lamarcus Joyner. Though called the strong safety by Stoops, Joyner plays a center field position for the Seminoles, doing everything from rushing the passer to playing the single-high safety spot.

Mark Stoops will show 4-3, 3-4, nickel, and 4-2-5 looks throughout the game. He will employ both man and zone coverages and blitz from anywhere and everywhere. The scheme is truly multiple, which makes life difficult for opposing offenses. It has been a pleasure to watch this unit mature and progressively dominate throughout this season and to know that it brings all of its important pieces back for next year.

5. Obligatory question about your opinion and that of FSU fans about ACC expansion. What do you think of the newcomers? What do you want the conference to look like; park it at 14, or add two more for 16? And if so, who? And for the final shot in this five-for-the-price-of-one, do you see any scenario in which FSU leaves the conference? Like, if the SEC came calling?

- By making the moves that it made, the ACC has ensured that when super-conference-a-palooza comes around it will have a seat at the table. When viewed from that perspective, it’s understandable. However, the move also showed us that the priority of the conference is basketball, which is dwarfed in terms of revenue by football. By and large, Florida State fans are deeply uncomfortable with this and question the leadership of the conference that doesn’t seem to understand this crucial component to long-term viability. Combined with the pattern of ignorance displayed by the Tobacco Road head honchos (read: scheduling, officiating), this has FSU fans feeling less than particularly fond of the ACC. As of now, it doesn’t appear that there is a rush to get to 16 teams anywhere.

However, if the Big East collapses, as it appears to be on the verge of doing, things will get interesting. I would think that there would be a mad dash to grab the unaffiliated teams to fill out conferences, probably ending up at 16. The ACC needs the best football programs it can get its hands on. The conference needs to do anything and everything it can to bring Notre Dame into the fold. It has to have football viability in order to be stable. Notre Dame and UConn would help to do this. But, I do not claim to be a conference expansion expert by any means. If the ACC proves to be a viable super conference in the coming years, the preference of Florida State fans would probably be to stay. However, if an SEC offer comes along, the likelihood of this being completely unknown, FSU would certainly have to take a serious look.

6. FSU got past Miami, and (not that I'm trying to jinx it) will probably handle Florida too, and looks like a good bet to go bowling in Orlando against Notre Dame, certainly a marquee matchup. If all this comes to pass, is it a successful season in Tallahassee?

- Seminoles fans will never be able to bring themselves to be comfortable with predicting a win over the Gators in the Swamp, especially in a night game. However, assuming (knocking on wood for hours on end) that the‘Noles do knock off the Gators following a win against UVa and end up 9-3 for the year, I think that the feelings will still be mixed. Priority number one entering the season was to win the Atlantic Division and win the conference, but these dreams were de-railed in the beginning of the season due to injuries, scheduling, and sub-par play. To have won out after finding the team at 2-3 to start the season would help in calling the season a success, but I think that the prevailing sentiment will be that the year still did not meet expectations. Florida State has recruited better than anyone in its division, despite the recent success of Clemson in this regard. Though the Tigers have played well this season and have been better in Chad Morris’s first year than anyone expected, Seminoles fans are still deeply disappointed with coming up short in the Atlantic.

Reasonable fans have to factor in the injuries and the scheduling, though. It was ridiculous of the ACC to schedule FSU-Clemson the week after both teams played marquee non-conference games. It was ridiculous of FSU to schedule Oklahoma in the first place, though that’s the fault of the athletic department. It was amazing how many injuries the ‘Noles piled up in the early part of the season. So, I find it tough to say that the year would be an outright failure when objectively evaluating the season. A lot will depend on how the team plays for the rest of the season in determining just how successful 2011 ended up being.

7. Game prediction? I suspect you think the Noles will win, but, are you taking the Noles on the 18-point spread, or taking the Hoos and the points? Last year you figured an 80% chance of an FSU win in this game, which might've been generous in hindsight; anything change this year?

- When the schedule came out, many FSU fans viewed this game as a potential trap. Florida State is coming off of a rivalry game with Miami and is a week away from traveling to Gainesville to take on the Gators in a night game. If this game kicked off at noon, I suspect that ‘Noles fans would be deeply concerned about the “sandwich game” factor. However, a 7:30 kickoff, homecoming, and senior night are likely to result in a near-capacity Doak Campbell Stadium and should help to mitigate most effects that the trap game presents. I don’t expect Virginia to have success on offense against FSU’s defense. The Cavaliers just haven’t played a team with a defense anywhere close to the level of Florida State’s, which obviously isn’t their fault. I think that the defense will give the FSU offense favorable field position and easy opportunities to score points, as will the ‘Noles special teams, which are currently ranked the best in the nation.  I expect the Seminole offense to spread the ‘Hoos defense and exploit the match-up of their third and fourth receivers against Virginia’s third/fourth corners and safeties. I’ll be bold here and take the ‘Noles to cover a hefty spread at 29-10.

8. Bonus question - a stump-the-star to satisfy my curiosity. Feel free to ignore if you'd rather do so. This weekend you tweeted that you could think of 10 3-loss teams better than UVA - who might they be? (I can think of about four that I'd concede right off the bat, and my Blogpoll ballot betrays a couple others. But I'm curious about the rest.)

I'd for sure take FSU (7-3), Notre Dame (7-3), Texas A&M (5-5), Texas (6-3), Ohio State (6-4),

I personally do think Georgia Tech and Miami are better, but y'all beat them so I can't go there.

I think I could make an honest argument that these 16 have been as good or better.

South Florida
Arizona State
North Carolina
West Virginia
Louisiana Tech
Mississippi State

(ed: I was thinking of only the three-loss teams - not ones with even more - so that's a longer list than I expected.  I think a couple of those are plain crazy (La. Tech) but on the other hand it's not like I can beef with UNC.  Several of those teams are potential bowl opponents.)


Thanks are in order to Bud and Dylan for some very detailed answers.  Game preview tonight.  And while we're on the subject of tonight, go Heels.


FrankDNole said...

Brendan, Thanks for asking good thought provoking questions and looking forward to reading your thoughts and answers on the flip side.

Brandon said...

There's a couple teams on that list I'd probably talk myself into taking us against on a neutral field, but certainly nothing I'd even remotely call crazy... We've got our entire non-conference FBS schedule and the bed-shitting vs. NC State speaking very poignantly to anyone wanting to make the case against us. Love these interview posts, always interesting to see things from the other side of the fence...

Brendan said...

Eh, I've seen enough of a couple of those teams to think that we could take 'em. Illinois, for example - their offense is absolutely fraudulent. No doubt in my mind we'd beat them, or should, at any rate. Keep in mind that the OOC schedule was played by the "old", QB-rotating version of this team.

kezki said...

going back now, what a ridiculous list..this made me pretty know a 4 loss team that's worse than UVA: FSU

Free FSU said...

The answer to the question about how their fans reacted to the season is totally messed up. The vast majority of fans are deeply disappointed at this season and the few apologists and sheep at Tomahawk Nation (the North Korea of independent college websites) do not represent real FSU fans in any way. We know that Jimbo is moving backwards and has yet to meet any expectations. Hopefully, the administration at FSU doesn't even know they exist and will do the right thing at the end of next year. We can't have another painful eight years.