This week, I caught up with Bud from Tomahawk Nation to talk about FSU's new-look D, Christian Ponder's struggles, and other issues. Thanks to Bud for taking the time. My answers to his questions should be up at TN later today.
1.) Scheme-wise, how is this year's defense different from the ones we saw under Bobby Bowden?
Oh, wow. I'll give you a long and a short here. For the long, go here. For the short, FSU has switched from its predictable man defense to a multiple zone scheme. The talent level is somewhat better than it was last year, and the coaching is immeasurably better. Through 4 conference games, FSU's slashed its yards-per-play allowed by 35%. In comparison, NC State is allowing 11% fewer yards per play in conference. The #Noles also lead the nation in sacks. FSU's players are still learning the defense but they they are picking it up a bit faster than expected.
2.) Based on things I read from you and your community last season, it sounded like, in addition to other issues, FSU's defensive players didn't really understand what they were supposed to be doing on the field. Has the new staff been able to correct that problem? What other factors have made the defensive turnaround possible?
This probably sounds too simplistic, but the new staff has corrected the problem by... coaching the players. It was just such a mess last season with a mix of coaches who either didn't want to be coaching, thought their job was beneath them, or were unqualified to coach defense. This year FSU brought in Mark Stoops as its defensive coordinator, Greg Hudson (ECU DC) as its linebackers coach, and a young guy in D.J. Eliot to coach defensive ends. A focus on technique and fundamentals with the assumption that FSU's defensive players really didn't know anything and had to start from scratch has helped immensely. I know that the defensive coaches were surprised with the amount of talent on hand when they arrived (in a good way).
The new strength and diet program has also been an incredible help. FSU's defensive tackles are about 20 lbs heavier, on average, its ends 15+ lbs heavier, on average, and its linebackers about 8 lbs heavier, on average. The added bulk without losing speed has obvious advantages, the greatest of which has been allowing players to hold their ground and play with better leverage.
3.) The Noles are running the ball a bit more often than they did last year. Was that a conscious decision coming into the season or just a reflection of the fact that you guys haven't been in a lot of close games? Do you think FSU will come out running right at an NC State defense that's been shaky at times against the run?
FSU is running the ball more often this season. It's a result of a number of factors. For one, FSU had pass protection issues early on with some health issues along the offensive line. The line FSU trotted out was more suited to running than pass protecting. Second, FSU's receivers are not as good this year. The two big sophomores have not become the outside threats FSU needed them to be in order to stay at a really elite level. Christian Ponder has had a variety of ailments.
In addition to the reasons why FSU was looking to pass less often, the hire of running backs coach Eddie Gran (from Tennessee by way of Auburn; former coach of Montarrio Hardesty, Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Deuce McAllister, and Jon Avery) has been a huge help. FSU's backs are running harder and running within the system. The blocking is better as well, thanks to the continued physical maturation of the offensive line and tight end.
4.) Christian Ponder's numbers are down from 2009...I'm sure the ebow injury has been a factor in that, but is there anything else that has slowed the passing game this season?
As I mentioned above, the early offensive line issues and the inconsistency from the receivers has hurt the passing game's numbers. But Ponder has not played as well either. He's a quarterback who really excels at diagnosing things quickly and throwing to the open man, no matter who that is. It seems now that he doesn't actually believe the unseen guy on the backside will be open. And that means he hesitates.
The elbow and triceps injuries have definitely hampered his throwing, no doubt. He never had a huge arm but this year it is very average. I guess we will have to see what it looks like when he is healthy.
5.) With a win on Thursday, FSU pretty much locks up the division. How far ahead of schedule is Jimbo's program? Did FSU fans think this team could be made into an ACC contender immediately?
The program is slightly ahead of schedule. At this point I had FSU pegged at 5-2, and the team sits at 6-1. I told my readers this before the season:
This team will improve in '10... on its 16-16 conference record over the last 4 years.... after losing 20 games in the last 4 years... after having the 7th worst major-conference defense... after not even winning its own division in the ACC in the last 4.
I think the expectation for this team was to contend for the division and really be in the race in the last week. FSU certainly looks to be doing that.
As for the program (as opposed to the team), the recruiting is now in another stratosphere. FSU's class has 8 kids in the ESPNU 150. The rest of the Atlantic Division has 5 combines. The Coastal has 6 combined. While FSU recruited well over the lost decade, it didn't do it quite like this, and it definitely did not have the quality coaches to develop that talent.