Florida State is favored by more than two touchdowns to win a game at Carter-Finley, and this is not because Tom O'Brien's program has fallen off a cliff. (Or because a disgruntled bystander pushed the team off a cliff following last week's thing that happened.) Tomahawk Nation is here to explain a bit about the progress of the FSU program, though the Noles don't enter this weekend without some trepidation. Keep an eye on Tomahawk Nation Thursday for my answers to a few of their questions.
1.) Jimbo Fisher appears to have Florida State back on track to win an ACC title, and it hasn't taken him long. Generally speaking, what's made the difference between this and the last coaching regime? It's not all recruiting, is it?
Coach Fisher's FSU program is significantly different from Coach Bowden's. Jimbo is a Saban disciple and brought the master's ideas on structural organization for a college program with him from LSU. Immediately upon taking over as head coach he brought in the support staff necessary for a modern program, revamped nutrition and strength and conditioning, and instituted an overall system of accountability. These changes paid dividends immediately along with the new staff that he hired. Mark Stoops brought a multiple and versatile defense to Florida State which has fully hit its stride in year three. Eddie Gran has made special teams a strength for the ‘Noles, Lawrence Dawsey has brought about great progression from his wide receiver corps, and the list goes on. The changes Fisher made replaced an antiquated program with the foundations for an elite one and were sorely needed.
The other side of this certainly is the recruiting. While Jimbo has always been an excellent recruiter himself, the coaches he hired are all cut from the same mold. James Coley, Dameyune Craig, DJ Eliot, and company have brought in top class after top class and have built quality depth in Tallahassee with freak athletes. Florida State's kickoff coverage teams are evidence of this, as they are full of terrifying young studs that have not yet broken into the starting lineup because of their youth. When talent is combined with coaching, plus experience in the case of this year's team, a program starts to see the fruits of its labor. This has been the case so far in 2012 for Florida State.
2.) Did you expect Florida State's offense to be as good as it has been through the first five games? We heard a lot about the team's defense during the preseason, but Noles have been extremely impressive offensively as well.
In short, no, not this good. Filtering out 1-AA opponents, FSU is still the #2 offense in the country in terms of yards per play. Florida State fell from the 7th best offense in 2010 to 32nd in 2011 by F/+, and most FSU fans did not expect a top tier group to return in 2012. The primary reason for this was the offensive line, which saw ten different players start last season including four true freshman in the bowl game. Phil Steele ranked the Seminole offense as the most injured unit in the country last season, and I know NC State fans know a thing or two about injuries over these last two seasons.
So, what does FSU do to shore up the revolving door of an OL from last year? Well, they convert a defensive tackle and start him at left tackle and bring in a JUCO from Manchester, UK who has been playing football since 2011 and start him at right tackle. Sounds like a plan for success, right? Stunningly, it has been. The tackles have been very good, and the young interior line has played well also. The ‘Noles have gashed teams with their running game in 2012, particularly with the stretch runs on outside zone (OZ) plays. Chris Thompson, who actually broke his back in 2011, has been a resurgent force so far at running back with huge game after huge game. All of this has simplified life for EJ Manuel, a fifth year senior at QB who is still more proficient in the run game than with the pass. The offense did take a small step backwards toward average last week at USF, which doesn't always play to its talent, but ‘Noles fans are still very happy with this season's offensive output to date.
3.) Speaking of that defense, who are the guys on the defensive line that we should be keeping an eye on?
The defensive line was expected to be Florida State's strength entering the 2012 season. It has had to absorb the losses of All-American defensive end Brandon Jenkins for the season with a foot injury and, as mentioned previously, that of Cameron Erving to left tackle. The talent and depth of this group has allowed them to do it, though there are differing opinions on whether or not it has lived up to the lofty expectations set for it during the pre-season months.
Bjoern Werner is the star at defensive end, and Tank Carradine has filled in on the other side for Jenkins. Carradine is an excellent player in his own right, but has experienced some difficulties in adjusting to the higher snap count asked of him this year. We at TN are concerned about the amount of snaps the two starting DE's have been asked to play so far this season. At tackle, the 3-tech position is manned by Everett Dawkins and Demonte McAllister, both reliable players. The nose tackle spot features a nasty rotation of the enormous Amp McCloud and the large yet lightning quick Timmy Jernigan. The Pack will have to slow the front four of the ‘Noles down to give Mike Glennon a chance to make some plays on Saturday.
4.) NC State was shut out in Tallahassee last season, and one of the impressions I got from that matchup--other than the fact that FSU was much more talented and faster--was that maybe NCSU is not constructed properly for beating a team like FSU. Mike Glennon is a fine passer, but his inability to make things happen with his legs like, say, a Russell Wilson makes life incredibly more difficult against a faster team. Do you think that's true?
Well, I don't think there's a template to beating FSU. Certainly, a mobile quarterback with the ability to extend plays with his legs and make the ‘Noles defend 11 players on defense can be a big plus, but I think a pocket passer has its advantages as well. The biggest matchup, as is the case in any football game, is going to be on the line of scrimmage. If a team can block FSU's front and show a running threat then it can make the Seminole defenders play honest and even bring extra personnel into the box. A team also has to be able to block the FSU defensive line's pass rush. You just can't allow the ‘Noles to get pressure with four guys and drop seven into coverage. From there it's probably about exploiting the linebackers, the weakest link of the defense. Sure, a mobile quarterback could do this effectively, but a pocket guy like Glennon could also wear them out in pass coverage.
I think of it in terms of a matchup with a team like Alabama versus one against a team like Oregon. Bama has a line that could handle FSU's front and establish a strong running game, probably creating a lot of 8-man box situations. They'd utilize their tight ends off of play action and rollouts to keep the defense playing honest and occasionally they'd hit one down the field. I think it'd be a long night for the Seminoles. Oregon, on the other hand, would play a bit like Clemson but obviously with more spread to run looks. While I think a team like the Ducks would get their points by isolating one-on-ones with speed and playing with tempo, I think FSU could give them more trouble than most because of their ability to win the matchups up front. As a final example, we saw BJ Daniels, who is quite capable of extending plays, fall prey to the Seminole defense when Mark Stoops decided to go to zone coverage and the ‘Noles stopped the inside runs on early downs. There has to be a balance to have success against FSU's defense and it starts up front.
5.) These two teams have played entertaining and close games against each other over the last decade or so, and now you guys have gone off and gotten way the hell better than us, and I for one do not appreciate it. Have you people no respect for the long tradition of the NC State-Florida State rivalry?
NC State is still a team that makes FSU fans' palms sweat. Too many freakin' Thursday nights have been spent causing bodily or property damage as a result of a game with the Wolfpack. We can't help but fret over a six interception performance out of nowhere or a botched goal line play action pass to win the game, which still starts a debate about whose fault it was to this day (it wasn't Ponder's!). I'm also pretty sure Phillip Rivers played for at least seven seasons in Raleigh and don't try to tell me otherwise.
As to Saturday's game, I think last week saw every sort of misfortune imaginable befall the Pack, so I'm expecting some sort of cosmic retribution that will inevitably mystify FSU fans. I don't know what the Notorious TOB has in store for the Seminoles on Saturday night or for NC State as a program in the coming years, but I do know that I will never be comfortable when I look at the game against the Pack on the schedule. Call it post-Tom-atic stress. Wordplay!