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Talking Florida State With Tomahawk Nation

In preparation for this Saturday's defensive debacle, I exchanged some questions with FSUncensored from Tomahawk Nation. Below he talks about FSU's struggling defense, Bowden's future, Chuck Amato, Christian Ponder's turnaround, and much more.  You can find my answers to his questions at TN later today.

1.) The gist I get from reading you guys is that the coaching staff is primarily responsible for the issues on the defensive side. But that can't fully explain a slide of nearly two yards per play from '08 to '09, can it? What else is going on?

I've written a lot about this over the past year. Mostly, it is the coaching staff. You will be blown away at the complete lack of discipline, fundamentals, and just general common sense with which our defense plays. Last season, the defense was a top 30 defense. This year, they sit at #104 (FEI by football outsiders). Here's a handy graph I made using their numbers. Last year's defense really only played well against stubborn offenses. For instance, against Miami (fired their OC), Colorado (had a freshman left tackle and refused to double team NFL DE Everette Brown), and Wake Forest (bad offense for the entire year). Teams who had some common sense ran out of spread sets and rolled away from or double-teamed Everette Brown. Keep in mind our defensive ends coach never played defense or coached at another school. Bowden just made him defensive ends coach for whatever reason, and to add insult to injury, he replaced one of the finest defensive ends in the country! FSU cannot stop the run at all because they are tiny as a result of poor recruiting. This causes all kinds of problems. They get bunched up in the middle and get beat on tosses and reverses. And the pass-rush is non-existent, which hangs out the secondary (corners are good to very good, safeties are trash). And of course, FSU hasn't changed their scheme in years. The defensive coordinator has wanted to retire for the past two seasons after his son died in his front yard. Amato, well, he's a clown. I'll discuss him later.

2.) Have the coaches made any adjustments to what they're doing defensively? Do you expect the D to start coming around down the stretch?

Very, very few. It is painful, Steven. FSU for the most part plays man coverage with 1 safety, blitzes with really poor timing and not as a team, and generally looks extremely confused on defense. The upgrade that will occur next year will be similar to the upgrade made by FSU going from Jeff Bowden to Jimbo Fisher. I do not expect many adjustments. We are 7 games in and there haven't been serious adjustments made in years.

3.) Official Coach Person Chuck Amato ... what does he do, exactly? Also, if I recall correctly, y'all mentioned on Twitter a while back that coaches were telling recruits that Amato would be gone after this season. Is that still the case?

Amato has the title of executive head coach. Bowden bestowed it upon him, giving him more money and more power than Jimbo Fisher. It pushed Fisher to 4th in command, which is incredibly frustrating for the best coach on our team. Amato is a malcontent and a saboteur, still somehow under the impression that someone will again hire him to be a head coach or coordinator. His recruiting has been flat awful (1 South Florida recruit in 3 years, supposedly his strength. And the kid he recruited isn't any good). He gets in arguments with everyone, but luckily for him, Bowden still loves him. I have heard from recruits that they are being told all of the defensive coaches will be gone next year, and that's what the tweet referenced.

4.) With regards to Bobby Bowden's future, does it matter how the Noles finish this season? Do you feel like another year of Bowden would inflict some lasting damage on the program?

No, I think how he finishes is largely irrelevant. I guess if FSU won out and beat @ Clemson and @ UF and won the ACC and the BCS game, a few big $shots who want him gone would be swayed, but we hear that he is gone and that he has pissed off some who were once cemented in his corner. Another year of this foolishness would seriously hurt the program. We have 4 coaches who will stay when the house cleaning happens, and they are busting their tails trying to keep this thing afloat. FSU is literally coaching with the equivalent of 8 coaches, while everyone else has 10. You can't win in this business with 20% fewer resources than everyone else.

5.) When we did this last year, I asked you guys about a struggling Christian Ponder. This year--holy smokes, he's been unreal. Is it experience, talent, comfort in the system all coming together? Better pass protection? Better play from receivers?

I dug up last year's question:

Against I-A opponents, FSU's quarterbacks have completed barely 40% of their passes and have averaged just 4.4 yards per attempt. What've been Christian Ponder's biggest issues so far? Any QB controversy?

Clearly, those numbers are not acceptible. Christian got off to a horrible start against Wake Forest, as his first pass was intercepted, and I think this made him a little gun shy. Despite the shocking play of the offensive line, relative to their youth, we've still had pass protection issues. Poor wide receiver play has also contributed, as there have been incorrectly run routes and dropped balls. Ponder is also at fault, obviously. His drops have been inconsistent, his steps are sometimes too large on play action (great fakes though). His biggest issue is trust and inexperience. He has to learn to throw the ball before the guy is open. I think he's starting to do that, but as of yet, he still usually waits for the guy to come open before throwing. That seems to be an inexperience issue. He has really improved in his pre-snap reads, and I have to think that he will continue to progress. The Miami game was really a bad game for passing, since it was played in a downpour, and Miami really gave up the run to take away the pass. There is no QB controversey, Ponder is the guy. He needs expeirence, consistency, and trust. I think all of those can be remedied with time. Luckily, he seems to be able to rely on his legs for now.

We were one of the few FSU blogs who staunchly stuck behind Ponder. Perhaps it's the ex-offensive lineman in me, but I like to focus more on line play than others. This off-season, I wrote:

The truth of the matter is that without the qualifier, the statement that "Florida State's offensive line was very good in 2008" is false. All told, if you evaluated their performance without knowing how young they were, you'd be hard pressed to come up with anything more than average. There's a big difference between wildly exceeding expectations and being elite on a national or conference scale. When FSU needed their offensive line to dig in and provide protection in 2008, in passing situations like 2nd & 8+ or 3rd & 5+, the line failed miserably. They simply could not pass protect. Sure, they made big strides in other areas, and looked much better than some of the garbage produced by Jimmy Heggins and Mark McHale in the early and middle parts of this decade, but 'Nole fans eager to have a decent offensive line jumped all over the idea that their boys up front were now elite. They have not yet earned the pre-season accolades being strewn upon them by the media. Not with last year's performance. This year the challenge is to become elite- not just elite considering their youth.

The rest of the piece is here. I wish more read it, and I think your readers will really enjoy it. FSU's offensive line was the youngest in the country (3fr 2 sophs). That article does a nice job explaining their struggles, as well as what they did well.

I plan to re-run the article when I get time, and re-examine how the line is doing. I'll break down every 2nd/3rd and long situation again, just as I did there. I will say that Ponder now has that requisite trust in his offensive line. He stands in the pocket like a champ. He also is the smartest QB Fisher has ever been around. Fisher says he'll come off the field and tell Fisher "they were in cover-3 cloud so I checked to X, etc." Those two are on the same page and I'll say Ponder is the smartest QB in college football. FSU calls 3 plays in the huddle and then has Ponder check them into the right one. There's no sideline-checking here. Ponder really gets it, and he was hiding injuries last year that even the team doctors didn't know about. (We knew of the broken ribs, but not some of the back injuries or the wrist).

Also, the young receivers grew up a bit, and it helps when you have receivers in the right spot, particularly against teams running a lot of soft-zones.

If you want to read a great article on Ponder, I'd check this out. Doing the research blew me away as to just how good he is.

6.) I had a dream the other day that this game ended with a final score of 84-63. Some arena football-style action. A six-hour marathon in which fully 60% of the players involved go down with cramps after too many tearful entreaties for mercy. Also I think my liver exploded. That sound about right to you?

Only 60% cramps? I totally agree with your prediction. 3 times this season, FSU has gone over the total (over/under) in the first half. Against 1A teams, FSU was 5-1 on the Over. Vegas has caught up, posting a total north of 65. That's the highest recorded total for an FSU game since they began keeping track! (1985!) Through 1995! (64 points @ UF) was close.

FSU has the 4th best offense in the country and the 104th best defense. NC State has the 25th best offense and the 52nd best defense (see 1st picture I linked above). FSU has the 12th rated kick/punt units (return and cover), while NC State's are 117th.

Will there be more than 3 punts in this game?

The only thing I suspect could happen to foul up this score-fest is what happened last year. NC State was shredding FSU's defense, so FSU held the ball for almost 40 minutes. Might NC State do that? Might FSU do that? My guess is that NC State will run for 6+ per carry (w/o sacks), control the clock, play very conservative zone, and hope that FSU's juggernaut offense gets impatient and tries to force things against the soft zones.