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Talking Florida State With Tomahawk Nation

This week I spoke to DKfromVA, who is an editor at Tomahawk Nation. Below he talks about Florida State's 4-3 start, the play of EJ Manuel, and the team's turnover troubles. My responses to his questions will be up at Tomahawk Nation later this afternoon.

Additionally, James @ R&R did a podcast with Tomahawk Nation's head honcho, Bud Elliott.

1.) How's the mood among Florida State fans right now? Is there a sense that this team has failed to live up to expectations, or perhaps more realistically, a sense that the Noles just ran into a couple of very good teams and then got Grobed? (Which happens to the best of us eventually. Or every other year. Ahem.)

I think more and more ‘Noles fans are starting to see that this 2011 team is a very good one that has faced an insane number of injuries and was the victim of idiotic scheduling, some of which was its own doing. Oklahoma is an excellent team and FSU played a fantastic game against the Sooners, especially on defense. EJ Manuel was out for the second half after injuring his shoulder and went on to miss the Clemson game, as well as the first half of the Wake Forest debacle. Injuries to the offensive line, wide receivers, backfield, defensive backfield, and to a starting defensive tackle haven’t helped matters. The Clemson result was a disappointment because of the defensive effort, which could not keep pace with its offense, a unit that was performing way above its head with a freshman QB at the helm in his first ever college start. The Seminoles did get Grobe’d the following week, to an extent, but most fans were angry with the apparent lack of quality preparation before the match-up in Winston-Salem. The fanbase went into a predictable and justifiable meltdown the following week, and Jimbo Fisher had to answer some tough questions.

It should be pointed out that the scheduling of Oklahoma and Clemson in back-to-back weeks was both unlucky and foolish. Florida State does not need to schedule Oklahoma in the first place, as it already plays Florida each year. The ACC should not schedule its primary Atlantic Division showcase on a week that followed FSU playing Oklahoma and Clemson playing Auburn. It doesn’t help your teams represent the conference to the best of their ability in these out of conference match-ups and it doesn’t showcase your product to the best of its ability. But, we fans are trying to move past this bitterness, however slowly the process may go.

Florida State has since righted the ship to a degree, though against inferior competition. The defense is the strength of the team and has appeared to be in the last few games, but needs to continue their dominance on Saturday. EJ Manuel has been able to settle into the role that Fisher envisioned for him at the outset of the season. This previously was not the case because it involves significant use of his legs in the option game, and Jimbo was loath to allow him to be hit during the first two games of the season against the token cupcakes. Then, Manuel was injured against Oklahoma. His return against Wake saw him limited in the run game, but his legs have become a factor again over the past two weeks.

2.) Anything different about Jimbo Fisher and his staff and the way they go about things in year two? Strategic adjustments?

The only real changes in strategy from Fisher and the staff have been in response to changing personnel, in my opinion. The offense looks different with EJ in command than it did with Christian Ponder. Though a gifted athlete and an adept scrambler, Christian wasn’t someone for whom Jimbo designed a significant run package. The 6’5" 240 pound Manuel is a fluid runner with a real sense for the option game, and Fisher uses that to his advantage. The ‘Noles offense is able to open up a bunch of avenues for attack when it first establishes its backfield as a threat. The performance of the young receivers has been a pleasant surprise, with true freshman Rashad Greene emerging as the top target along with RS freshman Christian Green’s breakout year.

The defense has finally started to grasp the scheme of Mark Stoops in year two. It starts with the defensive line, which is extremely deep and very talented. Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins have been stellar at the defensive end spots, and the interior play has been great as well, although the ‘Noles did lose Jacobbi McDaniel for the season. The secondary is excellent as well, with three NFL-bound corners and the emergence of freakishly talented safety Lamarcus Joyner, who plays a roaming center field position. The talent, versatility, and familiarity with the playbook has allowed FSU’s defense to become truly multiple. They’ll show 4-3, 3-4, nickel, and even some 4-2-5 looks throughout the course of the game, playing both man and zone coverages. When they’re playing well, the Seminole defense is one of the best in the nation.

3.) What about EJ Manuel's performance? I know he's been banged up, but has he generally met expectations?

It was tough to tell anything about EJ in the first two games of the season because Jimbo pulled so many proverbial punches so as not to show anything to Oklahoma or Clemson. He played a solid first half against OU, and we felt that Fisher was setting some things up for the second half; so naturally #3 was promptly injured to start the third quarter. He didn’t look great when he came in against Wake, but it should be said that he was in passing skeleton form and Fisher didn’t want him to get hit very much. Manuel has started to look comfortable in his role against Duke and Maryland. We know he’s a great athlete with a lot of tools. Our concerns are his reads, something at which Christian Ponder excelled. Ponder was outstanding in the pre-snap, making the correct checks and being afforded an incredible amount of control over Fisher’s offense. He was also adept at going through his progressions to find the right read. Manuel has struggled in making the correct checks on several occasions this year, and is more comfortable throwing to the outside of the field than reading the middle of a defense. We hope and think that he’s growing in these respects, as his development as a player will largely depend him on doing so.

4.) Florida State's defense has racked up a bunch of sacks, but the turnovers have been hard to come by. I don't have any numbers to back this up, but it seems like a bunch of sacks means plenty of pressure up front, which should result in more mistakes by the opposing team. In your opinion is there a concrete reason why this team has forced so few turnovers, or is just one of those things you shrug about?

This topic has actually been a popular one this week among Seminole fans. It really is perplexing. FSU is averaging 3.7 sacks/game (tied for 4th nationally), up slightly from 3.4/game last year (3rd nationally). Although sacks aren’t of primary importance to Jimbo Fisher and Mark Stoops, as they recognize that effective pressure doesn’t necessitate elite sack numbers (see: Alabama), they do indicate that the Seminole defense is pressuring its opponents. The defensive backfield features some excellent players and elite NFL prospects, but the interception numbers are conspicuously absent. Once a fumble is on the ground, recoveries are completely random. However, FSU is currently 114th in the nation in recovery rate at about 20%. It feels as though the ‘Noles have just been snake-bitten in the turnover department. We feel that if the defense continues to play well then the turnovers will come, or so we hope.

5.) Are there any significant injuries or changes to the lineup that we should know about?

In a word, yes. Starting running back Chris Thompson is done for the season (possibly career) with a broken back. WR’s Willie Haulstead will miss the season with post-concussion injuries, Rashad Greene might play with an ankle injury, and Scooter Haggins appears to have returned after a broken hand. LT Andrew Datko is likely done for the season and RG David Spurlock has a knee injury. DT Jacobbi McDaniel is done for the season. It appears that all three corners will go, despite questionable health along the way this year. EJ appears to be close to normal, although FSU will not release details of his shoulder injury. This is, however, the healthiest that Florida State has been since before the OU game, which counts for something, I guess.