This week I caught up with Dylan Kidd of Tomahawk Nation to discuss how the Seminoles' title defense is going and try to get a sense of what to expect this weekend. (How much pain to expect, basically.) His answers to my questions are below, and my answers to his questions are right here.
1. Florida State lost quite a bit of talent off its title team, and while I know the Noles also had a lot of talent with which to plug those holes, have there been some disappointments? Any players or position groups who have underwhelmed so far?
I think that a lot of the disappointments for most of the fanbase stems from a comparison of this year's team to last year's. FSU fans are increasingly beginning to realize that such a comparison is just unwise. The 2013 ‘Noles were a historically great team, and to expect everything to break perfectly for this year's squad in matching the quality of that team was always going to invite disappointment.
That said, there are weaker areas on this year's team that haven't featured the emergence of some players that fans had hoped for. The ‘Noles lost two of their top three receivers last season, and we had hoped for the young talent to emerge and provide options for Winston in the passing game. Bobo Wilson has been a solid option in his first two games this season after being suspended for the opener, but senior Christian Green has continued to disappoint, and neither of the blue-chip freshmen (Lane and Rudolph) have made an instant impact. The offensive line play so far has been a concern. The unit returned four of five starters a year ago, but left tackle Cam Erving has not played well this season and center Austin Barron has disappointed as well. We think that some shifts in offensive line personnel may take place as early as Saturday.
On defense, the secondary has been the main disappointment thus far, but from an objective perspective, it shouldn't have be a disappointment because it shouldn't have been unexpected. Losing Lamarcus Joyner and Terrance Brooks is huge, even when you replace them with four and five-star talent. Jalen Ramsey played an excellent game at the star position last week, but Tyler Hunter continued to be up and down at safety. Cason Beatty has continued to disappoint at punter, although I will say he played his best game at FSU last week. This sounds like doom and gloom, but the standard set by last year's team tends to color any evaluation of this year's squad, even though it shouldn't.
2. Between the Jameis Winston mess from last week and the emotional nature of the win over Clemson on Saturday, is there any concern about where FSU is mentally heading into this week?
Never a slow news day on the FSU internets, it seems. We're dealing with more developments related to Winston and the Title IX investigation as I write this on Wednesday. Yesterday we found out that starting nose tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral. And yeah, the Winston situation was a mess last weekend and the win was quite emotional. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned that FSU may not play its best game on Saturday. I was very glad to learn that the ‘Noles would not be faced with a night game at Carter-Finley this weekend. Last year's team was great when faced with outside distractions, but they were also a great team overall. It's impossible to know how much of that was due to mindset and how much due to being a complete buzzsaw of a football team. I think the Seminoles are still a much better team right now than NCSU, though not to the level of the blowout we saw last year at Doak. So I'd say I'm wary of a letdown/unfocused game, but still believe Florida State will overcome these issues.
3. Has the departure of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt during the offseason had noticeable effects on the defense, for better or worse?
Jimbo Fisher and new coordinator Charles Kelly went to great lengths to point out that the ‘Noles would change nothing on defense following Pruitt's departure. Kelly was the linebackers coach last season, and the scheme has certainly been very close to what Pruitt ran a year ago. After the first two games, there was a portion of the fanbase that was quite concerned about Kelly's performance. I think that ended last week against Clemson. The ‘Noles played very well on defense against the Tigers on a night that required it. The schemes and execution were excellent, and the Seminoles got several huge stops to deliver the low-scoring win.
I am concerned about Pruitt's departure from a recruiting angle, as he was excellent in that realm, but can't say that I am from a schematic and performance perspective. I won't yet say that Kelly has been an upgrade, but I expect FSU to be a very good team on defense yet again for the rest of 2014. The injury to Lawrence-Stample is huge, and Kelly will have to earn his promotion in figuring out how to deal with it. Nose tackle was really the one position on this team entering 2014 that could not afford to suffer a major loss. While the defensive line development has been better than we expected when the season began, there are major concerns about how the interior defensive line will hold up through the rest of the season and particularly in key, late-season matchups.
4. Is there anything that concerns you guys about the matchup with NC State?
I'm always going to be leery of a matchup with the Wolfpack, particularly in Raleigh, and I think I speak for most of my generation of FSU fans in saying that. I'm impressed with what NCSU has done so far this season in year two of Dave Doeren's reign, and I think they can be a quality team when healthy, which they weren't when these two teams met last season. Jacoby Brissett is a solid player, and the ‘Pack have put themselves in a great position to make a bowl game. As I discussed earlier, I'm not expecting the Seminoles to play their best game on Saturday afternoon for myriad reasons, including off-field nonsense and the typical post-big win letdown.
There are questions on both lines of scrimmage for the ‘Noles, with new combinations on the o-line and the need to fill the massive (quite literally) void left by Lawrence-Stample on defense. Obviously, things will get tougher at Carter-Finley the longer FSU allows the ‘Pack to hang around. I think the Seminoles will get it done on Saturday afternoon, but I'm not ready to predict they'll rain hot death in the form of 35-point first quarters down on ACC opponents like they did a season ago.
5. If you had to pick one guy (non-Jameis division) you think will have a big game for FSU, who would it be?
The easy answer is Rashad Greene because FSU has essentially run its offense through him during the early part of this season. He'll go down as one of the best receivers ever to play in garnet and gold. For variation's sake, I think I'll go with Kermit Whitfield. He's the guy who ran the kick back in the national championship game to give FSU its first lead. He's also a slot receiver, and is as fast as anyone in the country playing football. The reason for my pick is that I've seen the State defense struggle with defending misdirection and edge runs, and that's what Kermit specializes in for the FSU offense. Fisher uses him a bit like he did Trindon Holliday at LSU, and I expect him to get a few touches on sweeps and the like on Saturday. He can go the distance any time he touches the ball, and I think he may do so for the first time this season against the ‘Pack on Saturday afternoon.