State of the U: Talk with us about FSU's defensive front. UM's strength (at least right now) is up front plowing the road for 2 very capable running backs. I'm guessing UM will want to try to control the clock to keep Mr. Winston on the sidelines.
Dylan Kidd: Florida State’s front seven is loaded with talent but still adjusting to the new scheme Jeremy Pruitt brought with him from Alabama. Against Clemson, all four starters along the defensive line were former five-star recruits, which is insane. But, it’s important to note that this was FSU’s nickel package because it points to a question Florida State fans have about the game against Miami. The nickel package has been extremely effective for FSU against spread teams, shutting down Maryland, Clemson, and NC State. The personnel is suited to defending these types of teams extremely well, with Christian Jones playing a defensive end position and the smaller linebackers playing well in space. However, Miami will likely force the Seminoles to play a bigger package, its base 3-4/5-2. We haven’t seen much of this formation since Boston College, which saw the Eagles have success against the ‘Noles with heavy package and power runs, as well as misdirection. For a time, at least. Florida State ripped off a 35-3 run to put the game away after being down 17-3, during which the Eagles gained something like 19 yards on 16 plays.
It remains to be seen if the significant defensive improvement from the ‘Noles will translate to its base package. I think that it probably will, as the defensive line play improvement should be universal and the personnel move from Christian Jones from inside linebacker back to the outside has made a significant difference. The Seminoles do give up size with Telvin Smith and Terrance Smith as interior linebackers, but both are talented and playing behind a defensive line that generally makes their lives very easy. Timmy Jernigan is a dominant player at defensive tackle, and Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards, Jr. are other linemen to keep an eye on.
SOTU: What's up with James Wilder, Jr.? What's the main reason he's fallen behind Devonta Freeman? Thought he was y'alls second coming.
DK: Well, James has been banged up in 2013. He suffered a shoulder injury against Pitt in game one, and then a concussion against Clemson just as he was seeing more reps. He’s a talented back, but I’m not sure he’ll ever reach phenom status in college, particularly since he’s probably gone after this season to try to support his family. Devonta Freeman is FSU’s best back right now, and has been all season. He’s a very good inside runner, and in my opinion, an even better player in passing situations. Freeman takes pride in his blitz pickup and has been awesome protecting Jameis this season. He’s just a consistent player who has had great success this season, which is nice to see.
Then there’s Karlos Williams. Up until the Nevada game, Karlos was a 235-pound safety. Thing is, he runs about a 4.45 that size. Jimbo wanted him on offense for quite some time, but Karlos insisted that he was a safety. Not even a linebacker at that size. Only a safety. So they sort of created a role for him in 4-2-5 packages where he’d stand close to the line, blitz, cover TE’s and backs, but they called him a safety. He wasn’t good in coverage, and was finally convinced to make the move for his future. On his first touch from scrimmage, Karlos ran in a 60+ yard touchdown. He’s still very much a project in learning to run in FSU’s zone scheme, but he does run very physically and has game-breaking speed when the ball is in his hands.
SOTU: You guys are killing fools, and it seems like this team has a swagger, nastiness, and a pissed off attitude that our Miami teams had in the 80s/90s. Is the mentality and intensity different from last year's team, and why? Just confidence in Jameis?
DK: I think that the change we’ve seen in the team’s attitude has a lot to do with its quarterback. More specifically, I think it has to do with how good the team is. This team is probably more talented overall than years past, but the quarterback talent has taken Florida State to the next level. He’s just a transcendent talent, and guys on the team understand that. It has created a different feel and a belief in the FSU locker room, something many around the program have talked about. I personally believe this thing we call "swagger" has endogenous elements. You’re confident because you’re good and you know it. Swagger doesn’t mean much if you’re Florida State of 2009.
SOTU: Jimbo Fisher was billed as an offensive genius when he came to FSU, and the offense is finally performing to the levels that I'm sure FSU fans expected. What is the biggest reason for this? Jimbo maturing? Coley leaving? Jameis Winston?
DK: Jimbo elevated offensive performance as soon as he arrived on campus, which admittedly wasn’t too hard to do after the Jeff Bowden years. The ‘Noles had top ten and fifteen units in ’09 and ’10, respectively, before falling in performance in an injury-riddled 2011 season and returning to the top-25 in 2012. But you are correct, though. This offense is on another level entirely. It’s currently the 3rd-best attack in the nation, ranking very highly in terms of explosiveness. Florida State’s offensive line has been very good, its backs have been performing well, and its receivers have played fantastically. But the biggest element, by far, is Jameis Winston. He has grasped what Jimbo’s offense asks him to do, and his mental game has been equally as important as his physical talents. Sure, he has great arm talent and tremendous accuracy, but he also recognizes coverages, gets through his progressions quickly, and throws to the right place with anticipation. He’s elevated everyone’s game around him, and the ‘Noles can do anything well on offense. It’s a dangerous group right now.
I do believe that Jimbo has matured. He hired almost an entirely new staff this off-season, and the change in his behavior/demeanor has been noticeable. I think the new assistants have been good for him and have played a big role in the maturation as head coach. It’s still his offense, though, just as it was when Coley was here. I don’t blame the latter for moving on to have his opportunity to run the show. He’s always been an ambitious guy, and I wish him the best in his career. Outside of Saturday night, of course.
SOTU: We have all seen what Jameis Winston and Lamarcus Joyner have done for this team so far. Who would you say is/are unsung heroes on this team?
DK: I’m going to give a shout-out to right tackle Bobby Hart here. Before the season, we at TN were concerned about the right tackle position. Hart came in two years ago as a 17-year-old freshman, and frankly acted like it at times. While talented, he was forced into playing too early as a freshman and displayed his immaturity. He didn’t play much as a sophomore, but dedicated himself to improving this past off-season when he was presented with the opportunity to start this season. Hart has come through and played very well in 2013 at a position where the ‘Noles don’t have the greatest depth. His play has also alleviated the need to use tight ends to help him, which is good because Florida State’s TE depth is abysmal behind O’Leary, who isn’t a true in-line blocker.
On defense I’ll go with Jalen Ramsey. The true freshman five-star started at corner to begin the season, then moved to safety when Tyler Hunter was lost for the year to a neck injury. The fact that a true freshman can step into this new scheme and play pattern-match and exotic combo coverages is remarkable. We hope he continues his strong season against Morris and the ‘Canes this weekend.
SOTU: Which position group will have the biggest impact in the game against Miami? Who do you think the game MVP for the Noles will be?
DK: I’m going to say it’s the linebackers. As mentioned, I think Miami will force FSU to play a lot of its base set of 3-4/5-2. Heavier personnel packages put a premium on solid play from its linebackers, particularly the lighter inside linebackers. The Smiths will have to clean up plays in their lanes, as well as take on blocks in the hole and play physically. This is the area of concern for FSU’s defense against Miami’s running game. We haven’t seen much of this package against pro-style offenses since its players up front were getting out of their lanes and not executing their assignments at times against BC. Florida State has improved dramatically in these areas in other packages, but we’ll see how its base does against the Hurricanes on Saturday. If the ‘Noles can stop the Miami running game with its front-seven, the ‘Canes are going to be in for a long night. Coley can’t let FSU bring in its nickel package in obvious passing downs on a regular basis. Pruitt can get after quarterbacks in so many different ways and Joyner is just a terror from the slot. While the official player of the game might be someone on offense with big numbers, I’ll stay with the theme and go with Telvin Smith as the MVP.
SOTU: FSU will have a ton of top HS prospects on the sideline for this game. What's a best case/worst case recruiting scenario for this weekend?
DK: This is a huge recruiting weekend, as you guys know. The visitors list is just staggering. FSU is riding a lot of recruiting momentum right now, with tons of top players showing interest in the ‘Noles. The class is already good, but it appears to be set for a big closing run over the next few months before Singing Day. The Seminoles are using Jameis to recruit, and it’s working. As far as the game goes, obviously the bigger the win for FSU, the better it will be for recruiting. A lot of the visitors are kids for whom the ‘Noles are fighting with Miami, so instilling a perception that the FSU program is on another level than UM’s would go a long way in these battles. Just as Florida State has a big opportunity to show out for a bunch of top recruits in a big game atmosphere, so do the Hurricanes. A Miami win would be huge for its program, and I have to think it would make a big impression on the kids there. While I’m hesitant to play up the importance of a single game in a recruiting process that spans two or three years of relationship building and often comes down to the final few hours, I think the importance of Saturday night is pretty clear.
SOTU: FSU has been talking up comfort with this particular team. Is there a concern about comfort turning into complacency?
DK: I think there’s always a bit of concern about complacency and over-confidence with a team blowing the doors off of everybody. On the one hand, you’d like to see your team of choice as battle-tested. On the other, it’s hard to be too upset with blowout wins. This team has been saying all of the right things about playing to its own standards and trying to "go higher" every single week. It knows what’s at stake and it believes that it can achieve its goals. It’s really, really hard to go undefeated over an entire college football season, and I think Florida State will find itself in one or more battles before the season ends. It has to be one week at a time, and we hope FSU lives up to its adopted mantra.
SOTU: Last week, you guys called a fake punt up 35-0 in the 2nd Quarter. Would you do something like that in this game, or was that simply a "salt-in-the-wound" move against a team (NCSU) that derailed last year's undefeated season?
DK: The fake punt, like the reverse FSU ran, was paying homage to Bobby Bowden on his first return to Florida State after his exit. It wasn’t done with malice towards NC State. I’m a little disappointed they didn’t attempt the puntrooskie, but we can’t always get what we want. Jimbo never, ever, ever, runs fakes, and hasn’t run a reverse in like 4 years. The topic of which plays the ‘Noles would run to honor Bowden was in the media all week, and it wasn’t a surprise. I think another motivation in the fake was that the offense had stalled since reaching the 35-point mark early in the second, and Fisher wanted another possession before the half ended. Frankly, while the NC State game last season was tough, it might have been worse had the ‘Noles won the game and then been destroyed by Florida at the end of the season. As far as a fake against Miami, I would think it highly unlikely. Not only because Fisher just doesn’t do it, but also since he just put one on tape last week.
SOTU: last question: How do you think the game plays out, and what's your score prediction? Given the point spread, is anything other than a Clemson-esque blowout a failure?
DK: I think that the ‘Canes are going to want to slow this game down and limit possessions. Miami is not as good as FSU on offense, nor on defense. Miami probably has a special teams advantage, but the ‘Noles are playing at home. UM can’t let this game be a shootout. But, if the Hurricanes can run the ball effectively and hit a couple of shots on play-action, as well as win the turnover battle, they can stay in the game. I think that the improvement we’ve seen from FSU on defense will translate to its base package, and I think they’ll do a solid job against the run for the most part. I think the Seminoles go up early, and playing from behind against FSU is a big problem for Miami. Give me the ‘Noles to barely cover at 38-13.
While a blowout would be a great thing for recruiting, I wouldn’t consider a non-blowout win against Miami to be a failure. Miami is a good team, probably among the 15 best in America. Additionally, the point spread in FSU wins, while nice to see, isn’t really important to the Seminoles’ BCS chances. Florida State is not jumping undefeated Alabama or Oregon in the BCS. It just isn’t possible for the ‘Noles to get to Pasadena without a loss for one of them. Just as FSU won’t jump either Alabama or Oregon, it won’t be jumped by Ohio State or Baylor. So, style points aren’t as important for FSU right now as some make them out to be.
Thanks to Dylan for joining us this week. You can follow TomahawkNation's twitter account below.