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Opponent Q&A: FSU with Tomahawk Nation

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What's the latest on Dalvin Cook? How good is Jalen Ramsey? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the 'Noles? All that and more as we catch up with Dylan Kidd (DKfromVA) from TN.

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

You can also find my answers to DK's Q's HERE.

Full Q&A below:

TN

SOTU: Sensational sophomore Dalvin Cook appeared to pull or strain his hammy this weekend Vs Wake.  I know he is listed as "day to day" but what is your gut feeling about his status?  How much will the Noles offense suffer if Cook can not go?

TN: As of my writing this on Wednesday evening, I still can’t give you much more than a guess. We think that Dalvin’s hamstring injury is more of the strain variety than the pull, but Jimbo Fisher is notoriously tight-lipped if not downright misleading when it comes to injuries. Cook didn’t practice on Monday or Tuesday, and practice was closed on Wednesday. My gut feeling is that he’ll play. The injury didn’t appear to be terribly serious when it happened, and I feel pretty confident that he’ll want to go against his hometown Canes. Might he be less than 100% even if he does play? Sure. I think you’ll see a healthy dose of Johnathan Vickers either way, with second-string Mario Pender being out indefinitely with a collapsed lung and subsequent infection. Freshman Jacques Patrick may also see some burn, though he didn’t receive a carry last week.

I think playing without Cook would be a blow, as he’s one of the best backs in the country, but I don’t know that it would or should swing the spread on the game by a touchdown or anything. A Vickers/Patrick/Stevenson group would be capable, and the success of the offense is much more about how well the offensive line plays, not to mention whether Golson and the receivers can put together a competent outing to add some balance to the attack. I’d say maybe a 3-point move in the spread would be appropriate should the ‘Noles be sans Cook.

SOTU:  Although last season's team had a number of close calls, they always felt a play or two away from victory because of the abilities of Jameis Winston. Are FSU fans/media equally confident in the 2015 club to do the same?  Or do they need to play better over 4 quarters to achieve similar success to last season?

TN: We spent a lot of last season talking about how, despite all that FSU returned from the 2013 squad, it wasn’t a continuation of that team. That was ultimately clear from the overall season resume. As far as that team was from the quality of 2013, this team might be even farther from the quality of the 2014 team. And that’s okay. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, and reasonable fans approached the season with that in mind. Most of our writers were split between expecting a 9-3 or 10-2 season. The start to this season has seemed to support those expectations, with some of us maybe leaning more towards 10-2 now.

You’re right about the Winston effect, and the pieces around him on offense were better last year, too. FSU never felt out of a game last year even after several disastrous starts that would have spelled doom for this year’s team. This team isn’t likely to be coming from behind in games through the air. This is the first Jimbo Fisher team at FSU that is truly run-first, both because its backs and the left side of the offensive line are its best offensive players, and also out of necessity, as the passing game just isn’t very good right now. The team will need to improve on offense to have a chance to make a run at the playoff, and that’s not the barometer for success for the 2015 team. A fourth consecutive ACC title would be a great achievement for this squad, and anything beyond that would be a remarkable season.

SOTU: Give me an overall grade (A-F) on QB Everett Golson thus far. His stats are impressive (especially 7TDs/0 INTS) but when I watch the Noles play he sometimes seems erratic/inaccurate. How pleased are you overall with his play and what can he do better?

TN: I’ll give him a C so far, which is up from the D- I’d have assigned him before last week’s game. After a decent start against Texas State, Golson was bad against USF and very bad against Boston College. Not only was he missing primary reads on FSU’s basic passing plays, but he was also missing checks in the running game and failing to make high school freshman-level zone reads, making his mobility a non-factor. It should be noted that his mobility has remained a non-factor aside from his scrambling ability. However, Golson improved in his command and execution of the FSU offense in the bye week, even if a quick look at the Wake game wouldn’t show it. Our film review revealed that the was making much better decisions last week and probably would have made a few explosive plays down the field were it not for some pretty nasty wind. I still don’t expect him to set the world on fire at the quarterback position for the ‘Noles, but he has quieted the calls for his starting job for the time being. I would definitely like to see him run more, and maybe Fisher has been holding him back somewhat in that respect (I don’t believe that, but it’s possible). His avoidance of turnovers so far has been a good thing, as this year’s FSU team can’t afford to lose the turnover battle frequently, but I’d trade a couple of INT’s for an uptick in passing explosiveness from the mid-120s in the nation.

SOTU: Where does Jalen Ramsey rank compared to some of the greatest DBs/players in program history?

TN: That’s a good question. My initial instinct was to say that his resume doesn’t warrant him being ranked among FSU’s great defensive backs like Sanders, Buckley, Butler, Cromartie, and even Lamarcus Joyner, even if his talent might. But that might not be fair of me. Jalen came right in and started at safety as a freshman on one of the best Florida State teams ever, playing quite well in the process. Then he was asked to move to FSU’s star position, the hybrid SAM linebacker-nickel corner spot. He picked that up early in the year and went on to have a great 2014 season in that role. It utilized his length, explosiveness, and versatility. In 2015 he’s playing yet another position for the ‘Noles, now at boundary corner. I think he’ll certainly be a lockdown guy on the outside before the year’s over, and it just goes to show how talented the guy is. So yeah, I think one could make a solid argument that he’ll belong in the conversation among FSU’s best five or so defensive backs in program history if he has another great season in 2015, if not based on resume (as he may not have tremendous stats this season with opposing offenses avoiding his side of the field like the plague) then certainly on talent.

SOTU: After a dominating performance against Boston College, the Seminoles D looked very pedestrian Vs Wake Forest.  How much of that was injuries or just Wake making some plays?  How consistent and good can this unit be, and what version of the FSU D shows up this weekend?

TN: Most of us at TN are pretty bullish on this year’s defense. While FSU lost a lot of NFL talent off of the 2014 group, much of it wasn’t playing up to its potential for a lot of the year. The corners didn’t look like the same guys who played in 2013, Eddie Goldman was awesome when he decided to play hard and average when he didn’t, and Mario Edwards was fat. The 2014 defense also really struggled in the middle of the field after Telvin Smith, Terrance Brooks, and Timmy Jernigan left, which made life difficult on the whole. The 2015 team features much better depth on the defensive line, particularly at defensive tackle. Derrick Nnadi and Nile Lawrence-Stample have been very good, and the former has benefitted from Brad Lawing’s addition to the staff and implementation of more one-gap schemes. The ‘Noles also have some talented pass rushers and defensive backs, but remain thin at linebacker.

I’m not putting too much stock into the Wake game. Our film review showed the ‘Noles playing extremely vanilla on defense against the Demon Deacons, as well as without much effort, unfortunately. This wasn’t all too surprising in Winston Salem, in the rain, in front of next to nobody, and the week before Miami. I didn’t enjoy seeing the defense play the way that they did by any means, but what worried me more were the injuries to Terrance Smith and Nate Andrews. While I think the good version of the FSU defense shows up against the Canes, one that I believe can be at op 10-15 group in the country, I am worried about the impact of these injuries on the game, as neither are likely to play.

SOTU:  What match-ups on either side of the ball concern you against the 'Canes?

TN: I’ll start on defense. The aforementioned injuries to Andrews and Smith are bad news for FSU. Remember how I said weakness in the middle of the defense made for some significant struggles for the 2014 team at times? Yeah, those two are important pieces in the middle of the current Seminole defense. The options behind them aren’t particularly inspiring, either. The Seminoles can replace Smith with Ro’Derrick Hoskins, freshman Sh’mar Kilby-Lane, or Lorenzo Phillips, or they can go to heavier utilization of a dime package, which would require reliance on either true freshman Derwin James or Keelin Smith, which doesn’t sound very appealing, particularly as I don’t think FSU can consistently play dime and stop Miami’s run game.

Adding to the list, Florida State has not played a team capable of competently passing the football this season. Texas State was the best passing game FSU has seen, and other opponent passing games rank 110, 94, and 102 by S&P. I can like FSU’s pass rushers and talent in the secondary all I want, but I still can’t tell you how they’ll fare against a passing game that’s so much better than anything they’ve seen all season. Combine this with the Smith and Andrews injuries in the middle, and I’m definitely concerned. The fear this weak always was that Kaaya would be able to accrue yardage throwing in the middle of the field against FSU’s linebackers and up the seams, and that was even before we knew Smith and Andrews would be out. All I can really say is that we’ll see, but there’s certainly reason to believe that Miami will be able to move the ball in the middle of the field provided it can keep FSU’s defensive line off of its backfield players.

On offense, it’s the same fear I have every week: that the opposition is able to limit the run game and make the Seminoles rely too heavily on the passing game. This would be particularly bad this week, as the Canes have some talented players on the back end who could certainly end the FSU offense’s streak of turnover-free games. This fear is heightened if Cook doesn’t play, but Miami’s defense hasn’t done much to inspire confidence that it can consistently stop Florida State’s run game regardless of who is carrying the ball. I’m hopeful that Fisher has held some things back for Miami as he usually does, and I’d really love to jump out to an early lead, but I can’t help but feel that this one will be uncomfortable for us.

SOTU:  Last but not least please tell me how you expect the game to play out and who wins by what score?

TN: It’s my impression that this has been a weird FSU-Miami week. Y’all have the larger concerns with Golden, and I’ve seen many UM fans all but conceding a loss and pointing out that it would be one step closer to a coaching change. I think Miami can definitely win this game, and if this were a match-up featuring an early-tenure Canes coach who fans felt good about, I think y’all would be pretty excited about the opportunity. As I mentioned, FSU hasn’t played anybody who can pass the ball – and actually, neither FSU nor Miami have beaten anyone with a power five win yet this season! (h/t Bud Elliott) – and the injuries are very concerning. The ‘Noles are vulnerable, and I wouldn’t be surprised at a loss. However, I’ll still pick Florida State to win at home, 26-20, relying heavily on Aguayo to exorcise some Miami kicking demons.

Thanks again to Dylan for working with us.  Be sure to drop by Tomahawk Nation to get more info on the 'Noles and this game.