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Previewing Miami Football Vs Florida State with Tomahawk Nation

NCAA Football: Florida State at South Florida Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t care what the records are, or who else is on the schedule.

The biggest game of the season by a long shot is this Saturday Night.

Miami faces a surprisingly desperate FSU squad that is 3-2, and 0-2 in the ACC.

But make no mistake about it, the Seminoles are going to come to play this weekend.

To learn more about their struggles, what they need to do to get their defense straightened out, their young QB, a prediction, and much, much more we enlisted the help of DKfromVA of Tomahawk Nation.

Here’s the full Q&A:

SOTU: The Florida State defense has not looked anything like what you'd expect from a 'Noles D through 5 games. What's been the biggest problem for this unit? What is the key to them turning things around?

TN: The play of the defense so far in 2016 really defies any sort of logic. It’s Charles Kelly’s third year in charge of the group. 2014 was disappointing relative to the talent on that side of the ball, but there were myriad possible causes for it. Last year’s defense ranked 10th in the nation by S&P+. This year, the exact same staff came back with what was thought of as an even greater amount of talent coming into the season. And while we have pointed out that FSU has played the best set of offenses in the nation by a long shot (, the play of the defense has still been quite bad.

I think the biggest problem has been the basics of communication and understanding the mechanics of the coverages that FSU runs. The ‘Noles screw up basic banjo switches shockingly frequently, and I’m sure you’ll see one or two against the ‘Canes on Saturday. The offenses that FSU has played have taken advantage of these screw-ups, and I think it’s had a snowball effect in terms of confidence and effort. Seminole defenders have looked flat-out listless at times as games have worn on. As far as a fix, I do think FSU’s staff has simplified what they’re asking their guys to do, and I think a little success early in games could go a long way in improving overall performance. It really does seem to be a teaching issue on this side of the ball, and I’m hopeful, but not overly optimistic, that it can be fixed this year.

SOTU: One player who has nonetheless stood out for the Seminoles D is DeMarcus Walker. What makes the senior so dynamic as a pass rusher? What do his NFL prospects look like?

TN: I think DeMarcus Walker is still probably glad that he returned for his senior season, despite the performance of his defensive group so far. He’s more of a strong side defensive end prospect rather than a 250-260-pound pass rusher that the NFL seeks, and he would not have been drafted particularly highly a year ago in a strong class. He’s also not big enough to play inside, so I wouldn’t expect him to go higher than 3-5th round. Regardless, he’s still a very good college player. He’s quick for his size, smart, and uses his hands well. The tape you saw from Ole Miss came from lining him up over a slow guard in obvious passing situations, and Walker just abused him. He’s put some good play on tape, and that should help him come April. FSU fans hope that he continues his impactful play for the rest of the season.

SOTU: FSU's offense is being run by redshirt freshman Deondre Francois. How would you grade him through 5 games?

TN: I think Francois has been average to decent so far. He showed a lot of moxie in the second half against Ole Miss, leading FSU back from a large deficit in his first start without much of a running game to help him. His play since then has been okay, but nothing to write home about. Which is to be expected from a redshirt freshman, I think. The mistakes he makes are mostly those stemming from inexperience, like taking some bad sacks last game, as well as holding on to the ball for too long at times. Still, I’m optimistic that he’ll go on to be a four-year starter for FSU and win plenty of games. He’s got the arm talent and good running ability, although Fisher chooses not to use the latter as much as we’d like him to. I think he can be a better version of EJ Manuel, if the comparison helps.

SOTU: Every Miami fan (and I mean every) knows how dangerous former Miami Central star Dalvin Cook is. Talk to us about how his game has evolved and give us one under the radar player for Florida State's offense that UM fans need to be aware of.

TN: Cook’s explosiveness is his calling card, but he has added to his repertoire from his second to his third season in Tallahassee. Scouts at FSU’s home games lamented his pass-catching ability last year, and he has improved in that department so far in 2016. Miami’s defense will have to keep an eye on him in the passing game, to be sure. I don’t think his surgically repaired shoulder is 100%, although his play has improved significantly from the Ole Miss debut, in which he was pretty ineffective on the ground. He seemed to have a fire lit under him during the USF game, as Jacques Patrick was seeing in increased share of carries. Cook continued to look better last week than he did in his games prior to USF.

As far as an under the radar player, I’d go with either of the tight ends; Mavin Saunders or Ryan Izzo. Saunders is a physical specimen, but was a project for Jimbo Fisher after playing basketball in the Bahamas in high school. He’s seen his role steadily increased, and is a nice weapon for Fisher to use. Izzo is your more traditional, in-line tight end. He’s effective in both the running and passing game, and I expect Fisher to use both of these players to go at Miami’s linebackers on Saturday. The 12 personnel tight formation is a very effective one for FSU, so that’s something to watch for.

SOTU: In your opinion, what are the three biggest keys for FSU on Saturday? Which match-ups might pose trouble for the 'Noles?

TN: 1. Get lined up, particularly if UM goes tempo – the ‘Noles have struggled against up-tempo offenses, failing to get plays in and line up correctly. Needless to say, this spells pretty certain doom. Just the basics of communication and proper alignment could go a long way in alleviating some of the struggles that the FSU D has faced this year.

2. Early success on defense – the Seminoles have allowed an opening drive touchdown to every FBS school they have played this season. The offense is very good, and the team is notorious for its comebacks, but this puts so much stress on a defense with tenuous confidence at best, as well as a redshirt freshman quarterback in a hostile road environment. It would be really cool to see an early stop or two, for novelty’s sake.

3. Don’t be dumb with special teams – knowing that the defense has struggled, it’s important for FSU to recognize that it will have to score points. Jimbo Fisher needs to avoid a repeat of what he did last week; i.e. making bad decisions to kick field goals. It’s not because Ricky Aguayo missed the kicks they elected to take; it’s that the decisions to kick rather than to play for touchdowns hurt FSU’s maximization of points. If, for example, FSU is faced with a fourth and two on Miami’s 28, the math, as well as FSU’s struggling defense and quality offense, tells us that the ‘Noles should go for it.

As far as worrisome match-ups, I’m concerned about Miami’s tight ends against FSU’s linebackers and safeties. The linebacker play has left a lot to be desired, as true freshman Dontavious Jackson has arguably been the best of them. FSU only plays two of them, and I think it would elect to stick with that, even against UM’s 2-TE or 2-back personnel groupings, in favor of bringing in a fifth defensive lineman, as it has done in previous years against UM. This is because the linebacker depth is not particularly good. In addition, the tight ends and slot receivers will likely have success against FSU’s safeties and its “star” position defender. Marcus Lewis has been very shaky at star this season, which is the nickel corner/SAM linebacker hybrid. I expect to see UM go to its 11 gun, trips field formation and run its zone read run pass option, and am quite worried over the results because of the stress it puts on the weak points of the defense.

SOTU: Last but certainly not least, how does this game play out? Who wins and why?

TN: All of that, as well as our coverage this week, probably sounded pretty negative. I think that’s a byproduct of huge expectations for this year, as we (and the staff) really didn’t see this start coming. The match-up is really interesting to me. The offenses Florida State has played so far have all not only been very good, but have also featured mobile quarterbacks and HUNH spread option attacks. While Miami certainly incorporates some of these elements, its attack is much more pro-style, and Kaaya is more of a pure passer. If I have optimism, it stems from the ‘Canes having played the 119th ranked set of offenses this season by S&P+ ( Now, they’ve played very well against them, which is all you can ask of a very good team, but it will still be a significant step up in competition.

I worry about FSU quitting on the season, frankly. All of its goals before the season are dashed, and I’m not sure how much the coaching message is getting through to this team. I’d be almost certain that the ‘Noles wouldn’t show up this week if they were facing Wake Forest, as they are next week. But, this is FSU-Miami, and I think that helps immensely in getting the kind of effort from Florida State that will make this a game. Miami will hit some big plays against FSU’s defense, and the ‘Noles will expose Miami’s linebackers with their outside zone runs and bootleg action off of them. And while it certainly feels like Miami’s time to break the streak, why not: Give me FSU 35-34 in another classic installment. I thought they’d tank against USF after the Louisville debacle, and I was wrong. So here’s to wishful thinking and being wrong again.

Thanks again to DK for working with us.

We’d tell you to make sure you to be sure to stop by Tomahawk Nation for more on the Seminoles, but we already know you are familiar with their work.