Good morning, Canes fans. We’re back with another opponent Q&A, to learn more about this week’s opponent: the rival Florida State Seminoles.
For the FSU side of this discussion, I got Dylan Kidd, an editor at Tomahawk Nation, our SB Nation sister-site, to give us some insight into the Seminoles.
I joined Dylan and TN for the other side of this Q&A, which you can see here:
Away we go...
Q1. Before we get into the football, what are your thoughts on Willie Taggart’s fit for FSU? In what ways has he met or fallen short of your expectations?
Dylan Kidd: I loved the Taggart hire, and Florida State’s early struggles haven’t changed that. I thought it made all the sense in the world. He’s a Florida guy, a phenomenal recruiter, and he’s had success everywhere he’s gone. The “career record” argument was always a lazy, myopic view of his accomplishments. He’s somebody who has proven he can adjust to the personnel he has on hand and reap impressive results. An uptempo spread offense makes a lot of sense for a team like Florida State, which should be able to out-recruit just about everyone. It seems pretty obvious you’d want to use that talented depth to overwhelm the opposition, and Jimbo Fisher’s refusal to push the pace is something we lamented towards the end of his tenure. Obviously, Fisher is a really good college coach, and there’s no guarantee Taggart will ever reach his success. But I was very happy with FSU’s process and the guy they ultimately landed on.
Now obviously, the start has been much slower than we’d have liked. While Taggart had been known as a guy who would level a program he took over to the foundations at places like Western Kentucky and South Florida, he didn’t take that approach at Oregon when installing his Gulf Coast Offense. While we may not have expected him to reach the offensive output he did in year one at Oregon, we thought he’d have some pieces to work with at FSU, which would result in a solid, if boom or bust unit. We underestimated the job facing him. Now, we did know that the Seminoles were probably screwed if they suffered losses at tackle, and they immediately did just that. But we still weren’t prepared for just how bad the rest of the offensive line has been, how much Deondre Francois has struggled in the system, and how much of a culture change really had to happen. They’re not going to fix it this season, but hopefully they can make some strides in laying a new foundation.
Q1a. Without Louisville’s epic meltdown/FSU’s comeback last week, would you have wanted FSU to fire Taggart immediately?
Kidd: Nah. He could’ve gone 1-11 this year and I wouldn’t have wanted that. I think expectations for new coaches have to be measured over a sample of a few years. Clearly, we’ll expect dramatic improvement in the years to come, but you have to commit the hire you make. I didn’t actually hate how they played at Louisville, to be honest. Their post-game win expectancy was 70% by Bill Connelly’s stats, and they out-gained the Cardinals on a per-play basis. Yes, Louisville is bad, but I did see some continued improvement within the offensive system. We’re definitely talking about baby steps, though.
Q2. Now, moving to the actions, much like in 2017, FSU has scuffled thru the first 4 games of the season. How has September changed your outlook on the season, which many thought would be a revival for the Noles?
Kidd: Absolutely. I thought 8-4 or 7-5 sounded about right for the ‘Noles this season. The FSU bowl streak is now in serious jeopardy, to say the least. The remaining schedule doesn’t do the Seminoles any favors. I think it’s highly unlikely FSU gets by Clemson or Notre Dame (spoiler: a Miami win is also unlikely), which means they’ll have to take three of Wake Forest, NC State, Boston College, and Florida to get to six. I don’t see it happening absent significant improvement, which isn’t impossible in a year one, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Q3. QB Deondre Francois notoriously had personal behavior issues, and a catastrophic injury last year, that he had to overcome to return to the field. How has he recovered from both sets of issues, and how would you evaluate his play through one month of the season?
Kidd: He had a long way to go to be named FSU’s starter due to both of those factors. Taggart basically confirmed that in the spring. Francois proceeded to move back on campus and apparently made strides as a team leader. It’s an accomplishment for him to even be playing at all after that injury, but I definitely have questions about his effectiveness because of it. I can accept that Francois is not good at making reads in the RPO and zone read games, but I’m not sure he’s missing as many reads as it seems. I believe he’s pretty tentative in the running game because of that knee injury and is loath to take off unless he absolutely has to. He’s just leaving easy yards on the field too many times each game. Even still, he’s capable of high-quality moments every now and then, like the second half against Louisville. But I have wondered how much each of these scenarios are what we’re seeing: Taggart really believes Francois is the best option, didn’t want him to transfer, didn’t want to throw James Blackman to the wolves, or Blackman hasn’t progressed at all. I’m not sure where I land right now, but hey, maybe Taggart’s been sandbagging and brings Blackman out against the ‘Canes for an offensive explosion. A guy can hope.
Q4. Cam Akers was billed to be “better than a young Dalvin Cook” by FSU fans when he signed with the Noles in 2017. How would you compare his play to Cook’s to this point of this season and his career?
Kidd: I think Cam was more physically ready to contribute early because of his size and physical running style. But I don’t think he’s nearly as effective as Cook was at this point in his career because he hasn’t taken that step forward as a sophomore. Cam lacks that unbelievable acceleration, as well as Cook’s top-end speed and vision. But he’s still an extremely talented back. I think he’s been trying too hard to make a big play, which is something we saw at times last season. He’ll try to bounce too many runs rather than following the track of the play and trusting his blocks. Now, I can’t really blame him for that last part, but he’s got to learn to be more patient and take the yards that are there in order for him to reach his potential.
Q5. FSU has thrown the ball well when needed this year. Who are the pass catchers making plays for the Noles?
Kidd: Tamorrion Terry has been the big target we hoped for during the off-season, as you’ve seen with his long TDs in the last two games. Keith Gavin has also made some significant strides, in my opinion, and has become much more reliable. Tre’ McKitty is a weapon at tight end, but lately we’ve seen them keeping him in to block to a greater extent than we’d ever have thought, out of necessity. But Francois’ favorite target is still Noonie Murray, who has been somewhat of an enigma for FSU fans. You can see his talent, but he’s been the epitome of a disappearing act over the course of his career. Francois forces the ball to him at the expense of other guys, which we have not enjoyed this season. So naturally he’s the hero of the comeback win a week ago. Such is life.
Q6. FSU’s offensive line has had major struggles this season. I know this has been much discussed all over the internet, but give me your view of things? Are their issues based on scheme, talent, injuries, or a combination of all 3?
Kidd: It’s the boring answer, but I think it’s the combination of the three. As to scheme, I don’t have a problem with what Taggart and Greg Frey are asking them to do up front, but it is a clear change from what they were doing under the previous regime. It’ll take some time to adjust, but I think that’s the least of the issues. The talent and injuries are the real problems. Florida State doesn’t have any true tackles who inspire confidence after Josh Ball’s dismissal and Brock Ruble’s transfer. Jauan Williams and Abdul Bello need significant development after injuries early in their respective careers, and both were project players to begin with. The ‘Noles have moved their most talented lineman, Landon Dickerson, out to tackle, but he’s a guard. Derrick Kelly is too limited to effectively play tackle at this point after a career full of injuries. The interior guys haven’t been much better to date. Cole Minshew has had Lord knows how many concussions over his career, and FSU has been starting a guy who played defensive tackle until fall camp at guard. Alec Eberle is not a terrible blocker at center, but all of a sudden he can’t snap the ball, which was what supposedly set him apart from his backup, Baveon Johnson, so I have no idea what’s going on there. Does it sound like it’s a disaster, cause it’s a disaster. Things can stabilize somewhat if Dickerson gets healthy and stays that way, but the only way out of this situation is to recruit and develop kids in the system.
Q7. In contrast to the offense, FSU’s defense has been strong. Who have been the leaders on this side of the ball through 4 games?
Kidd: I can’t say there’s been a definitive standout leader among the group so far. Brian Burns has played well, although his numbers will look underwhelming, and he’s played a huge number of snaps because FSU has nobody behind him. I thought Demarcus Christmas was primed for a big year, but he’s been very quiet. Marvin Wilson has emerged at nose tackle, thankfully. The Seminoles have struggled to find quality play across from Burns, though. The linebackers are not very good, but we knew that going into the season. Levonta Taylor and Kyle Meyers have been solid at corner, and the young safeties (Stanford Samuels III and A.J. Westbrook) are learning a new system that puts a lot of pressure on them. True freshman Jaiden Woodbey has played well, all things considered, in a hybrid linebacker/safety role. I’m pleased overall with how they’ve played during the early part of the season, and hopefully they’ll continue to grow.
Q8. Derwin James is gone. How has FSU gone about replacing him on defense?
Kidd: This Florida State defense doesn’t have a jack of all trades like James, which might actually be a good thing because they’re installing a new system with distinct roles. It often looked like the ‘Noles didn’t know what they were doing with James anyway, which was a shame. But as far as talented, versatile players go, the easiest comparisons are probably Stanford Samuels III and Woodbey. Samuels can play corner or safety, and Harlon Barnett chose him as a pivotal player in his scheme at safety because of his ability. He can cover and he’s got some dog in him on the field. Woodbey is very talented and football savvy. I’m not sure he’s currently in the role he’ll play throughout his career at FSU, but that just depends on who they’re able to bring in and develop around him. By that I mean, he can be a really good alley defender, but I don’t want him having to take on as many linebacker responsibilities as he’s had to so far.
Q9. Yeah, I’m asking again: which starting/starring junior DE with an alliterative name who wears #99 are you taking: FSU’s Brian Burns or Miami’s Joe Jackson?
Kidd: Because of FSU’s roster composition, I’d have to stay with Burns. Jackson has been very productive as a strong side guy, but Florida State doesn’t have anyone who can fill Burns’s role as a pass rusher on the weak side. While, as I mentioned, the ‘Noles have struggled to find consistent, quality snaps at their strong side spot, they have a bunch of guys who should be able to get it done, and I’m confident they’ll figure it out eventually. I fully expect Jackson to have the better day on Saturday, though.
Q10. FSU’s special teams were quite poor in 2017. Has that changed or is the 3rd phase of the game still problematic for the Noles?
Kidd: Oh it’s changed. It’s gotten worse! Ricky Aguayo has regressed, Logan Tyler hasn’t improved, and FSU is doing fun things like letting punts get blocked and electing not to block for its returners. The Seminoles have a full-time special teams coach now (Alonzo Hampton), and so far it has not gone well. Special teams are the most disappointing part of this FSU team for me. There is no reason for Florida State to ever be bad in this area given the athletes they recruit. We probably need to give this group time, just as we would with the offense or defense, but I think it’ll be the first area to which the ire is directed if things continue to go poorly.
Q11. A turnover backpack? Really?
Kidd: From Boise’s throne to Oregon State’s chainsaw, when even the notoriously recalcitrant Bama and Georgia are getting in on it, it appears everyone has to have something these days. Since I am now old, I cannot adequately explain “secure the bag.” However, I am told it makes sense to the kids. I have fully accepted that I am not the target audience for this, and that’s okay. I think we had planned to do some Dora The Explorer-themed content on this, but we’ve just had too much else to cover this season, unfortunately.
Q12. Last question: prediction time. What will be the outcome of the game on Saturday afternoon?
Kidd: I don’t think Florida State will be able to move the ball with any amount of consistency. Miami is very good at forcing stuffs and tackles for loss, and Florida State yields them like nobody’s business. As a result, the FSU running game will probably look even worse than it has in recent weeks. This will force Francois into plenty of obvious passing situations, which FSU can’t block, so he’ll get rocked and will probably turn the ball over a few times. So, even if Florida State’s defense plays well and keeps the ‘Noles in the game for a while, the offense’s inability to string anything together will cause them to wear down again.
I see Miami pulling away with a few second half touchdowns and covering, something like 31-10 Canes.
Thanks to Dylan for doing this Q&A with us. You can follow his work, and get all the Florida State Seminoles coverage you need over at Tomahawk Nation.