To preview Thursday night's game between the Boston College Eagles and the Florida St. Seminoles, we welcome back Tomahawk Nation to the blog for Five Good Minutes. In exchange, we answered some questions on the Eagles over at their site. Be sure to stop by and check them out.
Also be sure to review our Q&A with Tomahawk Nation from over the summer.
BC Interruption: How has Florida State managed to bounce back from three consecutive losses to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest? Has this been a product of an easier slate of opponents? What adjustments has Fisher and this team made?
Tomahawk Nation: After the nightmare that was the three-game losing streak in the early part of the season, the ‘Noles have rebounded to play some solid football. The loss to Oklahoma was completely acceptable and saw FSU play their best football game of the season. The next week's loss to Clemson was disappointing because of the defensive effort, which failed to keep pace with its freshman-led offense that was playing way over its head. After a bye week, the Wake Forest debacle was an indictment of everyone involved with the program. The challenge, then, was to return to playing quality defense and solid offense knowing that the chances of an Atlantic Division title were largely gone.
Florida State has managed to do this over the past few weeks. The schedule has certainly been far nicer to the ‘Noles, but it's the way the team has played that has given fans some hope. The defense is a top-notch unit that seems to get more comfortable in year two of their system each week. We're seeing more and more variations on looks they give to the offense and better understanding and execution of their assignments. Combine this with the scary amount of talent and depth that the Seminole defense features and you have a formidable challenge for any offense.
On offense, FSU has finally seemed to settle into an identity. The first two games against the requisite cupcakes saw Jimbo Fisher loath to run EJ Manuel, both to protect him and to avoid showing his hand to Oklahoma and Clemson. As a result, we didn't see what the ‘Noles offense really wanted to look like with EJ in control until Oklahoma, where he was promptly injured in the second half. He didn't play against Clemson and when he entered the game against Wake he did so as passing skeleton EJ, as Jimbo didn't want his left shoulder to take many hits. So, the operational EJ death star didn't really rear its head until these past three games, which saw significant doses of option and freedom for #3 to use his legs. At 6'5" 245, Manuel is an incredibly gifted runner who has a great feel for the option. We at TN are concerned with some of his reads in the passing game, but when the offensive gameplan starts with establishing Manuel as a runner, life gets much easier for the Seminoles.
So, the adjustments that Jimbo has made have really been few and far between. Getting EJ healthy has been key, and the defense has seemed to simply evolve naturally. The one tactical change that has stood out to us is the use of more 4 WR spread sets to negate the incompetence that is FSU's tight end position. Freshman Nick O'Leary is seeing an increased role there, but the rest of the Seminole players there are best kept out of the game.
BCI: Florida State QB E.J. Manuel had a big day on Saturday against the N.C. State defense, throwing for 321 yards and 2 TDs. Assess Manuel's season to date. Do you expect Manuel to have success against a D that has gotten the better of FSU QBs (read: Ponder) the past three seasons -- 2 TDs vs. 6 INTs?
TN: As mentioned above, EJ is really just now getting comfortable with the type of offense Fisher wants to run with him. He's a great runner. However, he's not yet adept at reading the middle of a defense. His most comfortable throws are on timing outside the hash marks and on the screens to the wideouts that FSU loves to run. Christian Ponder was outstanding in the pre-snap phase of the game, checking FSU into the correct plays and going through his progressions to find the open receiver. He was given more control over Jimbo's offense than any quarterback that he has ever had. Manuel is not quite to this level of understanding just yet. We think and hope that #3 is progressing in these areas, as his development as a player and his professional prospects depend on it. He has all the physical tools that you could want, but he needs to master the finer points of becoming a true quarterback to take the ‘Noles to the next level.
Boston College's defense has certainly posed problems historically for Florida State offenses. This has mostly been due to dominance up front by a large front seven that was very well coached. While featuring some size on the interior DL and a playmaker in Kuechly, this is not your older brother's BC defense. It's a banged-up unit that has struggled so far this year, though some of these struggles are likely due to the positions in which the offense has put them. I expect this trend to continue on Thursday. FSU's defense is outstanding and should handle the Boston College offense, giving the ‘Noles offense good field position and limiting the scope of what they need to do to have success. FSU will use EJ's legs and make the Eagles tackle its skill players using the underneath stuff. I don't expect the Seminoles to move the ball at will, but I do expect a reasonable amount of success.
BCI: BC's Rolandan Finch had a huge game against the 118th run defense last Saturday, but Florida State's run D is a completely different animal. The Noles D ranks 4th in the country in rush defense, allowing just 77 YPG. How has FSU's rush D been so dominant this season? Who are the playmakers on that side of the ball?
TN: The Seminole defense is excellent, especially against the run. Most of this is attributable to an extremely talented and deep defensive line. Though the ‘Noles lost starting defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel for the year with an ankle injury, the 10+ linemen that FSU will play are able to take this loss in stride. Bjoern Werner is a monster at defensive end, and Brandon Jenkins is excellent on the opposite side, often playing a roaming position while standing. On the interior, Amp McCloud has been very solid in clogging the middle this season, and RS freshman Cam Erving has been excellent as well. True freshman Timmy Jernigan is the freak of the group, wowing everyone as his snaps have increased. The line sometimes masks the inconsistencies of the linebacker corps. Nigel Bradham and Vince Williams struggle in coverage, prompting more playing time from Telvin Smith and Jeff Luc. Christian Jones is a freak, and #7 will be seen making plenty of plays on Thursday. Though the corners haven't stood out as much as they did last year, we still feel that the ‘Noles have three NFL-bound players at that position. The most important player on defense, though, is roaming safety true sophomore Lamarcus Joyner. Though called the strong safety by Stoops, Joyner plays a center field position for the Seminoles, doing everything from rushing the passer to playing the single-high safety spot.
Mark Stoops will show 4-3, 3-4, nickel, and 4-2-5 looks throughout the game. He will employ both man and zone coverages and blitz from anywhere and everywhere. The scheme is truly multiple, which makes life difficult for opposing offenses. It has been a pleasure to watch this unit mature and progressively dominate throughout this season and to know that it brings all of its important pieces back for next year.
BCI: Would anything less than winning out be acceptable to Florida State fans at this point?
TN: Eh, I guess that would depend on which ones you talk with. The expectations were extremely high entering this year only to be derailed by injuries and dumb scheduling. With the way the ‘Noles are playing right now, I think the hype train has started to get fired up again. The ugly losses that Miami and Florida suffered last week probably mean that the majority of FSU fans would be irate with a loss to either of those teams, even more so than usual. Florida State is starting to get healthy and to find its identity, and I think its best football is still ahead. More than one loss the rest of the way would be very disappointing. The rational among FSU fans will recognize that Miami will give the ‘Noles a test and that winning at Florida is never an easy task. The odds say Seminoles fans should be okay with one loss, but I think the average fan will be upset with anything less than finishing 9-3.
BCI: Requisite ACC expansion question. You cool with the additions of Syracuse and Pitt? Will the ACC stop at 14? If not, who ya got for 15 and 16?
TN: By making the moves that it made, the ACC has ensured that when super-conference-a-palooza comes around it will have a seat at the table. When viewed from that perspective, it's understandable. However, the move also showed us that the priority of the conference is basketball, which is dwarfed in terms of revenue by football. By and large, Florida State fans are deeply uncomfortable with this and question the leadership of the conference that doesn't seem to understand this crucial component to long-term viability. Combined with the pattern of ignorance displayed by the Tobacco Road head honchos, this has FSU fans feeling less than particularly fond of the ACC. As of now, it doesn't appear that there is a rush to get to 16 teams anywhere. However, if the Big East collapses, as it appears to be on the verge of doing, things will get interesting. I would think that there would be a mad dash to grab the unaffiliated teams to fill out conferences, probably ending up at 16. The ACC needs the best football programs it can get its hands on. I know you guys may not favor this, but the conference needs to do anything and everything it can to bring Notre Dame into the fold. It has to have football viability in order to be stable. Notre Dame and UConn would help to do this. But, I do not claim to be a conference expansion expert by any means.
BCI: Last one. Prediction time. Who ya got? What's the final score?
TN: This game has the potential to be an ugly one, which helps BC. I will never understand why the ACC wants to have all eyes across the country on its conference game on a Thursday night when both teams are playing on four days rest. Give them the week and a half to prepare and the product will be of a higher quality. But, complaining about ACC incompetence aside, I have to think that the FSU talent advantage will be too much for the struggling Eagles. The ‘Noles defense and excellent special teams should help out its offense by providing good field position and turnovers. Though it might not have its best night execution-wise, I think the offense will find the endzone a couple of times and move the ball at a decent rate. I'll predict an FSU victory of 27-10.
For more on the Florida State Seminoles, be sure to check out Tomahawk Nation.