We continue our weekly Behind Enemy Lines series by discussing Saturday's game between Maryland and Florida State with Dylan Kidd from Tomahawk Nation. They do a fantastic job over at their site and I'd encourage you all to check them out and follow them on twitter. They have great insights on a lot of college games in addition to their FSU coverage.
Check out our Q&A below to learn about what to expect on Saturday, whether CB Brown could succeed, FSU and conference expansion and how FSU fans are reacting to some early season struggles.
1. After winning the Atlantic Division and going 10-4 overall in Jimbo Fisher's first season, many expected this to be the year FSU was once again a National Title contender, starting off ranked as high as #5 preseason. Yet halfway through the season, the Noles find themselves with almost as many loses as they had all of last season after dropping games to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake. What is the feeling in Tallahassee these days among FSU fans? Is Jimbo catching any heat?
Obviously, losing three consecutive games after reaching the heights of a top five ranking is going to create some feelings of disappointment and even anger among fans. All reasonable Florida State fans were understanding of a loss to top ranked Oklahoma. The next week's loss to Clemson was disappointing because of the defensive effort, which was unable to keep pace with the decimated offense playing well over its head in Clint Trickett's first start. Though the lineup saw even more players missing as a result of injury, the loss to Wake Forest was unacceptable. The meltdown of the fanbase following that debacle was justified. But, to the credit of FSU fans, most reactions toward Jimbo have been reasonable. He deserves some questioning and in some instances he deserves criticism, but after the success that was 2010 most ‘Noles fans aren't fickle enough to heat up his seat just yet. It must also be said that the injury luck that has befallen the Seminoles this season is extraordinary. Florida State's offensive line currently has zero starters playing the position at which they began the season. The ‘Noles starting tailback and two of the top three wide receivers are out with injuries. Several defensive linemen, including a starting defensive tackle, are out. Corner Greg Reid has missed time, and two corners are believed to be battling subpar health. It's amazing. But, the depth that the past few recruiting cycles has left Jimbo Fisher's squad with sufficient talent to get the job done, even if it isn't always pretty.
Check out more Q&As after the jump
2. How has EJ Manuel been doing recently? Has he fully recovered from his injury to his shoulder suffered during the Oklahoma game? Any chance Maryland will have to deal with Clint Trickett on Saturday?
EJ's prognosis varies markedly depending on who you talk to. Florida State didn't release much information on Manuel's injury in the second half against Oklahoma, though at one point they went so far as to call it a bruise, which everyone suspected to be false. Jimbo Fisher is Belichick-like in his handling of injuries in that he will release minimal and often misleading information regarding them. That Jimbo felt that he could go to #3 against Wake Forest and even allowed him to run his normal offense with a heavy dose of option and designed runs against Duke suggests to us that he doesn't believe that Manuel can further injure himself by taking hits to that left shoulder. Some of our TN staff has its reservations about whether or not this is the case, but EJ will play on Saturday and we expect the gameplan to feature his legs. In the case that Clint is called into action, the offensive identity immediately changes. Trickett isn't an adept runner, and will look to spread the ball around from the pocket. He'll need help from his backfield and wideouts, though he has showed ability in his early performances this season.
3. One of Maryland's few constants this season has been poor kickoff and punt coverage. Who do the Terps have to worry about on Saturday on special teams? Is there one stud that Maryland should avoid kicking to?
Greg Reid is widely considered one of the best punt returners in the country. He's amazingly shifty and can create something out of nothing in limited space. However, his elusiveness does not make him an elite kick returner, as he lacks straight-line speed. FSU's best kick-return guy is freshman Karlos Williams. He's a physical freak at safety who was a track state champion at 6'2" 220 pounds. While he won't see much time on defense, ‘Noles fans hope he is the primary guy running kickoffs back on Saturday. Florida State's punt return game is far more worrisome for Maryland than its kick return unit, though.
4. With CJ Brown now the starter at QB for Maryland, do you think the Noles can stop the zone read plays he ran so efficiently against Clemson? If Brown has to throw, which is by far his biggest weakness right now, how good are Florida State's corners at hiding coverage and tricking quarterbacks?
Florida State's defense is the strength of its team. To win on Saturday, this unit will have to play to its potential. The defensive line is big, fast, and incredibly deep. Defensive end Bjoern Werner has been a terror, and Brandon Jenkins is a threat on the other side. The secondary features the best group of corners in the nation, in our opinion, with 3 NFL-bound corners. The most important player on defense, though, is roaming safety Lamarcus Joyner. A freak of a sophomore, Joyner is versatile and physical with great ball skills.
As far as stopping the zone read goes, the ‘Noles faced an offense in Clemson that features some zone read elements, but hasn't had to deal with an attack based on a true zone read yet. This type of option used to kill FSU defenses in the later years of Mickey Andrews, but the group led by Mark Stoops should be much better able to stop it with discipline and gap control.
The reason that Brown will likely struggle to pass against FSU is that Mark Stoops has brought a truly multiple unit to Tallahassee. The ‘Noles defense will show 4-3, 3-4, Nickel, and even 4-2-5 looks to the young quarterback, mixing man and zone coverages with blitzes from everywhere. The Florida State corners are very good, but there is some concern among our TN staff with their health. FSU will try to force Brown into obvious passing downs, which will prove very difficult for him to navigate. The Terps offense will need to stay on schedule with solid production on early downs to avoid these situations.
5.What does FSU have to do well on Saturday to win the game? If Maryland can score points like they did against Clemson, can the Noles win a shootout? Who do you think wins?
As far as the ability to win a shootout, that scenario would have many ‘Noles fans uncomfortable. The defense is the better of the two units and has far fewer injuries plaguing it. To win against Maryland, Florida State needs to contain the zone read on early downs and force Brown to move the ball against its defense with his arm. On offense, the Seminoles will look to take advantage of the all-freshmen linebacker corps the Terps will feature. I anticipate a heavy dose of option from the gun to test them, as well as passes to the backs and tight end Nick O'Leary to exploit these match-ups. FSU has embraced throwing the deep ball as of late, and I wouldn't be surprised to see several downfield passes to stretch the Maryland D on Saturday. I think the Seminoles will move the ball effectively and force a few turnovers, and I like the special teams match-up if I'm FSU's coaching staff, as the ‘Noles have one of the best kickers and punters in the country with a solid return game. I'll take Florida State to win 34-16.
6. A little expansion talk - Maryland and Florida State both seemed to be big power brokers during the latest conference expansion discussions for the ACC, as both schools lobbied to not make the exit fee for the conference quite as high as many schools wanted. Do you think there is any chance that FSU bolts the ACC for the SEC? Is the SEC the only conference that you think FSU would leave the ACC to join?
In a word, yes. If the SEC came calling, Florida State would be hard-pressed to turn down an offer. The ACC is a basketball-first conference in a world where football marketability is key to long-term viability. FSU fans are very uncomfortable with this and have always felt under-appreciated by the head honchos in North Carolina. However, the likelihood of the SEC offering Florida State admission into the conference is currently perceived to be low. As far as other conferences go, I think that Florida State would have to listen to any offers it receives. I can't currently see other conferences offering FSU membership, but I guess we can't possibly know how this conference re-alignment will play out, can we?