Behind Enemy Lines: Talking Terps-Florida State with Tomahawk Nation

Melina Vastola-US PRESSWIRE

What do you mean you've moved onto basketball and forgotten about the injury filled season that has been 2012?Well, just like last week, we snuck a basketball related question into this week's BEL, so you're going to have to read the whooooole thing. Here are my answers to their questions, if you'd like to check them out. Thanks to DKfromVA over at Tomahawk Nation for sitting down with us this week (and to Matthew Minnick for answering our basketball question). Their site is one of the best in the SB Nation network and you should check it out when you have a chance.

TT: This season, many believed that FSU would not only be atop the ACC, but possibly atop of all of college football. Do you think the 2012 team has met, under or over achieved those expectations? Would winning the ACC and receiving a BCS berth still constitute a successful year or do you think it was BCS title game or bust?

TN: Expectations were certainly high for FSU entering the 2012 season. The media, at least some of it, jumped the gun in 2011 when it claimed the ‘Noles as a darkhorse national title contender, but that's been a pattern over the better part of the last decade, as I'm sure you've noticed. "Florida State is back" has been a running joke for a while now, even among those of use at TN. 2012 was billed as and has been the crescendo of Jimbo Fisher's program building. FSU is a talented, experienced team that has reaped the benefits of a stable coaching staff for several years now. The defense has become comfortable under Mark Stoops, and the ‘Noles are seeing the rewards with a top-level unit. There's a lot of quality depth on this year's squad, and it is probably the best Florida State team since 2003. Despite the clichés, Florida State wasn't recruiting among the best in the nation from '05-'08. It had a coaching regime that dragged the program down and stifled any attempts at a rebuilding until it was ousted. Since Fisher has taken over, the ‘Noles have won 28 games and have a great chance to win 30+ in three years. 2012 has been the target year since his ascendancy to the head coaching position. The talent that Fisher began to bring in has now matured, and while the NC State loss erased any chances of a national championship this season, winning the conference and heading to the BCS for the first time since 2005 is important and well within reach. I certainly think that winning the conference and heading to a BCS game would be a successful year. We talk about realistic expectations versus goals a lot on our site, and those fans who "expected" the ‘Noles to play for a national title this season, in our opinion, were not being realistic. It's difficult for anyone to go undefeated and it's even more difficult to expect it. We're obviously disappointed with the NC State loss, but anyone who could claim to be upset with 12-1 and conference champions headed into bowl season is downright delusional.

TT: Maryland's defense started off this season extremely well, especially against the run, but has struggled recently after the loss of star linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield. What should Maryland's game play be to slow down FSU's potent offense?

TN: Lots of times when people talk about seeing a "blueprint" for slowing down a certain team based upon how someone else has done it in the past, I roll my eyes. Games are isolated events by nature and include a totality of circumstances that contribute to certain outcomes. It's difficult to extrapolate from one to the next. However, I do think that elements of what Virginia Tech did last week on defense could be beneficial to Maryland on Saturday. VT got after Manuel early and often while taking away the FSU running game on early downs. They did this through extremely aggressive blitzing. There were exotic looks thrown at the ‘Noles offense that they hadn't seen this season, and this was 10 games into the year. It led to a difficult night for the Seminole offense and forced EJ to beat the Hokies with his arm. That's exactly what Maryland should hope for. If the ‘Noles are running with success and staying ahead of the chains, they are difficult to defend. If, however, Manuel is forced to repeatedly make the reads and the throws necessary to drive FSU down the field without the help from his running game, though, chances are much better for defenses to have success. While EJ is physically gifted as a thrower and as a runner, he does struggle in the pre-snap and in reading the middle of the defense. The goal for the Terps is to put the game on his shoulders as a passer.

The Virginia Tech performance should give some hope to UMD fans. Maryland likes to blitz and play quarters, which is a recipe to do some of what VT did against Manuel, in theory (though VT blitzed and played a bunch of man-zero/1). Maryland is also on Virginia Tech's level defensively so far this season. The Hokies and Terps are by far the two best defenses that the Seminoles have played this year. While the ‘Noles lead the nation in production in terms of yards per play, this has been done against an incredibly weak slate of defenses. Accordingly, advanced stats place FSU at 31st in the country in offensive performance in 2012, which is just decent. Virginia Tech held the ‘Noles to something like 4.4 yards/play last Thursday, which is an excellent effort. So, there are a lot of similarities between the Terrapins and the Hokies defensively, and this game will also be played on the road. The key, however, will be whether or not the Maryland offense and special teams can do enough to give its defense a chance over the course of the game. If Florida State is getting 3 and outs, turnovers, and short fields for its offense, it could be a very long day for the Terrapins. They could play an outstanding defensive game and have it not show up on the scoreboard if FSU gets the ball on the Maryland 40 yard line each possession. So, blitz like crazy and hope that your offense and special teams can make Florida State drive and not give away free points.

TT: In Florida State's only loss this season, NC State held the Noles to their lowest point total of the season. Was that a product of something NC State did successfully, mistakes FSU made during that particular game, or a product of both?

TN: I think it was probably a combination of the two. To tell you the truth, the first half of that game was a route. While, sure, Florida state failed to punch the ball in for TD's in the redzone, the ‘Noles were moving the ball at will on the ground against State and had a 16-0 lead at halftime that didn't feel particularly close. The second half was another story. Jimbo Fisher went into a conservative shell with the playcalling, particularly in the fourth quarter, and EJ Manuel made some critical mistakes, including an awful interception and an even worse sack taken. The NC State secondary, billed as one of the best in the country before the season began, certainly had not played that way into (and since) the FSU game. However, they did do a much better job against the Seminoles in the second half. On defense, FSU was on the field for the vast majority of the second half. Mike Glennon was also surgical in the second half. He read and hit crossing routes like crazy, and Mark Stoops was slow to adjust to help his guys out in man coverage. Florida State had every chance to win that game and certainly should've. It was a disappointment because it showed little growth in an area of the program that sorely needs it. The ‘Noles often struggle against 10-17 point underdogs, particularly on the road. Whether it's a product of playing down to competition, lack of focus during the week, or whatever, these losses need to stop. Florida State outguns everyone but Clemson in the ACC significantly in terms of talent. In order to be a top program nationally, it needs to start showing it on a more consistent basis.

TT: For Maryland, who is now starting their 5th string quarterback, most fans just want the season to end without any additional injuries occurring. Thus, many of us are starting to focus on next season already. With the departure of seniors like E.J. Manuel and potential early departure of players such as DE Bjoern Werner, who should Maryland be worried about in 2013?

TN: While FSU will lose EJ, a respected quarterback who will win a lot of awards this year and may be drafted relatively quickly in April, many of us think the FSU offense will improve in 2013. Capable backup and coach's son Clint Trickett will have the inside track to the QB job in 2013, but he will battle an extremely talented RS Sophomore in Jacob Coker. The ‘Noles will be fine at that position. The loss of Chris Thompson is something FSU is already dealing with, but it will return the rest of the running backs and will bring in a couple of highly touted recruits. The WR corps will not feel the losses of 2013 because of the depth it has accrued, and the TE's are young and will only improve. The offensive line is the real position that excites us. All of the starters will come back on an immensely talented, but green group. I honestly think that the fullback position will be where the loss is felt most heavily on offense. #24 Lonnie Pryor is a do-everything guy who is probably the favorite player of most of our TN staff. He blocks, he runs, he catches passes, he picks up blitzes. He's the man. Florida State might not even use the fullback position in the traditional sense after he's gone, as Jimbo really prefers the H-back role.
On defense, we aren't really sure. Bjoern could certainly leave and would be a high pick, Xavier Rhodes likely will, Christian Jones and Lamarcus Joyner might. Tank Carradine, Amp McCloud, and Everette Dawkins will be gone. So, the defensive end spots are probably the most worrisome. In step two five-star recruits from last year, though, including the #1 overall player Mario Edwards Jr. The defensive tackle position has depth upon depth and will be just fine, as does the secondary. It's wait-and-see, but we don't really expect too much of a drop-off. Should be a good, though probably not great defense. The loss of fantastic kicker Dustin is concerning, though, even with a top kicker recruit waiting in the wings. We've seen this year what a drop-off in special teams can do with freshman punter Cason Beatty undergoing his growing pains. Still, Florida State should have another strong team in 2013.

TT: Speaking of wanting our football season to mercifully end, basketball season has started. While we're "technically" talking football, give us a quick look at FSU's basketball team this season. Was the loss to South Alabama a fluke or are people's expectations for the Noles to be a top tier ACC team this season too high?

TN: I am woefully unknowledgeable on all things round ball, so I farmed this one out to one of our awesome basketball writers, Matthew Minnick. He said:

"FSU has more overall talent and skill than last season, but is very much a work in progress. Leonard Hamilton's defensive system takes thousands of reps to master the underlying principles and the 7 newcomers just aren't there yet. The South Alabama game was also the beginning and (apparent) end to the Ian Miller at PG experiment and the offense looks much better when one of our two true freshman are running the show. The Noles will take their lumps in the OOC, but should be much better by the time February rolls around. Whether FSU finishes in the top 3 of the ACC or just the top half will largely depend on how effective the new big guys can be on defense and how consistent the young PGs will play, particularly on the road."

Here is our final season preview for the 2012-2013 basketball season:
http://www.tomahawknation.com/2012/11/9/3622518/fsu-hoops-2012-13-season-prediction

TT: Give us some outside perspective - Maryland's black ops unis for the game Saturday - love 'em or hate 'em?

TN: I mentioned this is the questions that I sent to you, but FSU fans have a strange obsession with uniforms. There's a constant warfare among two basic factions: those who are staunch traditionalists and never want to see FSU in anything other than garnet and gold, and those who love the blackout and pro-combat jerseys that Nike has put the ‘Noles in over the past few years. It's sort of entertaining from a perspective like mine, which I'd describe as middle ground. I love the classic FSU uniforms, but can also appreciate some of the new stuff. Recruits do love uniforms, rationally or not.
That said, I do really like these Maryland uniforms. While I think that Nike does have the upper hand on Under Armour in terms of uniform designs, because Oregon looks awesome most of the time, the black and white "ops" style uniforms are appealing to me. I think it's good to attract fan participation, since black and white-outs are easy to get behind, although I'm not sure that a noon game blackout is the best idea. I realize that Maryland didn't have any control over the start time. We'll see if it helps the fan turnout that Edsall has been campaigning for this week.

TT: Alright, prediction time. Normally, I'd ask "who you got?" but in this case, I think the better question is "how much do you think FSU wins by? I'm personally expecting a 30+ loss here, but what say you?

TN: I think the 31-point line is too high and I have since it opened. FSU is coming off of a big Thursday night win in Blacksburg and is staring a game with top-10 Florida in the face next week. It's on the road and at noon. I think Florida State is by far the better team, I don't think it will be one of its more focused efforts. As I mentioned above, Maryland needs help from its offense and special teams to stay in the game, and it needs to get off to a good start. The Terps are not coming back against FSU if they get down a couple of scores early. While I don't think Florida State will move the ball overly effectively against Maryland, I do think that they'll take advantage of turnovers and short fields and score points. I see a 31-6 type of game and will be disappointed if the starters on defense don't shut down this decimated Terrapins offense.

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