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Behind Enemy Lines: Florida State

Checking in with Tomahawk Nation to assess Saturday's showdown in Tallahassee.

Stacy Revere

As part of Testudo Times' 2013 football coverage, staffer Alex Kirshner is corresponding with opposing teams' beat writers and SB Nation bloggers for each week on the Terrapins' schedule. This week, we check in with Dylan Kidd of Tomahawk Nation, SB Nation's Florida State Seminoles site.

TT: Jameis Winston: Is he a good player? I kid, but for those who have been living under rocks for the past month, could you describe his talent package, approach and potential? Is he going to be better than your last quarterback, EJ Manuel? Are you tired of being asked that?

DK: I feel comfortable in telling you that Jameis is a talented individual. He’s an excellent baseball player, handler of the media, and consumer of cheeseballs. He’s also good at football. Jameis has prototypical size at 6’4" 220, along with excellent arm talent. He has arm strength and throws an accurate ball. Winston is a capable extender of plays and can pick up valuable yardage with his legs, but he’s not featured on many designed runs. He’s extremely confident, but sometimes too much so. Winston definitely has a tendency to try to do too much at times. However, he’s an excellent leader and has had a wonderful start to his redshirt freshman season.

As to the EJ comparisons, I do think Jameis will end up being a better player. Manuel also had excellent size and was probably a better runner than Winston, though he was reluctant to show it during his senior year. The arm strength is comparable, but Winston is probably more accurate. The biggest difference that we see is his ability to go through his progressions effectively, read the middle of the field, and throw accurately to his receivers, sometimes throwing them open. EJ really struggled in these areas, something many who see his excellent numbers and first-round draft selection are not aware of. Jameis really seems to get it, in terms of playing quarterback for Jimbo Fisher, and as long as he continues to play at such a high level, I’m more than happy to brag about a freshman phenom. No pressure, #5.

TT: Florida State's pass defense, like Maryland's, has been stout this season against weak competition (also like Maryland). Are the Terps the most potent passing attack FSU has faced, and does the defense have the chops to stop Stefon Diggs and company?

DK: Maryland will feature the best passing attack that the ‘Noles have seen this season. Pitt’s combination of Savage and Street doesn’t measure up to Brown and Diggs/Long, and Nevada was missing its starting (and soon second-string) quarterback. We haven’t seen much out of the FSU passing defense, though the excellent Devin Street was able to find openings against the ‘Noles. I do believe that the Florida State defensive backfield is its deepest position group on the team, even with starting safety Tyler Hunter out with a neck injury and reserve safety Karlos Williams moving to running back. There is an embarrassment of riches on the back end for the Seminoles. However, these players are transitioning to a pattern-match system of coverage, in which they’re asked to do things that they weren’t under previous defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, including press. Florida State has the talent to keep Diggs and company in check, with senior corner Lamarcus Joyner and freak sophomore PJ Williams, among other future NFL players, but whether they will remains to be seen. Diggs is certainly a stud, and I expect him and Deon Long to have some opportunities. Maryland will need to keep the FSU pass rush off of Brown to allow the wideouts their space.

TT: More broadly, what defensive system will coordinator Jeremy Pruitt use against Mike Locksley's offense? When they're clicking, what's FSU's style of defense?

DK: Jeremy Pruitt has brought a style like that of Alabama over from Tuscaloosa this season. The ‘Noles have played about every alignment you could think of thus far, and they will press and utilize pattern-match coverage schemes. They’ll play man, zone, and mixed coverages. Just as we at TN are still learning what this defense does and doesn’t do, many of the players are as well. There have clearly been growing pains as the defense has transitioned from the schemes of Mark Stoops to that of Pruitt, a more aggressive attack. This has made for some big plays allowed, as well as technically unsound and frankly, selfish play. However, this Florida State defense is absolutely loaded with talent. Second only to the defensive backfield in terms of depth of talent is the defensive line, which features a bunch of NFL players itself. The defense has started slow in each of its first four games, but when it’s good, look out.

Against Maryland, I expect FSU to use a lot of nickel, and even dime packages. We haven’t seen extensive use of these as a base defense this year, but we will in weeks to come against the likes of Maryland, Clemson, NC State, etc. There’s a lot of versatility on this side of the ball, and we’ll see three and four man fronts from FSU with different numbers of linebackers within the same package. I’m interested to see how these packages hold up against the run. With 230 pound Karlos Williams formerly playing as the fifth defensive back in nickel, the ‘Noles weren’t giving up size. With him on offense, they will be. If FSU can’t take away a significant amount of Maryland’s run game, the Terps could have a lot of success on offense against the ‘Noles.

TT: Maryland's offensive line has been fine so far, but it remains to be seen how they'll hold up against strong opposition. The 'Noles have skill position studs, I know, but will they be as tough in the trenches as they are on the edges? Does C.J. Brown have reason to be particularly scared?

DK: To me, this is the key to the game. As mentioned, Florida State has a stable of studs on the defensive line. If they play within their system, taking on blocks and shedding them rather than trying to dance around them and make the big (and selfish) play, then it could be tough day for the Maryland backfield. Timmy Jernigan is an absolute beast, and Eddie Goldman is a rising star. I think Mario Edwards Jr. will play after a hand injury, and Chris Casher is another name to watch. The line has got to play their responsibilities. The linebackers have been nothing at all special and cannot take on the blocks that the linemen choose to evade. If Maryland presents a credible run threat, I think they’ll have plenty of success. If they don’t, Brown might be in for a tough day at the office. This defense likes to bring pressure from a lot of places, and he’ll want to stay out of obvious passing downs.

TT: Speaking of skill guys, I watched Winston's disembowelment of Pitt a few weeks ago and was struck by the athleticism and sure-handedness of everyone he was throwing the ball to. Florida State pass-catchers are doing their jobs to the tune of an excellent 16 yards per catch. Who are their biggest threats there?

The three starting FSU wideouts have been great so far in 2013. Rashad Greene is the best of the group. He’s a good route runner, and has excellent hands and breakaway speed. Kenny Shaw is the most polished route runner that FSU has, and is a dependable target for Jameis. And then there’s Kelvin Benjamin. The 6’6" redshirt sophomore was an enigma over the last two seasons, but is starting to come into his own. He’s a beast when he’s good, with size and physicality tough to match, as well as being a solid blocker when he wants to be. Benjamin is still prone to taking plays off here and there, though. Freshmen slot men Kermit Whitfield and Bobo Wilson are talented, as well as freshman outside receiver Isaiah Jones. Poor Christian Green has excellent size and athleticism as the fourth wide receiver, but seems to have the misfortune of catching a lot of bubble screens on which his fellow receivers decide not to block for him.

TT: On the ground, Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams have rushed for about nine yards per carry apiece. Are they just tremendous backs, or is the offensive line leading the way? Can you assess the offensive line?

DK: Devonta is the most reliable of the three backs. He’s an excellent inside runner with good vision in FSU’s zone-blocking, one-cut scheme. He’ll get the lion’s share of the carries against Maryland. James Wilder Jr. is actually the second back, but he’s been banged up with a shoulder injury. He’s probably a better outside runner than he is an inside runner, which seems odd considering he’s bigger than Freeman. Then there’s Karlos Williams, who was a safety three weeks ago. He’s just a physical freak. The coaches, particularly Jimbo, wanted him on offense from the time he was recruited, but he was intent on playing safety. Just safety. Not even linebacker at 6’2 230. But he could get away with it because he is unbelievably fast and strong. He returns kicks like a rhino. He’s still learning how to be a running back for FSU, but all the talent is definitely there.

The Florida State offensive line is experienced and talented. Right guard Tre Jackson and left tackle Cam Erving might be a little banged up, but they’ll play. I’m comfortable calling this a top-15 group in the nation. They run block well, particularly on the outside zone stretch run. Pass protection has been good so far, even with Winston’s tendency to hold onto the ball for too long trying to make the big play. They’ve been better in short yardage situations than they were last season, even though they completely lack depth at tight end to help them. Nick O’Leary is the only tight end you’ll see outside of a goal line situation on Saturday, and he is not an in-line blocker. The high YPC averages are attributable to quality running backs, as well as a good offensive line, but also significantly to the lack of competition faced to date.

TT: Are the 'Noles strong on special teams? Since Maryland figures to have Diggs threatening on returns, how are their coverage units?

DK: Well, let’s say the first word that comes to mind isn’t "strong." Don’t get me wrong, freshman kicker Roberto Aguayo has been awesome. But punter Cason Beatty, well, not so much. I’m not sure what the fix is there, other than just sending Jameis out there on fourth down (wishful thinking). The coverage units have been an issue, too. They’re too often out of their lanes, which is unacceptable for FSU. This team has a bunch of talent at linebacker and defensive back, and there’s no reason the coverage units shouldn’t be as spectacular as they were last season. Yet, in all games thus far, there have been instances of long returns against the ‘Noles. They’ll need to get it figured out for Maryland, or just kick the ball out of bounds rather than sending it to Diggs. I’d be OK with that.

TT: Lastly, what's your game prediction, and why?

DK: I’ve gone back and forth on this a few times since Saturday. I thought Maryland’s resume was utterly unimpressive, and then WVU beat OK State. Though Maryland’s win over the Mountaineers was not as dominating as the score indicated, it was a solid performance. I do think the Terps will see a better effort from the Florida State defense than Boston College did last week. I like the match-up between the FSU defensive line and Maryland offensive line, and I think the ‘Noles will get after Brown and force a few turnovers. I also think Diggs will be Diggs and make some great plays. Maryland’s top two corners being out are going to hurt. It’s a tough ask for the young guys against the FSU receiving corps. I’ll take Florida State 38-23, giving Maryland the narrow cover.

You can read Alex's half of the answers here.