Q&A With Tomahawk Nation

We've arrived at our final Q&A of the season, this one with Tomahawk Nation, SBNation's Florida State blog.

Tomahawk Nation has approximately 300 writers, but this Q&A is brought to us from DKfromVA. We talk coaches, offensive lines, and playmakers. My answers to DK's questions can be found here.

Let's jump in.

1. Florida State's season seemed to mirror Notre Dame's: preseason BCS hopes, head-scratching losses, and a final record of 8-4. What do you think were the contributing factors that lead to the Seminoles falling short of such lofty expectations?

Chief among the reasons for FSU’s disappointing season is the injury bug, which hit the ‘Noles incredibly hard in 2011. The Seminoles have had zero starters playing the offensive line positions at which they began the season for the vast majority of the year and will likely start four true freshmen on the O-line on Thursday. EJ Manuel was injured against Oklahoma in week three, missed a game and a half, and has since been playing with what we believe to be a serious shoulder injury. While the defense has remained relatively healthy despite a D-line starter being lost for the year, the offensive injuries have taken their toll on the ‘Noles.

Another issue has been the schedule. Florida State followed a week three home game against Oklahoma with a trip to ACC champ Clemson, its most important game of the season. After two straight losses, the ‘Noles simply didn’t show up to play in Winston-Salem against Wake Forest. The loss to Virginia isn’t readily explained. One thing is for sure – losses to double-digit underdogs in conference aren’t permissible. An indictment of coaching? Possibly. It’s certainly something to watch as the FSU football program moves forward.

2. Like Notre Dame, Florida State is in their second year under a new head coach. How would you grade the job Jimbo Fisher has done? Has he done enough to satisfy the fans or do you think his seat might get a little warm if FSU doesn't take a step forward next season?

Jimbo has faced some unique circumstances this year. Disregarding the serious health issues facing his youngest son (certainly a significant topic), Coach Fisher, as the de facto offensive coordinator, has faced major injury issues. He’s had to change the offense from an attack that features the legs of EJ Manuel first to one that was conducive to Clint Trickett’s skill set, and then back to one for a less mobile Manuel who is playing with an injured shoulder. The offensive line issues have limited his abilities as a play caller and he’s had to rely on young talent at skill positions. Jimbo has brought in excellent talent over the past two recruiting classes and is on track to do so again this year, and we feel that he is building a program at Florida State. However, losses to Wake Forest and Virginia make fans question the performance of the coaching staff, as those are two teams that should not beat a Florida State team. I would personally give Jimbo a C+ for this season after a solid A last year. There are major questions for this program as it moves into 2012, but I’m optimistic about the future of FSU football and believe that a bevy of unfortunate circumstances befell Coach Fisher and the Seminoles this season and led to the disappointing year. However, it’s certainly safe to say that his seat will begin to warm if progress is not made in 2012.

3. If you were Jimbo Fisher, how would you attack the Irish defense? Notre Dame has a strong defensive line, but is very young up front. The secondary appeared to be a strength for the Irish before the season started but has been known to meltdown at times. Do you see the Seminoles trying to confuse the young linemen with misdirection and read-option plays, or do you see them spreading the field in an attempt to pick apart the secondary? Or none of the above?

Considering that 4 true freshmen on the offensive line will be facing the 17th ranked defense in the nation, it’s going to be a tough go of it for the FSU offense. I think we’ll see Fisher spreading the field, both to try to take the heat off of the line and because the wide receiver corps is one of ‘Noles’ strengths. Florida State will try to neutralize the ND pass rush with the quick game from the spread shotgun and a lot of screens. I think we’ll see some option and outside runs as well, and don’t be surprised if Manuel takes several deep shots downfield, a throw with which he is arguably most comfortable. EJ’s injury hasn’t stopped Jimbo from calling option and designed runs, but at the same time I know he’d like to minimize the number of hits that he takes. The Seminoles will be hoping that their excellent defense and special teams will afford the offense great field position. I expect kicker Dustin Hopkins to see plenty of work and believe that he’ll be the primary point scoring mechanism for FSU on Thursday. Another great game from punter Shawn Powell will also likely be needed for the ‘Noles to have success against the Irish with field position at a premium in a game such as this one.

4. For those unfamiliar with the Florida State team, who are the big playmakers on offense and defense? What names should Irish fans expect to hear a lot of on Thursday?

On offense, the focus is naturally on the big, fleet-footed athlete at quarterback in EJ Manuel. Freshman Devonta Freeman will be the featured back in the offense and with Jermaine Thomas suspended for the game, another freshman named James Wilder Jr. will likely see an increase in his workload. At wideout, Rodney Smith is the main deep threat at 6’6". Freshman Rashad Greene has had a fantastic 2011 season and will probably see plenty of touches against the Irish. The tight end position has been a liability this season, but ‘Noles fans hope that freshman Nick O’Leary sees some targets in the spread-style offense that FSU will run on Thursday.

On defense, the line features Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins at end, both of whom are big-time playmakers. The tackle position is also loaded, and freshman Timmy Jernigan has made an immediate impact. Christian Jones is a physical freak at linebacker in a solid but weakest of the three position groups on that side. Lamarcus Joyner roams the secondary at a center-field type of position for Mark Stoops at strong safety, and Greg Reid has a knack for making the big play across from the unit’s best cover-corner in Xavier Rhodes. The #8 ranked Seminole defense is truly multiple, playing man and zone coverages with three and four-man fronts and blitzing from anywhere and everywhere. It will have to continue its excellent play for FSU to beat Notre Dame.

5. There's a strong possibility Florida State will see a lot of Andrew Hendrix if Tommy Rees struggles early on. How has Florida State done containing mobile quarterbacks this season? Will the Voodoo Child pick up some yards or will he get caught up in the Crosstown Traffic of the Seminole defense?

The excellent FSU defense really hasn’t seen a mobile quarterback this season. Wake Forest and Maryland ran the QB some, but not to much effect. Mark Stoops has brought significantly more assignment-sound football with him than was seen during the final years of Mickey Andrews’ tenure, which has produced a welcome change from the evisceration of FSU defenses that spread offenses with mobile quarterbacks brought about during that time. The Florida State defense has played very well this season and even though it hasn’t seen a true running threat at quarterback, I expect them to continue to do so against Notre Dame. Though preparing for two different types of offenses could pose a problem, the extended preparation time should work in FSU’s favor. I expect Notre Dame to move the ball better than Florida State, but I don’t expect either team to fare particularly well on offense.

6. Finally, any predictions for the game? Who ya got?

I predict that this is going to be one ugly football game. I think both defenses will do well in limiting both offenses, but I like ND’s offensive chances more than FSU’s. I do think that FSU has a major advantage in special teams with an excellent kicker, punter, and punt returner (Greg Reid). The effects long preparation period will be interesting and I think they’ll ultimately benefit the two defenses most. I’m going to make a conscious effort to watch this game without any sharp objects nearby. I think Notre Dame wins something like 19-13 and that fans of both teams will be glad when the clock hits all zeros at the end of the 4th quarter.

***

Thanks again to DKfromVA and everyone else at Tomahawk Nation! Be sure to stop by and wish them luck in the Champs Sports Bowl tomorrow!

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