We had a chance to sit down with DKfromVA, a writer for SB Nation Blog Tomahawk Nation, to discuss this weekends upcoming matchup against the Seminoles. I am also pleased to report, he is the first person this season to respond to my request for GIF usage with appropriate reverence. Without further ado, let's get right into it:
1. Obviously going into this game, FSU is a heavy favorite. As the defending National Champion, not having lost a game in over 2 years, it's pretty much expected of them to run the table again this year. How has the team been playing this year in comparison to last, and do you see any red flags that point to this team NOT being able to get to the playoff?
I think most of the FSU fan contingent has finally reached a point of understanding that this team is not a continuation of the 2013 team. This was not the prevailing sentiment entering the season, as a lot of fans expected this year's team to continue the skull-smashing run of 2013's squad. This was probably unfair. The 2013 ‘Noles had incredible injury luck, great senior leadership, and went on a run that was as good or better than any other in school history. This year's team lost a lot of talent to the draft, and it has shown up in several spots. Nose tackle, safety, and wide receiver are the most noticeable. The 2014 team is currently pretty banged up, which sort of represents an expected return to the injury luck mean.
As far as getting to the playoff goes, the schedule and the rest of the college football landscape has been hospitable to FSU's chances. The ‘Noles could absolutely lose to Notre Dame on Saturday. Even after doing so, they would still have a chance to make the playoff. I'll get into that more specifically in your question about it below. But is this team capable of losing two games against this schedule? Maybe, but it's not likely. The defense has been struggling in many instances. But when you have Jameis Winston and the best kicker in college football, it's tough to see many losses in the regular season.
2. With all of the news (and less-than-news) being out there surrounding Jameis Winston, do you see him stepping up to full "eff you" mode? Or will Winston (or his teammates) potentially be affected by some of the distractions once they get out on the field?
Unfortunately, this whole climate of "distractions" has really become the new normal for almost a full year now. It hasn't seemed to affect Winston or anybody else at all on the field during the whole saga. So I'm really not worried about any of the new or old stuff having an impact on the team. I know Jimbo is tired of answering questions about it. I know the fans are sick of it too, and I expect Doak to be an interesting environment on Saturday night. I'm not-so-secretly hoping that the team comes out in the fabled black uniforms and goes full middle fingers to the world as the evil empire of college football. I'm happy to promote the "embrace the hate" view of the media's approach to FSU, because there just isn't anything that we as fans can do about it. Enjoy a really talented team and a great win streak, and don't worry about what everybody else thinks of circumstances out of your personal control.
3. We all saw the value of Jameis Winston in FSU's game against Clemson -- what will the gameplan be for the FSU offense to put Winston in position to succeed against the Irish?
I think FSU will continue to do on offense what it has this season - namely, throwing on early downs. Both because this is what they're good at, and because it plays to a match-up advantage against the Irish defense. I think you'll see a lot of 10 and 11 personnel from the ‘Noles, forcing Notre Dame to stretch their secondary depth thin with nickel and dime packages. FSU does not have #2 and #3 receivers playing to the levels that Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw did last season, but they do have excellent talent at the position that goes about 6 guys deep. When the Seminoles put 4 very talented wideouts on the field against Notre Dame, it should be an advantage. Jameis likes to throw the routes the defense gives him on first down, be they hitches, outs, option routes to O'Leary, etc. Last week saw the emergence of a bunch of wide receiver screens, which I actually think the ‘Noles went to in part after watching what Notre Dame did to attack Syracuse. So, Jameis will throw early, both to the easy routes ND gives him if they're playing soft on early downs, or to the quick game and screen stuff if ND tries to blitz on these downs. The big thing, as always, is staying on schedule and ahead of the chains. The FSU offense is very versatile and has big play ability, but it's not going to succeed in bad leverage situations consistently. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Jameis run a decent amount to add another dimension, despite the fact that an injury to him would force FSU into scary, scary territory at the QB position, as backup Sean Maguire is out with a hand injury.
4. The FSU defense has looked certainly a step behind the championship defense of last season. Is this a situation of "still great, not elite," or have they taken a real step back this season? What are the major reasons for any (real or perceived) setbacks?
The jury's still out on what exactly this defense is, at least for me. They've shown flashes of excellent play along with flashes of tire fire. The one position on this defense that could not afford an injury was nose tackle, and sure enough Nile Lawrence-Stample went down for the year in week three. Several other defensive tackles behind him have since been injured, but FSU is getting one, Derrick Mitchell, back for the Notre Dame game. There have been definite problems on the interior, forcing monster end Mario Edwards Jr. to slide inside to a greater extent than I'd like in recent weeks. I'm hoping that Mitchell's return will allow Edwards to move back outside and set the edge, because last week we saw what undisciplined edge play from FSU's young guys can allow. Syracuse did far more against this defense than what it should've, in no small part because many of the freshmen and sophomores that play the outside spots for FSU did not contain in their lanes. That can't happen against Golson and ND. The safety play has also been a step down from a year ago, with both starting safeties from a year ago no longer in those spots. Terrance Brooks left for the League, and Jalen Ramsey has been moved from his safety spot a year ago into the star position vacated by Lamarcus Joyner. Ramsey is a freak of a player, but is still coming along in the new role. New safety Tyler Hunter has been susceptible to giving up the big play over the top, and he'll need to play a good game for FSU on Saturday night. These are definitely real rather than perceived drop-offs from a year ago, though hopefully as the defense gets healthy and the players become more accustomed to their new roles and play together for an extended stretch, the unit will gel.
5. Who is one player on each side of the ball that Irish fans may not know about that we should look to have a big game for FSU on Saturday?
On offense I think it will be Bobo Wilson. He is a slot wideout who should find himself in a favorable match-up with the Notre Dame defensive backs for much of the game. If ND plays a lot of quarters coverage, the slot guys will see a whole lot of throws from Jameis. Winston also trusts Wilson, something I can't necessarily say for many other receivers outside of Greene and the tight end O'Leary. He's quick, runs good routes, and catches the football. That's what FSU will need. On defense I'll throw out a fun one in Matthew Thomas. The elite talent will finally see the field at linebacker for the ‘Noles on Saturday after missing the first half of the season due to a positive NCAA drug test around the bowl game last season. I don't necessarily expect a huge game from him, but I assume you have heard of Eddie Goldman, who I really expect to be the impact guy in the middle against ND. Thomas is a physical freak capable of playing either linebacker spot, as well as the jack/edge position in FSU's defense. I'm hoping he provides a spark and added depth on a unit that has been shaky to date, particularly in pass coverage.
6. If FSU were to beat the Irish, and then drop a game against a lesser opponent on their schedule (see: Notre Dame, 1993) -- do they still deserve to be in the playoff conversation?
Deserve is a relative term in the four-team format, and I think that things are breaking very well for FSU to have a chance. I don't think anybody expected the Mississippi schools to be on top of the SEC as its only two undefeateds at this point in the season. I'm not sure that I see more than one SEC team ending the season with less than two losses. I feel the same way about the PAC-12 and B1G. I think there's a better shot in the Big-12, and I could see ND finishing with 1 loss. I think this is setting up to be a nightmare scenario for the selection committee. If they're looking at a bunch of one and two-loss conference champions, a one-loss FSU, one-loss Notre Dame, etc., it's going to be very difficult. We'll see what they value. We at TN have been of the opinion that there's no reason to expect them to act any differently than poll voters. So expect them to look at win and loss totals and be subject to confirmation bias. Those two factors play in FSU's favor this season, as even with a loss they should have 12 wins and will have started the year #1 after going undefeated the previous year. It's completely asinine that the committee won't use the best information available in determining its selections but not totally unexpected. Even as the new evil empire of college football, I think the chances are pretty decent that FSU could find itself in the playoff with a loss in what's turning out to be a hectic first season for the format. I really like F/+ as a measure of "deserving" because it evaluates your resume in how you play against whom you play. Right now those numbers aren't too kind to FSU, but this week is an opportunity.
7. Finally, what is your prediction for Saturday's game, and how do we get there? (Bonus points for GIF usage)
I've been struggling with this one. Really haven't had a great feeling about it this week for reasons of which I'm not quite sure. I think ND can contain the FSU run game and get them off schedule at times with an athletic front seven, but I do like the match-ups between FSU's wideouts and the ND secondary. I think they'll have success throwing early and move the ball. ND's redzone defense has been pretty good this year, and I think Aguayo gets some significant work. On defense I think FSU can give the ND line some problems with Goldman and Edwards, but its hard for me to think Golson won't break contain and hit some long plays over the top. The questions will be how well FSU keeps Golson in front of them, and how well they're able to handle the Irish run game. If either of those things go poorly for FSU, the ‘Noles could be in trouble.
At TN, we like to call 10-17 point favorites under Jimbo Fisher the DANGER ZONE, because the ‘Noles have lost several games when favored by that margin during his tenure.
However, this doesn't feel like your prototypical DANGER ZONE game. This is a top five match-up of historic titans at 8pm on ABC. Notre Dame is absolutely capable of winning this game, and I think they'll cover. But, Jameis, Aguayo, and an enraged home crowd. FSU wins 29-24. And in keeping with this week's theme:
Big thank you to DKfromVA over at Tomahawk Nation for taking some time to answer our questions!
Go Irish, Beat Seminoles!