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Question and Answer Session with Tomahawk Nation: Preparing for Clemson at FSU

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During Clemson's bye week we were able to connect with the writers at Tomahawk Nation, the Florida State site on the SB Nation network. Dylan Kidd was kind enough to answer our questions about the Seminoles and our impending game. Please look for another Q&A next week as well as another Q&A that will be posted to Tomahawk Nation.

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

STS: Shakin the Southland
TN: Tomahawk Nation

STS: FSU's job against the Citadel was to win with dominance and leave healthy. They only accomplished the first of those tasks as three defensive linemen left the game with lower body injuries. Can you give us some detail on this situation and more specifically how this will affect the game against Clemson.

TN: Yeah, that game was not the ideal "cupcake in the final game before division rival showdown" situation. The triple-option Citadel Bulldogs, with whom I know y'all are somewhat familiar, threw cut block after cut block at the ‘Noles. To make matters worse, there seemed to be some malintent by some of The Citadel's players, which was seemingly confirmed by one of their player's own statements bragging about contributing to the injury report, leading to his suspension. Starting nose tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample went down, followed by starting defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, and then reserve defensive tackle Justin Shanks. Shanks' injury looked to be the worst of the three, and while certainly an awful occurrence, his contributions to the 2014 team were expected to be minimal. Lawrence-Stample and Goldman have not been ruled out for next Saturday's game (nor has Shanks, I should add). Jimbo Fisher has historically been extremely tight-lipped about injuries, so we don't expect official word on them until later next week, if even then.

The interior defensive line was thought to be Florida State's weakest position group on defense entering this season. The ‘Noles lost Timmy Jernigan from last year's squad, and the depth behind Lawrence-Stample and Goldman is unproven. There's talent, for sure, but it's in the form of true freshmen Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas, underperforming players Keith Bryant and Justin Shanks, unproven Gio Newberry and Desmond Hollin, and the surprisingly solid thus far Derrick Mitchell. Obviously the middle of any defensive line is critical, and defending the A-gap runs is an important priority for Charles Kelly against Chad Morris's attack. ‘Noles fans certainly hope that one or both of Lawrence-Stample and Goldman play on Saturday evening. I am personally optimistic that at least one will, as both were reportedly bearing weight to an extent after the game, and this is a critical game for FSU before a bit of an easier stretch. While I definitely believe Clemson would be more productive on offense if neither plays, I do think that players like Derrick Mitchell and Derrick Nnadi would be able to avoid a complete catastrophe for FSU on the interior, and all would not necessarily be lost.

STS: It was announced this week that the Clemson at FSU game will be at 8pm on ABC. I imagine the atmosphere will be as good as it gets in Tallahassee. With that said, we've been discussing the snap distribution between veteran QB Cole Stoudt and five-star freshman Deshaun Watson quite a bit over on our site. Do you think either one presents a matchup problem for FSU? Is there one you're hoping Clemson goes with more than the other?

TN: Evaluating from what's admittedly a very small sample size, I'll say I'm more afraid of Deshaun Watson. I think he has phenomenal tools and hasn't appeared to be lost mentally from what I've seen in his first two weeks. He made some great plays against Jeremy Pruitt's Georgia defense, which will be very similar to what he'll see against FSU, as Charles Kelly does not appear to have changed much schematically from what Pruitt did for the ‘Noles last season. Stoudt has had his moments as well, and I have no doubt that he has a better command of Morris's schemes, but is that enough to make him the better option? Both QB's are first year starters, and while Stoudt has been in the program and on the sideline for big games, will that really translate to handling the stage of a night game at Doak against the top team in the country noticeably better than Watson? To me, those are the two considerations that would warrant a determination that Stoudt should play more than Watson next Saturday night. If Morris thinks that he'll get the offense into the correct plays, make the right reads, and take care of the ball (certainly part of which is handling the stage) significantly better than Watson, then he should play. And I guess there's also the argument that splitting snaps is easing Watson into his role rather than throwing him into the fire, and I can see the validity in that as well. All of which is to say that while I can see why the staff has created an important role for Stoudt, as an opposing fan I'm more afraid of what Watson can do with his arm and legs.

Some FSU fans on the internet have opined that a Saban-style defense, a form of which FSU and now Georgia both run, is ill-equipped to handle mobile quarterbacks, and so they'd prefer to play against more stationary targets under center. While I'm not sure how exactly an added run threat isn't an issue for every single other defense in the country as well, I want to go ahead and discuss this for a minute.

Florida State's scheme relies on containment pressure up front, which is exactly the type of pressure needed to avoid the cataclysmic effects that mobile quarterbacks can have on defenses. Now, you can argue about the effectiveness with which Bama and FSU have played this style in certain instances, but structurally, this is the defensive remedy. However, as Bud Elliott noted in his article here, FSU and Alabama play tight, pattern-match coverages with a goal of making QB's get rid of the ball quickly. This does make such teams susceptible to big plays from mobile quarterbacks who break that contain pressure. Long story short: while the FSU defense is designed to contain and pressure mobile quarterbacks, the assignments up front are critical to the success of the plan because if the quarterback breaks the contain up front the cavalry isn't exactly on the way from the secondary. I have much more faith in the starters on the defensive line to keep their gap integrity, as you might imagine, so this relates directly to question 1.

In short, I would rather see Stoudt play more snaps than Watson because I'm more afraid of Watson's tools, with the added consideration that I think he'll be even more effective in the run game against FSU if the starters at defensive tackle do not play.

STS: The Seminoles have not steamrolled the competition quite as handily as they did last season, though a neutral site win over Oklahoma State and a dominant first half in the FCS game is nothing to sneeze at. Is the bar unrealistically high or is FSU truly vulnerable?

TN: I think it's both. It was probably always going to be unrealistic to compare this team to the 2013 squad. That was a historically great team, and I think FSU fans are starting to realize that it's very possible that we won't see another Seminoles team of that caliber in our lifetimes. This team brought back a lot of talent, but I do think there have been downgrades at safety, defensive tackle, and wide receiver. It also takes so much going one's way to win a championship. FSU's injury luck last year was crazy good. Its schedule turned out to break beautifully in its favor. The team had the excellent leadership it needed to put it all together and get hot at the right time down the stretch. It's really rare to see everything come together as it did in 2013, and hopefully ‘Noles fans are beginning to appreciate that. However, FSU was not the fully operational Death Star it rolled out from Clemson on at this point in the season last year, either. It took some middling performances to figure out where everything needed to be, and then it clicked. I can't say I expect it to do the same this season, but it's not impossible that it won't.

I still expect the offense to be very good. It struggled at times against the quarters coverage that Oklahoma State played, but that was a pretty weird game for FSU's offense. The offensive line was reportedly passing the flu around, running back Karlos Williams' grandma passed away the morning of the game, Jameis wouldn't throw the ball to anybody but Rashad Greene, etc. Some of those are probably real issues and some may not be. FSU has questions at center, the only starter it's replacing up front. The ‘Noles are still sorting out which backs should receive how many carries. Receiving options after Greene are a big deal, but probably alleviated to an extent with the return of Bobo Wilson and continued reps with freshmen Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph. While some fans look at the box score and see 37-12 against the Citadel and wonder what happened, the starters scored touchdowns on each of the four drives they played in the first half in that game and looked very efficient.

The defense has many more questions. Even before the injuries, defensive tackle depth was a problem, as I've discussed. FSU can't ask Mario Edwards Jr. to play all 70 snaps in a game at defensive end as it did against OK State either. The play of Tyler Hunter, returning from missing most of last year with a neck injury, has been a question at safety, particularly in run support. Florida State will hopefully get outside LB Ukeme Eligwe back from a lisfranc that wasn't a full-blown lisfranc for Clemson, adding to the depth there. And then there's the punter. Cason Beatty is not a good football player and could cost the ‘Noles a game at some point, even with the loaded coverage units FSU should be able to field.

All in all, I expect FSU to be a very good football team in 2014, though not as good as 2013. There are certainly areas that can be exploited, and the Seminoles are definitely beatable. Clemson will be a huge test for a Florida State team hoping to notch a win and move into an easier stretch to follow, in which the 2014 team will continue to figure

STS: We appreciate Dylan Kidd giving us the inside scoop on our division rival. Please check out Tomahawk Nation to learn more about the Seminoles and see my answers to his questions in the other half of the Q&A by clicking here.