STS: Shakin the Southland
TN: Tomahawk Nation
STS: First, are there any updates on the health of the FSU D-line or is Jimbo playing it close to the vest?
TN: Officially, Jimbo is still playing things close to the vest concerning the injuries to Nile Lawrence-Stample, Eddie Goldman, Justin Shanks, and Ukeme Eligwe. I think that the two most important of these, defensive tackles Lawrence-Stample and Goldman, will play on Saturday. I think there's a chance that outside linebacker Eligwe does, and I think that Shanks might be available if he were to be needed, but his contributions to the team this season were expected to be minimal so I doubt we see him. Needless to say it's pretty huge for FSU to get both its starting nose tackle and 3 technique back on a night where they'll need to play well against a quality offense to give the ‘Noles a chance to win a game in which many would expect their offensive output to be down.
STS: How does the suspension of Jameis Winston for the first half affect this game?
TN: I think a lot of FSU fans have significant confidence in backup Sean Maguire. He's got a big arm, has been in the system, and has received a lot of praise from the coaching staff, particularly after this year's spring game. We saw him in garbage time against the Citadel, but Jimbo didn't really let him do much. Obviously he's not Jameis Winston, and I do have my concerns about Maguire in this particular matchup. I did and still do believe that FSU will be throwing on early downs. This will require Maguire to either take the easy yards if Clemson is playing soft coverage and being patient in driving the ball down field in doing so, or it will require him to make throws in tight coverage that could go for longer gains if Clemson tries to press Florida State's wideouts. Not to mention that he'll have to take care of the ball, as Clemson's offense is good enough already without short fields. I'm not sure which coverage strategy the Tigers will favor, but either way Maguire will be under a lot of pressure to make plays against a talented defense.
STS: TE Nick O'Leary had 161 receiving yards in this matchup a year ago. Can you talk a little bit about what makes him so special and how much he will impact the game going against a Clemson team with two new OLBs? Also, given he's a senior, feel free to use this space to discuss his NFL prospects.
TN: O'Leary will be an important safety blanket for Sean Maguire in the first half, and is one of Winston's favorite targets already. Nick is big and athletic with great hands, and has improved significantly in his blocking ability over the course of his FSU career. He'll become particularly important against Clemson with the new outside linebackers, but also if Clemson tries to press FSU's receivers. If they do, the ‘Noles will go to their bunch sets and run their crossing routes and rub combos, as well as option routes for O'Leary. I think he'll have a very active night on Saturday.
While Nick isn't your prototypical in-line NFL tight end, I think he'll be a great asset to a team that selects him in the mid to later rounds. He's versatile and reliable, and I've been glad to have him at FSU for the last four years, and even more glad that he defeated the Tallahassee bus with which he played a game of contact chicken.
STS: In last year's matchup, 79% of FSU's yards from scrimmage came through the air. In week one, The Cowboys held Karlos Williams to 2.9 YPC. Obviously, the offense scored plenty of points in those games and when you have a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback you want to pass the ball, but is there any reason to fret over the Seminole run game?
TN: In general? No. Against Clemson? Somewhat. The Tigers' defensive line can be very disruptive, particularly through penetration. I think this will be troublesome for FSU's outside zone runs, as shooting gaps can quickly blow those up. As a result I think we'll see less of FSU's shotgun, two-back sets and outside runs, and more pistol and I-formation looks in the run game. I think the ‘Noles will run inside zone and man block schemes with all of their backs and try to go at Clemson's talented linemen rather than around them.
Karlos Williams is still figuring out the position after switching from safety last season, but is a physical freak and more than capable of being a productive back. Mario Pender and Dalvin Cook are both more natural running backs, and will see their shares of playing time on Saturday night. A big emphasis of Jimbo's is staying on schedule in terms of down and distance. He has a tendency to throw on standard downs, and I expect that to continue, even with Maguire at quarterback. But the ‘Noles will have to run effectively on Saturday, and sometimes in obvious running downs. I think their chances are better with a more vertical approach to the run game, but struggles are still certainly possible.
STS: If Florida State is the Death Star, where's the thermal exhaust port? Certainly Tallahassee couldn't produce consecutive historically great teams... right? (Please tell me I'm right.) What would you exploit if you were Clemson (don't worry, Dabo won't read this)?
TN: On offense I think it's forcing FSU into bad leverage situations in down and distance, particularly with Maguire in the game. If Clemson is able to force some incompletions or unsuccessful runs on early downs and get Maguire into obvious passing downs, I think the ‘Noles will have difficulties. FSU has reliable receivers in Greene and O'Leary, and Bobo Wilson looked good last week, but it badly needs another threat to emerge outside at wide receiver, be it Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph, Christian Green, whoever.
On defense I think it's the safety position. Nate Andrews is reliable if not spectacular, Tyler Hunter has issues in run support, and Jalen Ramsey, while a freak, is still learning the star position vacated by Lamarcus Joyner. The corners and defensive ends are excellent, while the defensive tackle position is better than we expected in terms of depth. I think Clemson can have success against FSU by establishing a credible A-gap run threat and hitting some long plays over the top. I don't think the horizontal passing game will be very effective, as FSU has defended such plays extremely effectively of late. I'll also say the FSU D-linemen and blitzers have got to stay in their containment lanes, particularly against Watson, because as I mentioned last week, pattern-match coverages can provide mobile quarterbacks who break contain a whole lot of room to run before reinforcements arrive.
STS: In which position group battle are you most confident on Saturday night? Least confident?
TN: I am most confident in Florida State's corners against Clemson's wide receivers. I'm confident in Ronald Darby and PJ Williams against just about anybody, but I think they'll be able to keep the horizontal passing game in check for Clemson. However, while it's close, I'll say I'm least confident in FSU's safeties against Clemson's wideouts. So it seems to me that Morris will be looking for ways to get the ball over the top into these match-ups. The intuitive answer on weakness is Maguire, but I think he'll be able to do what is asked of him for a half and at least keep FSU in the game. I'm also pretty confident in Mario Edwards Jr. against anybody he's up against, as a bonus selection.
STS: Is a "W" a "W" or will there be a large segment of Seminole fans that will be unhappy with anything short of utter dominance? On that note, what is your prediction?
TN: Even before Winston was suspended for the first half I'd have said a win is a win here. Clemson is a good team and last year was an anomaly. That said, a large segment of the fan base definitely would not have been happy with something like a one score win, as many have not quite realized that the 2014 team is not the 2013 team. Now, I think the response will be more tempered in the case of a close win, and I'm not really sure what it would be in the case of a loss. Probably a lot of anger at Jameis and the FSU administration for suspending him. I'll also warn you that the smugness level of the ‘Noles fanbase if FSU blows out Clemson with Maguire playing for a half will be unbearable for y'all.
I am fascinated by the spread on this game. It opened at 22, then dropped to 20.5, then was taken off the board Wednesday morning, then was re-posted after the suspension news around 16. I think Vegas is undervaluing Winston, and I'm not sure I'd have given 16 even with him playing the whole game. I think the Seminoles will struggle on offense for a good portion of this game, but will play well on defense. Give me FSU eeking out a 23-16 win over the Tigers that will never, ever be comfortable.