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ACC Championship Game Preview: Q&A with Tomahawk Nation

FSU affiliate Tomahawk Nation answers our questions about FSU's team this year


This week we get to learn about Atlantic Division winner Florida State. Thanks to Dylan Kidd for representing Tomahawk Nation and giving us great insight into FSU's team. Head over to Tomahawk Nation as they are one of the most active and insightful SB Nation blogs in the network and if you want any Florida State info, that is the place to go. You can find my answers to his questions here. Lets get to it.

FTRS: Last week Florida State lost to in-state rival Florida in a very close game they were favored in by 7, mainly due to turnovers (losing 13 points of turnover value alone according to Brian Fremeau) and poor field position throughout the game. What are the coaches and leaders on the team going to have to do to prevent a let down in the ACC Championship game following such a frustrating loss? Is there a risk of FSU not taking Georgia Tech seriously?

TN: I think there is a serious risk of running into some problems on Saturday against the Yellow Jackets. The loss to Florida was a dispiriting one for Florida State, as they were pushed around on the line of scrimmage and blew a comeback in the process. And frankly it’s probably difficult to get the team up for a game against a 6-6 team in Charlotte following all the emotion of Florida week. On top of that, we’ve had ourselves quite a week over here. Mark Stoops accepted the head coaching position at Kentucky on Tuesday, and we expect that offensive coordinator (in name only) James Coley will follow him. Both will still coach against Georgia Tech. This creates an interesting situation for FSU fans, as most remember the national championship game against Oklahoma in 2000. Offensive coordinator March Richt had accepted the head coaching position at Georgia, but stayed on to call one last game for Florida State for the title. The result was a 13-2 loss to the Sooners, so needless to say it didn’t go so well. We’re hoping that situation doesn’t repeat itself. Losing a defensive coordinator during a week of preparation for Paul Johnson’s offense is far from ideal. Mark Stoops is going to have to be committed to putting in a full effort during preparation this week, and defensive leaders are going to have to bring everything they have to avoid a letdown after Florida and the distractions of coaching departures.
FTRS: Florida State's defense is one of the best in the country, certainly the best in the ACC. However, the loss of stud defensive end Tank Carradine is going to force two freshmen, Mario Edwards Jr. and Giorgio Newberry, to step up in this game. Granted, those two defensive lineman probably have more talent than any Georgia Tech defensive lineman, but freshman are freshman. What is Florida State going to have to do defensively to prevent Coach Johnson from taking advantage of them throughout the game?

TN: Yeah, this is the other thing. We’ve got a Florida letdown, coaching staff upheaval, and the loss of a potential first round draft pick at defensive end. Sadly, he is not the first of that caliber to go down at that position. Brandon Jenkins suffered a lisfranc injury during the first game that ended his year. The result is a pretty thin defensive end position that was probably the strength of the entire team coming into 2012. While Mario was the #1 overall recruit in the country last season and has progressed this year, you’re correct in noting that a freshman is a freshman. He made an awful play on a 37 yard Florida TD run last week in which he dropped a spin move on a dive run. It was perplexing. Giorgio is nothing special at this point, and I’m really hoping that this won’t force the burning of a badly needed redshirt for ultra-talented but super raw recruit Chris Casher. I think that Johnson will exploit the matchups with these freshman ends. To minimize the damage Florida State will need a quality effort from its interior defensive line, which was knocked around by Florida last week. Hopefully that spurs a more characteristic performance this week. FSU is a very talented and deep team at defensive tackle, an important position in defending Johnson’s attack. If the tackles are able to win their assignments and cause a little havoc, it could do wonders for the defensive ends not named Bjoern Werner. They’ll also probably need some help from the linebackers, which is a scarier proposition than hoping for aid from the tackles. The Seminole linebacking corps has been inconsistent and will need to be in position on Saturday evening.

FTRS: Has Mark Stoops had any experience defending the flexbone option, or a primary option team? Florida State seems talented enough to play us straight up and let their front 7 go to work, but will that be enough to contain our offense?

TN: I don’t think that Stoops has had much experience in defending a primary option attack as a defensive coordinator. Before Florida State Stoops was the DC at Arizona in his first job as a coordinator, which means he defended some of Oregon’s veer stuff, but I’m not sure if he ever played a team like Navy. I think that on a normal week with a full contingent of defensive linemen and a stable coaching situation Florida State would be able to let its front wreak havoc against the Jackets. I don’t think that GT would pose much of a problem for the ‘Noles. However, as we know, this week is not a normal one. I do think that Florida State has a major talent advantage in its front seven against Georgia Tech’s front. I do not think that this will be enough to stifle Johnson’s offense this week. I expect the Jackets to move the ball and to score on FSU. Another factor which I’ve not yet mentioned is the concerns I have regarding the defense being gassed. This is the 13th game of the season, and a guy like Bjoern Werner has played a whole lot of snaps this year. Florida had a giant time of possession disparity last week, and it showed at the end of the first and second halves. The ‘Noles got shredded by UF’s ground game and looked exhausted. Georgia Tech is obviously the kind of team that can run up a similar time of possession issue and keep these guys out there for a long time yet again. It’s something to watch, and it’s a major worry if you’re an FSU fan.

FTRS: What has prevented Florida State from truly turning the corner this year into a legit National title contender? Is it a good sign for the program that a likely ACC Championship and Orange Bowl victory is seen as a disappointment?

TN: There have been a few factors, in my opinion, that have prevented FSU from becoming one of the nation’s best teams. While injuries aren’t close to what they were last season, Florida State lost its best defensive player for the season (Jenkins), its best offensive player halfway through the year (Chris Thompson), and dismissed its best special teams player and starting corner over the summer (Greg Reid). The list only grows with the loss of Tank. The offensive line is very young and has struggled running the inside zone plays and just in general against good defenses. While EJ Manuel is a good college quarterback, he isn’t a great one and struggles in making reads sometimes. Florida State’s loss to NC State was a bad one, plain and simple. The ‘Noles went into a conservative shell during the second half of the game up 16-0, and Manuel made several mistakes, including a terrible interception. It was a script we’d seen before in which FSU plays very poorly on the road against a 10-17 point underdog. Manuel’s mistakes again reared their head against Florida, as the fifth year senior had four killer turnovers. Florida also had an excellent offensive plan, and Brent Pease is to be commended. They looked like a team three weeks prepared for FSU (because they were) and they beat the ‘Noles up in the trenches.
It’s easy to look at the losses and talk about what went wrong, but it’s a lot more difficult to make blanket statements about what the program needs to do in order to take the next step. Florida State needs to keep bringing in great players. It needs to find another good defensive coordinator to replace Mark Stoops. It needs to think about hiring an offensive coordinator with more control over game day operations, such as calling plays, as Fisher has hinted recently. This is a team that was favored in every game it played this year and needs to learn how to give its best effort week in and week out, to the extent that such is possible for a group of 18-22 year old kids. I do think it’s an excellent sign that an ACC Title, an Orange Bowl victory, and a 12-2 year are seen as a disappointment by some Florida State fans. Expectations need to be high for a program with the resources of FSU, and winning the Atlantic and the conference are the first step towards getting back to being a perennially elite program.

FTRS: What will Florida State have to do offensively to get EJ Manuel out of his funk? After watching the end of the Florida game and watching our team this year, I can tell you straight up Florida State could run with Manuel every play and score 45 points on us. Will Jimbo Fisher finally take advantage of EJ's running ability?

TN: You’ve hit on something important here. The absence of EJ’s legs has been a problem for FSU’s offense this season. Florida State fans don’t know who to blame for this. On the one hand, Jimbo called more designed runs early in the season and still calls plenty of what appear to be zone read plays. However, EJ running the zone read is, to put it mildly, an utter abomination to football. It’s one of the easiest reads in the game and he’s either terrible at it or refuses to keep the ball in situations that call for it, which is like every time because opponents know he’s handing the ball off. Is EJ refusing to run to show professional teams that he can be a traditional, drop back passer? Is he afraid of being injured again, as he has been numerous times in the past? Is he nursing an unknown injury? Or is Jimbo marketing him to NFL teams or protecting him in his play-calling? There are plenty of theories. I personally lean towards blaming EJ for being reluctant to run for whatever reason. Point being, Manuel is running less this season and there’s no real reason to think that will change on Saturday, sadly. However, he is still a threat to take off every now and then and is fairly decent at extending plays with his legs, though he is prone to a deadly awful spin move that usually results in taking a 20 yard sack.

FTRS: As a Georgia Tech fan I am not talking myself into giving us a chance to win, I can't do that to myself. According to FEI Georgia Tech's Offense/defense/special teams splits are 24/78/114 while Florida State's are 53/14/20. Our good offense is about to play a great defense, and our awful defense and special teams are about to play a decent offense and great special teams. Can you give me the paranoid Florida State fan's reasoning (not that you are) for why you guys might lose this game?

TN: Yes! I think I’ve referenced most of the reasons for the defense. Tank’s loss, letdown after getting pushed around and staying on the field forever against Florida, time of possession on legs that have seen a bunch of snaps this season, and coaching turmoil. I think GT will move the ball rather effectively. On offense, EJ did get smacked in the head last week no matter what Jimbo tries to tell you. They did give him a concussion test, they tried to take him to the locker room, and he came back out and played the last few drives. I don’t believe what FSU says about him not having a head injury. I just don’t. However, I think that Florida State will move the ball effectively as well. Rashad Greene is a guy to watch, and I think that Freeman and Wilder will get their yards. The question will be if the Jackets can keep the FSU defense on the field and wear them down (I think they can) and put pressure on the ‘Noles to answer every score. If that happens it could certainly be a close game. Everyone has seen how prone EJ can be to turnovers, and with staff turnover in the middle of the week we just don’t know what we’re going to get. Maybe it’s a great effort to send the departing members off with one last hurrah, and maybe it’s a lackluster, distracted performance that results in some awful calamity like a second straight loss. We’ll see.

FTRS: And finally, lets have a prediction. Who goes home with the ACC Championship Trophy?

TN: I probably sound pretty worried, and that’s because I am. This has been a hell of a week and I just can’t say with any certainty that I have an idea of what sort of FSU team will show up on Saturday night. I can say that I think the Seminoles will score a lot, but I could see this thing going either way. I’m not taking FSU to cover the 13-point line. I still like FSU’s talent advantage on defense to get a few stops and maybe the special teams disparity will show up. Give me 41-30 Florida State, but please oh please don’t hold me to it.

Thanks again to Tomahawk Nation for participating, check out my answers to their questions here.