FTRS: After the constant media circus that followed the team the past two seasons with all of the over exposure and non-stop coverage, how much different has it been this year to follow the team without all of the craziness?
TN: It's been a nice change of pace as far as coverage has gone, to be quite honest. For a multitude of reasons, FSU was certainly a lightning rod program over 2013 and 2014. With Winston gone and an expected rebuilding year in 2015, the tone towards the ‘Noles program has changed. The expectations for such a rebuilding season were justified, and the Seminoles have so far exceeded these expectations due to a higher quality of play from the team than expected, as well as a schedule that has broken very favorably so far. It's nice to still be under the radar as far as coverage, to an extent, but if the ‘Noles keep winning, I think it will return, though maybe not to the level of the two previous years.
FTRS: It seems like Florida State is being under appreciated this season and forgotten about despite the team being undefeated and taking care of business each week. Do you feel like they are being overlooked this season because of the playoff result last year, or is it just because the schedule hasn't been too grueling so far?
TN: Yeah as I mentioned, it does feel as if FSU is still sort of flying under the radar to date, which is strange to think about for a team that had one loss over the last two seasons and made it to the semifinals a year ago. I think a lot of it has been that FSU just wasn't expected to be nearly as good without everything they lost off of the 2014 squad. A subpart of that is losing the ultimate embodiment of college athlete scrutiny in Winston, making the team less interesting for the media to cover. There's always the "who have they played" refrain from everyone else when an ACC team wins a lot of games, too. I guess the playoff result could give that more credence, but I think it's more that the ‘Noles were expected to see s drop-off in quality of play and the media doesn't feel that they've played anybody yet. And quite honestly, I'd agree with that. I think they're improving each week since the bye, but I don't think they've done much to warrant a top-5 ranking or anything just based on resume at this point. This team just needs to keep improving and pick up wins over the next two weeks, as the Clemson game will obviously be the pivotal moment in this season.
FTRS: Talk about Dalvin Cook and what he's currently doing for this team. We saw his star potential last season in a huge ACC Championship game against Georgia Tech, and I don't think anyone is surprised to see him break out like this.
TN: Dalvin has to be in the conversation for the best running back in the nation. In the Numerical this week, Bill Connelly wrote that Cook has been the most explosive, while Fournette has been the most efficient. I think both are phenomenal backs and that who you'd take is a matter of preference, as illustrated by the dumpster fire of a comments section on that article. He's got great speed, good size, and an uncanny ability to put his foot in the ground, change directions, and hit top speed almost immediately. I think his vision is his best attribute, as he just has a great feel for the flow of the play and where he needs to go. The question with Cook is the health of his hamstring. He strained it against Wake Forest, played very well against Miami while pulling up lame on a run again, and then looked to be about 75% against Louisville last week while again putting up great numbers. He's followed the same practice schedule this week, and I'm interested to see how healthy he looks Saturday. If the hamstring continues to deteriorate, that would be a cause of great concern for FSU fans.
FTRS: How do you rate Everett Golson's performance so far? It seems like he's playing a complete different style of play with the Seminoles' than what we saw with Notre Dame ... smart and safe.
TN: To start the season, Golson was just flat-out bad. Then, the bye week happened. Since that time, Jimbo Fisher realized he needed to dumb down the offense for a quarterback who had only been exposed to the complex concepts for a month or two before the season and a young skill group that wasn't executing. The ‘Noles have gone to many more basic passing plays for Golson, many featuring only half-field or single-read concepts. This has worked wonders, as Golson has been able to make more plays in the passing game while continuing to protect the ball and lean on the run game. It's a passing game that's risk-averse, which has contributed significantly to the Seminoles having an astounding zero offensive turnovers to date. Golson has also been fantastic in avoiding sacks, particularly last week against Louisville. He has an uncanny ability to avoid pressure and throw the ball away beyond the line of scrimmage/outside the tackle box to avoid a grounding penalty, which has been necessary at times when the FSU offensive line has struggled in pass protection. Overall I'm happy with what Golson has brought to this year's team, and increasingly so each week.
FTRS: How much differently are Seminole fans treating this game than you maybe expected before the season when it was being looked at as a prime matchup with possible conference and playoff implications involved?
TN: It's definitely a different game than we expected entering the year. I think a lot of our staff had this as the most likely FSU loss this season before it started. We did a mid-season roundtable this week where we took stock of the season so far, and I said that I think only Clemson and Florida are as good or better than we expected them to be in the pre-season, which is an illustration of just how well the FSU schedule has broken for the team this season. That said, Georgia Tech is not as bad as its record reflects, and a 6.5-point spread is no cake walk by any means. I expect the ‘Noles to get GT's best shot on homecoming in the white out night game. As always with the Jackets, I expect a lower-possession game because they'll keep the clock running and play at a slower pace. And this year, FSU is playing at an even slower pace than Georgia Tech. Lower possession games put a premium on efficiency with the few possessions you get, and can mean higher-variance outcomes. Florida State will still need to play well to beat GT, even if the build-up isn't quite what we expected in August.
FTRS: Give me three offensive players for Tech fans to look out for on Saturday night.
TN: Dalvin Cook is too obvious, so I'll go with wideout Kermit Whitfield, tight end Ryan Izzo, and running back Johnathan Vickers. Whitfield is a slot receiver who has been FSU's most reliable this year, which is surprising after a sophomore slump year. He was the freshman who returned the kickoff for TD to give the ‘Noles the lead in the 2013 title game. Izzo has become a bigger part of the ‘Noles' offense each week, especially in the red zone. Vickers may be called on a good bit if Cook is at all limited, and while not close to the same caliber of runner, he's capable of picking up good yardage against a Tech defense that has struggled against the run so far.
FTRS: Give me three defensive players for Tech fans to look out for on Saturday night.
TN: Jalen Ramsey is Florida State's freak at boundary corner who is a terror against the run to his side of the field, and I'd be wary of him if I were wearing a white uniform on Saturday. Derrick Nnadi has been very good at defensive tackle, and he'll need to do good work against the dive plays Tech will run. My third player would be linebacker Reggie Northrup. He is not good in pass coverage, but is well-suited to stop the run and he'll probably make plenty of tackles. A bonus is freshman phenom Derwin James, who will need to be involved with physical safety Trey Marshall out for the season.
FTRS: Finally, how do you see it all playing out as the undefeated Florida State Seminoles travel to Atlanta to face the struggling Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium?
TN: It'll be a low possession game and will probably be over pretty quickly, as these two slow-tempo, run-heavy offenses melt the clock. So we'll all be back out to the bars by 10:30 or so, which is good. While I do believe GT is much better than the 2-5 record suggests, I'm a little perplexed as to why this is only a 6.5-point spread, to be honest. FSU made me a believer last week with a really good second half performance against a talented Louisville defense in a noon game following the Miami showdown. The Jackets are really banged up, the FSU defense is well-suited to stop the run, and the Seminoles will be able to run on the GT defense. I think the ‘Noles will win and cover, and I'll call it 31-20. The caveat is if Cook plays a reasonable amount. If he leaves the game early or is significantly limited, then Florida State may have their hands full.