As you probably know, Tomahawk Nation is Florida State's SB Nation blog, and it's one of the network's most popular and vibrant blogs and communities. We got to exchange questions and answers from DKfromVA of Tomahawk Nation about this Saturday's matchup between the Bulls and the Seminoles.
My answers to his questions will appear on their site later today. Right now, here are my questions and DK's answers. Settle in, because both of us like giving complete answers.
1. What about the win over Clemson was the biggest surprise to you? Did you think the game would be as high-scoring as it turned out to be?
DK: I think that many FSU fans were surprised at the offensive numbers Clemson was able to generate. The Seminole defense was the clear strength of the team last year and was expected to be in 2012, though the offense has actually out-performed the D to date. Chad Morris really emptied the Tigers' playbook, pulling out trick play after trick play. He called a great game and was able to give his team a chance, but ultimately ran out of gadgets and Mark Stoops' defense slowed them down. The offensive output shouldn't have been a surprise to Florida State fans, as Clemson's defense is quite bad, but we just can't help but marvel at the Seminole offensive line. This group started ten different players last season, including four true freshmen in the bowl game. It then converted a defensive tackle to left tackle and brought in a JUCO right tackle from England who first played football in 2011. These two are starters now, which really shouldn't work. But it has. The FSU offensive line has been very good in 2012, allowing the ‘Noles to amass huge numbers, especially on the ground. I guess the true surprise came from kicker Dustin Hopkins, who has had a fantastic career but missed two field goals in the first half. We expect him to bounce back moving forward.
2. The Seminoles got through last weekend pretty much unscathed as far as injuries go. What are the longer-term injuries that FSU dealing with right now?
DK: True freshman defensive end Chris Casher, third on the depth chart at his position, experienced a recurring cartilage issue in his knee and will likely miss the season to get that cleaned up and take a redshirt. Defensive end Bjoern Werner dislocated a finger but still finished the game. Corner Xavier Rhodes has a back issue. We're not sure if injuries to those two will have any playing time ramifications on Saturday. Lost for the season was All American defensive end Brandon Jenkins with a foot injury and corner/punt returner Greg Reid who was dismissed.
3. What makes the FSU defense so dominant? Is it just raw talent playing well, or does Mark Stoops do anything special schematically?
DK: Mark Stoops has brought a truly multiple defense to Florida State and has revamped a unit that was suffering as Mickey Andrews' career came to an end. He has helped to rejuvenate recruiting, bringing in some of the best talent in the country. His system utilizes a mix of man and zone coverages with some exotic looks and the ability to bring pressure from a lot of different places. Stoops is also able to tailor his system to his personnel. It starts up front with studs like Bjoern Werner, Tank Carradine, Amp McCloud, Timmy Jernigan, and Everette Dawkins. The FSU defensive line is extremely talented and very deep, which allows Coach Stoops to get pressure with four and play some conservative packages in coverage. The ‘Noles can also be very aggressive with their corners if they wish with two safeties possessing great range and ball skills over the top in Terrence Brooks and Lamarcus Joyner. While the linebackers are the weakest group of the defense (though still a solid one), Stoops is able to play a lot of nickel, utilizing excellent nickelback Tyler Hunter without giving up much size in the box. So, while the Seminoles have a lot of talent that will be playing on Sundays in the coming years, Mark Stoops has been able to deploy it effectively during his time in Tallahassee.
4. Where do you consider the Seminoles to be vulnerable?
DK: It feels strange to say that there aren't many areas that fall under that description. The one that stands out to most ‘Noles fans is at punt returner. Greg Reid's dismissal left a void at this position that has yet to be filled. Rashad Greene has run two in for touchdowns, but has also had two fumbles, including a crucial one against Clemson last week. The Seminoles need to find a punt returner who can simply limit the big mistakes.
Florida State has also yet to see a good defense, so it's hard to know where the offense's weaknesses might lie. There haven't looked to be many so far this season. The ‘Noles have an athletic fifth year senior at quarterback, a quality group of running backs, a very deep wide receiver corps, and a solid offensive line. Jimbo Fisher has been able to keep defenses honest and off-balance so far this year, which has led to a great start for his group.
It's going to take some serious athletes and coaching to beat the Seminole defense, and Clemson had both last Saturday. I don't think FSU will see a combination like that again in the regular season. But, to have success against the ‘Noles an offense must slow their pass rush and make them respect the running game and commit extra defenders to it. This is a tall order against one of the top defensive fronts in the country.
5. Looking back, do FSU fans consider USF beating them in 2009 to be a blessing in disguise? Tomahawk Nation had been saying it for a while by then, but that game and Bobby Bowden's bewildered postgame press conference seemed to be where everyone finally accepted that Bowden's time had come. Where do you think would the Seminoles be as a program today if they had won that game comfortably?
DK: You hit the nail on the head here. While the loss to USF was excruciating to watch, it did seal the fate of the Bowden regime. If Florida State wins that game comfortably there's a real chance the movement to oust that coaching staff would never have built the necessary strength to reach its goal in 2009. Frankly, another year of that staff would have made this season completely impossible (and those of the last two years, for that matter). Recruiting was absolutely tanking at the time of that game. Jimbo Fisher's staff was able to salvage this class after taking over, which is the crucial group of juniors on this season's team. The program was in need of a complete makeover, which Fisher provided in implementing a modern support staff, nutrition regiment, strength and conditioning program, and overall structure of accountability. It also allowed the defensive staff under Mark Stoops to implement a significantly different system than the man-heavy cover 1/0 employed by Mickey Andrews, which has hit its stride in year three.
I don't think I'm overselling this. 2012 has seen a veteran team and coaching staff ready to utilize its elite talent and have a big year. It probably couldn't have happened without the home loss to the Bulls in 2009. So, every time I think about how awful that game was, I am reminded of how grateful I should be to the South Florida program.
6. There's always a huge rush in the media to declare brand-name teams "back" when they get one big win under their belts. What do you personally want to see FSU accomplish before you agree that they're back? A conference title? A BCS bowl win? More than that?
DK: It really depends on the definition of "back." Truth be told, the run of top-five finishes amassed by FSU during the dynasty years will not be equaled in the foreseeable future. Florida State will never reach that standard. If "back" means returning to the elite of college football and contenders for conference and national championships, then I think the goal is more attainable. You are correct, though, that there are steps to be taken before this program can call itself one of the nation's best. Florida State hasn't consistently been the top team in its own division for many years and hasn't won the ACC since 2005. So, yes, these two achievements must come first. Being an elite program is more than having a BCS caliber team once in a while. We want to see a contender in the ACC year in and year out with BCS appearances rather regularly, which we think is quite possible as an ACC team. It takes a favorable schedule, injury luck, and some good bounces to play for national championships, but we do hope to see this occur every once in a while. The start to 2012 has many FSU fans thinking that this just might be one of those years.
7. Last year we asked pretty much every opponent about conference realignment. What did FSU fans think about last year's chain of events? If another conference had come after the Noles, like the SEC or the Big XII, do you think FSU would have left the ACC?
DK: By and large, most Florida State fans are pretty unhappy with the ACC as a conference. There's a perception of favoritism towards the North Carolina schools, the ridiculous equal sharing of TV revenues even though FSU is by far the biggest ratings draw, and the terrible officiating in football. (editor's note: Hellooooo, Ron Cherry! If he shows up to this game, I'm going to go berserk.) Florida State would almost certainly leave for the SEC if they offered, but this is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future.
The Big XII is an interesting question. There were lots of talks about this conference during the spring and summer months, with several reports of traction being gained within the Florida State higher ups, to the point of causing President Barron to issue a statement refuting them. There are arguments for and against the Big XII, but the recent quasi-addition of Notre Dame has quelled many of these. The added revenue helps, and if in fact this does pave the way for their full membership in the conference, then the ACC will become a viable conference. That's really what it's all about. FSU fans can deal with the issues the ACC brings as long as it knows that it won't fall behind in the college football arms race. It takes huge amounts of money to compete with the top programs in the modern game and Florida State does not have the alumni base and endowment that its competitors, the older SEC schools, do. Whichever option presents the most long-term financial security is that which Florida State will likely take.
8. So how many points is FSU going to win by on Saturday?
DK: Well, as of now the spread sits around 17 points. The potential for a letdown game is absolutely there after a huge win against Clemson. Some FSU fans have been trying to play up the revenge factor for this game, but I really doubt that the team will be motivated by this idea. Most were not on the team at the time of the 2009 game, and it was quite a while ago. This is a different program. That being said, Florida State has a talent and coaching advantage in this game, and I don't think USF will have too much of a home field effect. I want to see the ‘Noles start fast on Saturday, something they have not done in these types of games in the past. The starters could really use the rest afforded to them by a big lead early after a dogfight last week and another important Atlantic Division game on deck next week in Raleigh. While this has been a season of unexpectedly breaking tendencies so far for the Seminoles, I still think we'll see a sluggish start from the ‘Noles on Saturday. I think they'll limit the USF offense pretty effectively with an 8-man box and a lot of cover 3 to make BJ Daniels drive the field. I think it will take a few series to get the offense rolling. Eventually I think it's a 31-13 win for Florida State, so I guess I'll take the cover.