Below, Dylan Kidd (who you should follow on Twitter) from SB Nation's excellent Tomahawk Nation, stops by to share everything we'll need to know around the Seminoles. We answered some questions over there too, which you can check out here.
Sorry to reopen this wound: What went through your mind as that final play against Georgia Tech unfolded? We've lost our last two games on the last play -- but obviously not like that.
I was in the stands in Atlanta, so it was a particularly interesting experience for me. I was actually really confident that Aguayo was going to make the kick. He’s one of the best we’ve ever had, and I know he looks forward to those kind of huge moments to make a game winning kick – even from 56 yards. I was disappointed when I saw the kick blocked because I wanted that moment from him, and briefly started to think about whether I thought FSU would win in OT, when I saw the Tech kid pick the ball up and take off. As soon as he did, I knew there was going to be a problem.
I could see that there were a lot of white shirts and very few garnet ones down the field. Sure enough, despite Roberto’s best effort, it was a walk-off kick six. I stood there for a minute in some measure of disbelief and looking for a flag, and ultimately chuckled a little bit before leaving the stadium. It sort of summed up a night in which FSU seemed to do everything in its power to lose the game. It didn’t tear me up too badly, as it maybe would have in 2013 or 2014, and I think that’s because this wasn’t a team I expected to make a playoff run, particularly after having watched what they’d done in that game. Also, that was one of the fastest games I’ve ever watched, so we were back at bars by 10:30 after a 7:00 kickoff, which helped.
For all the flack he's gotten, Everett Golson's actually put together a pretty solid season for the 'Noles. What makes him a quality QB, in the eyes of FSU fans?
Golson has definitely improved since the bye week after starting the season poorly. He wasn’t picking up the offense as quickly as Jimbo Fisher expected, and to his credit, Coach Fisher really dumbed down the offense conceptually heading into the games after the bye. The FSU offense now features a lot more half-field and even single-read passing plays, and Golson is handling these much better than the more expansive offense he was tasked with in the beginning of the year. Golson has good arm strength and can make the throws he needs to when he gets the reads right, but my favorite quality of his is the escape-ability he’s repeatedly shown. He was an absolute wizard against Louisville in avoiding a sack and getting rid of the ball to avoid intentional grounding all day, which helped FSU keep from getting off-schedule, critical for this offense. He’s still very bad on zone read plays in the run game, which is disappointing, but if he’s executing what Fisher asks of him fairly consistently, he’s able to have success in the Seminole offense.
Seems Mario Pender could return to the backfield this weekend. How does that change the run game for Florida State?
That would be a huge development, though I’m not convinced it happens. Pender suffered a collapsed lung in practice, then had a subsequent infection while in the hospital and lost like 20 pounds. He definitely looks a lot better, but I’d be extremely impressed if he can bounce back from such a scary health situation and put the weight back on that quickly.
Pender’s return would be particularly significant if Dalvin Cook’s health continues to deteriorate. He tweaked the hamstring against Wake Forest, and has looked less and less like himself ever since. I’d call him about 90% against Miami, 75% against Louisville, and maybe 60% last week. His explosiveness is so critical to this Florida State offense, and it just wasn’t there in Atlanta. Obviously, with Clemson on deck, we’d like to see Cook as close to 100% as he can get. I don’t know how realistic that is, as hamstrings are notoriously difficult to rehab in quick order, but I also don’t know how much he adds to the offense if he’s in even worse health this Saturday than last. I’d go so far as to say I would roll with Pender and third-string Johnathan Vickers if the former is able to go this week, and I think that would still present an upgrade to the backfield the Seminoles rolled out last week against Georgia Tech.
Defensively, what's FSU's bread-and-butter this season? Put another way: what's the one thing Syracuse's freshman-laden offense should be looking out for?
The Florida State defensive line is its strength this season. They’ve benefitted from a significant increase in depth, as well as some new coaching up front with Brad Lawing coming over from Florida. This year’s ‘Noles use more one-gap schemes up front, allowing for a better pass rush from the front four. Derrick Nnadi and Nile Lawrence-Stample are a formidable defensive tackle pair, and DeMarcus Walker has had the best season of his career at defensive end. All-world true freshman Josh Sweat has exceeded everyone’s realistic expectations after suffering a nasty knee injury during his senior year of high school, and continues to improve each week. These guys could make life hard on the Syracuse offensive line.
That said, the ‘Noles have been better against the run than the pass, despite featuring some fearsome pass rushers. This has been the case in large part because of injuries on defense. Safety Nate Andrews, linebacker Terrance Smith, and safety Trey Marshall (out for year) have all been banged up, leaving some serious holes in the middle of the field, to the point where the ‘Noles have played a 175-pound walk on a significant amount over the last two weeks. So while the Orange may have some issues up front with the ‘Noles, they may also be able to find some success against a secondary whose health is improving, but is still a bit hobbled.
Obviously with a team full of 4- and 5-star talent, it's hard to go "unheralded." But who's one player that flies under the radar a bit for the Seminoles just the same?
On offense, I’ll go with Kermit Whitfield. The junior wideout was the guy with freakish speed who ran back the kickoff in the fourth quarter of the national championship game against Auburn as a freshman to give the Seminoles the lead. Then, he had a significant sophomore slump. He was badly out of shape, and incapable of contributing as a wide receiver. There were real questions about how much the ‘Noles would get out of him for the rest of his career. Whitfield showed up in shape this season, and has progressed into the Seminoles’ best wideout so far in 2015. He learned how to run routes and catch the ball! Those were good additions to his skill set.
On defense, I’ll argue for Marquez White. The junior corner split time as a basketball player until last season, when he decided to focus on football. Coming into the season, Jalen Ramsey was assured one of the two cornerback spots, but the other was very much up for grabs. White has played excellent football to date. He uses his length to his advantage in defending the short side of the field, which makes it hard for offenses to get the ball past him in the field position. He’s also been very physical in the run game, taking after his compatriot Ramsey in that department. For me, Marquez is the unsung hero of the defense so far this year.
We hear you guys might be better than us at basketball this year too. What's that all about?
I have even less than zero idea! But, not wanting to let our internet best friends down, I contacted somebody who would.
Michael Rogner: "It's true. In addition to being better than you at football and coeds, we may be figuring this basketball thing out. Personally, I put both Syracuse and FSU in the large pack below the big three of UVA, Duke, and UNC, and give 'Cuse the slight nod over the Noles, but don't be surprised if FSU moves ahead of the Orange. Like you guys, we couldn't shoot at all last year, and it turns out that shooting is important in basketball. Who knew?! But somehow Coach Hamilton pulled together the best recruiting class in FSU history (until the 2016 class) and is bringing in four players who can all score. If they can play defense as well, Florida State will be really good."
Florida State wins like it's supposed to if _____.
... the ‘Noles pick up a few explosive plays. This offense is one that we expected to be very much boom/bust coming into this season, and that might be even more true than we would’ve guessed then. That’s because FSU’s big-play guys at receiver, like freshman George Campbell, sophomore Pigg Harrison, and the aforementioned Whitfield, really haven’t come through with many explosive plays of their own. So it’s been the Dalvin Cook show, with the offense somewhat inept without his chunk plays. The Seminoles need to find some of these long gains going forward, because the offense just isn’t good enough to methodically drive and beat the teams we’d like it to for the rest of the year.
Syracuse deals the Seminoles their second straight upset loss if _____.
... the Orange limit FSU’s big plays, hit some of their own, and the Seminoles fail to take care of the football. I think this is particularly true if the ‘Cuse can take the lead early. This is not a team well-suited to play from behind, especially when off-schedule and in obvious passing downs. As you might have heard, the Seminoles have only had one offensive turnover so far this season. We’ve all seen Golson become a turnover machine before, and Cook has had fumbling problems as well. Florida State can ill-afford those issues to rear their heads against anyone this year. I don’t think Syracuse can beat FSU in a game in which both teams methodically drive and protect the ball, though they can make it an ugly, uncomfortable affair. It will take a great effort from Syracuse and a poor one from the ‘Noles, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Prediction: What happens here and how?
I have no shame in admitting to you friends that I have no strong feelings on what to expect from FSU this Saturday. The last Saturday noon home game was against Louisville. That was right after the Miami game, and for the first time in a long time, I picked the ‘Noles to lose. The first half went about as expected, with UL leading at half 7-6 in a slopfest. Then, FSU played this tremendous second half and blew the Cardinals out. We did a mid-season roundtable that week as the ‘Noles were 6-0, and to a man, everyone revised their expectations up from 9-3/10-2 pre-season to 10-2/11-1. We thought they’d turned the corner. Then, last week. Florida State laid a proverbial dinosaur egg in Atlanta, and we’re not optimistic we’ll see Dalvin Cook near full strength again during the regular season. Quite a rollercoaster.
How does FSU respond to its first loss? Otherwise, it’s a similar position to that it faced in the Louisville game. I will predict that the Orange cover the 20-point spread, but that the ‘Noles win a less-than-aesthetically-pleasing game, 27-14. Whole lot of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Hope we wear black uniforms and y’all wear orange. Happy Halloween.