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Syracuse vs. Florida State football preview: Q&A with Tomahawk Nation

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NCAA Football: Syracuse at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Without their starting quarterback, the Syracuse Orange lost again on Saturday — a disappointing 35-20 defeat at the hands of NC State. At 4-6 on the year, however, they’ll need to regroup quickly if their bowl hopes stand a chance at all. Unfortunately the Florida State Seminoles (7-3) come to town. While we enjoy hanging out with our ‘Noles pals here on the blog, the challenge they pose on the field is a little less welcome.

Below, Dylan from the excellent Tomahawk Nation (which you already follow on Twitter) joins us to discuss everything you’ll need to know about Florida State. We answer some questions over there too, which you’ll find here.

Are Florida State fans disappointed in how things have gone this season? Or are the losses to Clemson and Louisville defensible given the youth FSU's inserted this year?

FSU fans are definitely disappointed in the way that the 2016 season has unfolded. This is a team that was expected to compete for a national title, and we were told all off-season by sources inside the program that the hype was legitimate. There’s certainly some youth on this year’s team, but most believed that this could be overcome by all the experienced talent that returned. The coaching staff completely missed on the quality of this season’s team, particularly on defense. The Seminoles have looked inexplicably lost on that side of the ball at times this year. The entire defensive coaching staff returned from a top-10 unit last season by S&P+, as well as a huge amount of talent, and yet the 2016 output has taken a nosedive. I don’t yet have a way to explain it.

The Clemson loss is defensible, and was probably FSU’s best game of the season. However, Florida State cannot lose by 43 points against anyone, and certainly can’t give up 63 either. That was embarrassing and will probably be the impetus for some staff changes heading into 2017. The injury to Derwin James and subsequent loss of Nate Andrews have thinned the safety corps significantly, but that’s not the full explanation for the significant backslide the team has seen on defense this year. We’ll do a post-mortem after the year to try to figure out what we think happened, but it’s been frustrating.

The Noles' offensive line has been a trouble spot. What's the root of the problem, and where has it hurt the offense the most?

It clearly has been in pass protection. We expected that at the right tackle position, where defensive end Rick Leonard switched over during spring ball and then was the opening day starter. Pass blocking is just harder, and we expected it to take some time for him to be ready on that front. Then, true freshman Landon Dickerson won the starting right guard job, which would lead you to believe that the right side of the line would be pretty inconsistent, and it has been. This group as certainly struggled in pass protection consistently, which is disappointing from a unit that we expected to take a big step forward overall in 2016.

However, the ‘Noles have been pretty effective in run blocking, particularly since Dickerson won the job at guard and Leonard was replaced by Ruble at tackle. I think you’ll see them coming downhill at Syracuse a lot in the run game on Saturday. As far as causes for any struggles, FSU fans certainly like to point at coach Rick Trickett. I think some of the ire is really overblown, and most teams hate their offensive lines. The mistakes are the most visible, and much like officials and nuclear power plant operators, when you know them by name it’s never good. Trickett is old, though, so he’s likely not long for Tallahassee one way or another.

Deondre Francois has impressed at times this year. Do you feel like he's grown over the course of the 2016 schedule? And where's the ceiling on expectations for his career?

Hmmmm. I’d say he’s had some growth, although maybe not the exponential amount you’d hope from a first year starter. He played better than I expected against Clemson, and last week saw him throw some nice balls. The major concern is still his accuracy, though. This issue dates back to high school, and there’s some debate among our staff about how much he can realistically improve that. Mechanical improvement can help, but at some point you are what you are if the misses are repeated. I’ve been saying his ceiling is a better version of EJ Manuel, and I think I still like that. He’s a significant run threat, is more of a see-it-throw-it guy, and will make some maddening mistakes. Which is to say he can be a very effective college quarterback if he continues to improve.

Despite recent struggles, Syracuse has been much more fun to watch this season. Have you spent any time watching the Orange? Anything stand out?

They are fun! I like Eric Dungey, so RIP. When I would do the opponent recaps each week (which has taken a recent hiatus due to life and also the purpose of the feature being frustrated), I would make sure Eric was still alive due to his death-defying style of play. I’m very sorry to see that kind of caught up with him. I also like Amba Etta-Tawo very much. Dino Babers has a way of sucking you into his kind of game, which I think is what happened to Virginia Tech. I don’t want to see FSU pulled into a shootout by any means. I think this team can be a formidable opponent in the conference in the coming years, in large part because nobody else does what they do in this league. And even though it may mean a future headache or two, I’m glad a contrasting and exciting style has been brought into the Atlantic.

Is there one SU offensive player that Florida State could struggle against?

It has to be the aforementioned Etta-Tawo. I was going to talk about a tight end of yours because FSU struggles against those, but then I looked at the stats and they don’t really catch the ball. Etta-Tawo is a really good player and I’m looking forward to watching him against FSU’s talented, but at times inconsistent secondary. Also, Florida State has not fared well against slot receivers this year, which bodes well for Ervin Phillips. They think they’ve made some strides in this department with some personnel changes, but that’s a guy to watch against this defense for sure.

Defensively, Syracuse has struggled to generate pressure, which should be to FSU's benefit on Saturday. How do the Seminoles' plan to attack this banged-up Tampa-2 scheme?

If the Orange play the same soft two-high base that they did a year ago, FSU is going to hammer them again on offense. The ‘Noles ran up 575 yards of offense without Dalvin Cook, and those looks are too easy to give Jimbo Fisher and this offense. I can understand a bend-don’t-break approach against a freshman quarterback, but Florida State tears apart cover-2 stuff on offense. If the box is loaded, FSU will throw on early downs. If not, they’ll move the ball very effectively on the ground against a smaller defensive front. I think Syracuse’s best plan is to play very aggressively and try to force this up and down game by scoring on their offensive drives early and often and trying to create turnovers on defense, understanding that FSU will hit some big plays. I don’t think that trying to slow this game down is a recipe for a ‘Cuse upset, even if it may make sense from some other standpoints.

Florida State runs over SU as projected if _____.

They don’t turn the ball over repeatedly. I can’t see Syracuse keeping this one close if the ‘Noles don’t shoot themselves in the foot. They’re too injured right now, and even in a letdown spot for FSU, this isn’t a team that can play drive for drive with the Seminoles.

The Orange pull off a stunning upset if _____.

The previously discussed turnovers come in bunches and FSU allows 3+ 40-yard plays. The latter can definitely happen, by the way. The ‘Noles are quite prone to coverage busts in 2016, particularly against tempo. It’s not far-fetched to envision a scenario where the Seminoles get hauled into an ill-advised shootout, or at least it wasn’t pre-Dungey injury. That’s the hope for ‘Cuse fans, I think. The more chaos the better here, for those in orange.

Prediction time: What happens in this one, and how does it happen?

Particularly if Dungey indeed does not play, I see FSU controlling this one, even with Florida on deck. I think this could be a very big day for Dalvin Cook, as I believe the match-up bodes well for the FSU running game. Even if ‘Cuse loads the box, I’m confident that Francois and the passing game will find success. I’ll take FSU 41-20. I honestly don’t think it’ll be long before we’re talking about some much closer games between these two teams in the future, though.

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Thanks again to Dylan for taking the time out to answer these. And be sure to follow TN on Twitter, and head on over to Tomahawk Nation to read more about Florida State.