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

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Friends? You guys okay?

Florida v Florida State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange (4-4, 2-2) return to action this Saturday against the Florida State Seminoles (2-5, 2-4) in a matchup that looks nothing like we expected it to back in August. FSU’s fresh off a blowout loss to Boston College last week that “may” have signaled the end to a disappointing campaign. SU, on the other hand, is pushing for its first bowl bid in four years.

Since we’re not Florida State fans, we went ahead and asked one about what to expect in this game. Tomahawk Nation’s Dylan Kidd joins us to chat all about the Seminoles. We answer some questions over there as well.

We're not really interested in losing to you guys again this year, so how else could we cheer up our best friends in the ACC?

Well, if we can’t interest you in donating a win to a team in need, can we at least agree to make it a shootout loss, for variety’s sake? Florida State fans are touchdown-starved in 2017, and we’d prefer a 42-38 loss to a 17-13 one, if you please. I mean, the most we’ve seen the Seminoles score on offense this season is 21. And yes, the ‘Noles currently have two true freshmen in the backfield, a host of injuries at other positions on offense, and have played a very solid group of defenses so far, but still, it’s pretty shocking that 21 is all they’ve been able to muster in a game until November.

The other option I thought of would be for a Syracuse blowout, which I don’t think would take much convincing for y’all, but I think the necessary staff changes are coming, regardless of whether FSU wins, loses by a little, or loses by a lot this week. 

Alabama v Florida State Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Obviously things haven't gone as planned across the board for Florida State this year. But what (other than Deondre Francois's injury) has been the most surprisingly bad occurrence so far?

I think the Boston College game was the single most surprisingly bad occurrence this season, and it I think it gets at the crux of your question because it was a culmination of all the factors that have plagued FSU. The defense was in disarray, the offense was impotent, the coaches were, uh, unhappy with one another, and the team finally quit, something we’d been wondering about for a few weeks prior.

The most surprising aspect for me has been the defense. It hasn’t been awful on the season, but it was expected to be elite, and has only been above average. I can’t tell you how loaded with talent this group is, and although they struggled at times last year, they closed the season like crazy and finished with a top-10 group, adjusted for opponent. They have so many guys who will make lots of money on Sundays in years to come, are very deep, and are perfectly healthy, all of which has illustrated that the defensive coaching staff is not getting the job done, and I expect most of them to be gone in 2018.

Derwin James is still really good, despite everything else going on for the 'Noles. Feel free to use this space to talk about him being a great player.

Derwin James is very good at football and football-related activities, such as running, jumping, lifting heavy things, and frightening people. Derwin is going to be a very high pick in the NFL draft. Derwin also knows this, and it seems that it has led him, and others, to do a bit more freelancing this year. It seems a significant contributor to the freelancing is a lack of faith in the defensive scheme, which causes these super-talented guys to try too hard to go make a play.

It is hard to blame them for any of this, but I don’t think it actually does them many favors on tape. It would be cool to get a few highlight plays out of him this year, though, because as talented as he is, it seems that his time in Tallahassee will come and go without the Seminoles being able to use him to his full potential, which is a shame.

Though he's been under siege all year, James Blackman has still had his moments. What has he shown FSU fans that has you excited for the future?

James seems to have all the tools to become a very good quarterback in the future. Obviously you see his height and huge arm, though he could stand to add a few pounds for his, and everyone else’s peace of mind. He throws a gorgeous deep ball and displays really nice touch on some passes. He is althetic, although Fisher has been loath to run him for whatever reason. The mistakes he makes are those you’d expect of a true freshman who did not enroll early—he misses checks, doesn’t make the right read consistently enough, and tries to do too much at times, but we’ve also seen him look really good late in games, notably against Miami and NC State.

I’m optimistic on James going forward, and I can’t say I won’t be rooting for him to hold onto the job, particularly in light of Francois’s crappy attitude about the whole situation this year. I mean, I certainly understand his frustration at losing a whole season to injury, but using social media to promote messages about how FSU wouldn’t be losing with him, etc., doesn’t smack of great leadership.

Syracuse v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Which Syracuse player poses the biggest threat to the Seminoles? If it's Eric Dungey, that's fine. But what makes him so difficult for FSU to defend?

Dungey certainly presents some challenges, but I’ll go with Steve Ishmael, particularly in light of some of Tarvarus McFadden’s struggles this season. McFadden was billed as a top corner in the country, but he has not played like one in 2017. I’m not sure where y’all keep finding guys like him and Amba Etta-Tawo, but I would like to know. When I’ve watched him, particularly against Clemson, I was struck by his physicality, and that could certainly lead to a big day against McFadden and/or Levonta Taylor.

McFadden has great size and has shown the ability to play physically when he wants to, but that’s just it—I’m not sure he’s going to want to, because it sure seems like he hasn’t at times this year, particularly last week. And Taylor has played pretty well, but he’s undersized. So if Dungey can avoid getting his head taken off on an ill-advised carry, he should have some opportunities to get the ball to Ishmael.

Does the bowl streak really mean anything to your fans? Or is it more about media hype than anything else?

I think it does mean something to Florida State fans. It’s not as oft-cited as the 14 straight top-5 finishes stat, but I do see it come up every now and then on the internets (particularly now that it’s in jeopardy). It doesn’t mean much to me, personally, but arguing online, and even in person, about historical program supremacy is not my cup of tea (nor would I be likely to use that stat to make my case, but that’s neither here nor there).

I haven’t decided how I feel about the importance of this year’s team making a bowl game. On one hand, there’s the idea that not making a bowl could lead to quicker coaching changes, more effort directed towards the early singing period, and a better shot to make impressions with new coaches to close on recruits singing in February. Problem is, I don’t know if any of that is true. We’ve never had an early singing period before, and I don’t know that FSU is going to be in a place to actually hire anyone during the first week of September. And who FSU is able to close with for the 2018 class depends a good bit on who those guys are, in several ways.

And on the other hand, a bowl berth means a bunch of extra practices for a young offense and, in particular, a true freshman quarterback. So that’s a long way of saying I’m kind of ambivalent on the whole thing right now and could talk myself into either outcome being a positive, which is really critical for me right now.

Syracuse v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Would an Orange win down in Tallahassee change your perception of the Orange program at all? Or is it just luck of the draw against a banged-up, struggling Florida State squad?

Unfortunately for y’all, and we do like you, I don’t think a win over this FSU team on Saturday is going to do a whole lot for fan perception of the Syracuse program. I like Dino Babers, and I believe I discussed last year with y’all how I think his ‘Cuse program could be a thorn in FSU’s side in the coming years due to the contrasting attack he’s implementing. But after last week, fans are pretty universally down on this team, and there’s no way to deny that they flat-out quit on the coaches in Chestnut Hill.

I can tell you that it didn’t make fans think much, if any, more highly of the Eagles, but rather convinced them that the current FSU program has serious systemic issues that need to be addressed. And that may not be entirely fair, since BC boasts one of the nation’s hottest offenses at the moment, and Syracuse has already beaten Clemson this year. Still, I don’t think anyone knows what to expect from the ‘Noles on Saturday, and even if FSU plays their best game of the year and the Orange still beat them, I don’t think y’all will get the credit for it that you deserve.

Alabama v Florida State Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Who's one unsung FSU player we know a little more about before Saturday's matchup?

Demarcus Christmas is Derrick Nnadi’s running mate at defensive tackle and has proven that he can be a huge difference maker when he wants to be. He was unblockable against Alabama and early on against Miami, and may well have played himself into an attractive draft position after this season. He’s more of a penetrator from the 3-technique spot, whereas Nnadi is your prototypical bull at nose tackle. The question with him, as well as for the rest of FSU’s team, is whether they’ll show up to play on Saturday.

Prediction time: Who wins this one and why?

No idea! I’ve thought oh, well, just quitting one week at the end of October and packing it in with four entire games left seems unlikely, but can I rule it out? Absolutely not. I’ve also thought, well, there’s major discord within the football building right now, and a player just flat-out said in a presser this week that the year has been a nightmare and that the team has no leadership, so yeah, they’re probably done.

I do know that if I’m Dino, I’m throwing the kitchen sink at FSU early to try and get up a couple of scores and ensure a repeat performance from a week ago. Will I predict a score even though I just told you I have no clue what’s going to happen? Yes, because I am not here to be accurate. Plus, I think my logic is unassailable when I pick the outcome that would make me the unhappiest, in keeping with this year’s trend. Syracuse wins 17-13 on a late score, which does not allow me to change the channel to a more enjoyable game. Hooray for football.


Thanks again to Dylan for taking the time out to answer these. Be sure to follow Tomahawk Nation on Twitter, and head over to the site as well, for the latest on FSU.