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

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Are we still friends after last year’s upset? (yes, it does appear we are)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Louisville at Florida State Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange football team has struggled so far with a 3-4 overall record, but we’re far from the only ACC squad to fall short of expectations. One of our “brothers in arms” so to speak are the Florida State Seminoles, who’s also 3-4 and likely panicking about their own season unraveling with a loss this Saturday (much like we are).

Since we’re not FSU fans, we went ahead and asked one about what to expect in this game. Tomahawk Nation’s Jon Marchant (who you should follow on Twitter) joins us to talk all about the ‘Noles. We answered some questions over there as well, and you should check those out too..

What’s been the issue in the second half this year? Execution, discipline, FSU taking its foot off the gas? Or something else entirely?

It’s not so much issues in the second half of the year, but the same issues throughout this season. The offensive line is still bad. The quarterback play isn’t great. So yeah, execution and discipline play into it a bit. The defense is coming along but the linebacker play leaves something to desire. It feels like they’re an OL and a QB away from only losing to Clemson by 14. Willie Taggart keeps saying FSU is close, and they do have had three close losses this year by 14 combined points. But the program needs to actually start making that turn around the corner, and soon.

The Willie Taggart era isn’t on track with expectations for ‘Noles fans. Where is he falling short the most so far, and is it correctable?

This is a great question. Taggart appears to be stuck. He needs new talent in order to win, but he can’t get that talent without winning. His game management hasn’t been good, especially in relation to timeout usage. There’s also questions now about whether and to what extent he is interfering in the offense, beyond just having situational input. Looking at the big picture, Taggart inherited a mess from Jimbo Fisher. That’s not his fault. But it is his responsibility to fix it, and that progress there has been excruciatingly slow. There are some things that have slowed down progress, like the horrible APR score Fisher left that has blocked Taggart from moving on from some kids. But it’s also fair to say Taggart has made his fair share of mistakes. FSU is better than they were last year. But fans are getting restless and impatient.

Cam Akers is at least looking strong this season. Is it just the O-line that’s improved in front of him, or is he still improving?

New offensive coordinator Kendal Briles brought with him offensive line coach Randy Clements. Clements has done a good job coaching them up, especially in the run game. The line is marginally improved, but Briles’ scheme helps, and FSU is running tons of RPOs. Akers is a treat to watch, and it’s nice to see him return to form. But there’s just some teams FSU can’t block up front, or teams willing to sell out against the run to stop Akers and dare FSU to throw.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 15 Florida State at Syracuse

We don’t know if Tommy DeVito will be playing on Saturday, but what did you take away from playing against him in the second half last season?

I thought he was tough, physical, and efficient. He had over 9 yards per attempt after coming in for Eric Dungey. Coming in cold like that after an injury to the starter can’t be easy. I thought he handled it very well. I’ve caught a couple Syracuse games this year and I think he’s playing pretty well this year too. It’s unfortunate he got hurt, you never like to see that. Hopefully he can play in this game.

Speaking of QBs, is there a preference among Seminoles fans between James Blackman and Alex Hornibrook?

From where I’m sitting it seems there’s an overwhelming preference for Hornibrook among the Seminole faithful. I don’t get it, to be honest. From their perspective, they think some of the writers at TN have a bias for Blackman. While Blackman has struggled to connect with his receivers and has made some bad plays as well, there’s a level of deep ball accuracy and placement that Hornibrook just can’t match. I also think Blackman is more comfortable behind this offensive line than Hornibrook, who transferred to Tallahassee from Wisconsin and their perennially good O-line.

I can’t say Blackman isn’t guilty of it from time to time, but Hornibrook is much quicker and more likely to bail on plays and clean pockets, which really hurts this offense, as he isn’t great outside of structure either. This offense can’t operate behind the sticks in long passing downs, because the biggest weakness is straight pass protection. They use RPOs so much because it allows the OL to run block even on plays that turn into passes. Blackman gives this offense a better chance at chunk plays, which they need in order to put up points, because a ten-play drive marching down the field is unlikely.

How does FSU plan to exploit Syracuse’s lackluster offensive line?

They’ll let their big men go to work. Big Marvin Wilson is a monster and one of the best defensive tackles in the country this year. Next to Wilson is Corey Durden, who is very good in his own right. FSU has struggled a bit in defending the edge against the run, but if FSU can get pressure up the middle in the run and pass game, hopefully that helps linebackers who struggle in coverage.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 06 Florida State Spring Game Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Who’s one unsung Florida State player that Syracuse fans should get a little more familiar with?

Safety Hamsah Nasirildeen. He got ejected early against Wake on an objectionable targeting call, but he’s one of the best players on this defense. He comes downhill hard and has caused more than a few fumbles this year.

If there’s one player or position group that most concerns you on the Orange side, which is it?

It’s for sure Syracuse’s defensive line. I think they’re talented and their havoc rate is pretty good. I think they will give this offensive line some problems. You know, more than normal.

Prediction time: Who wins this one and how?

Well FSU is favored, but with Florida State this year you just never know. I still think Akers will pop a couple big runs, and this defense continues to incrementally improve. I still think Syracuse will get their share of plays, but I’ll go FSU 34-27. I think FSU covers if DeVito can’t go.

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Thanks again to Jon for taking the time out to answer these. Be sure to follow Tomahawk Nation and check out the site too, for all things Florida State.