Hey y'all it's a Q&A party. Today we have Dylan from Tomahawk Nation answering our hard hitting questions in anticipation of Saturday's battle between Wake Forest and Florida State.
How has E.J. Manuel grown since the last time Wake and Florida State met? What does he need to do as a playcaller to give FSU the best chance at a conference title?
I believe Wake fans will see a different EJ than the one they saw pressed into action last season in Winston-Salem while dealing with an injury. While Manuel took the reigns as a RS Junior in 2011 having gained plenty of experience as a backup in previous years, he was not yet ready to command Jimbo Fisher's offense to full effectiveness. EJ had problems with pre-snap reads, moving through progressions, and dealing with criticism from Coach Fisher. By all accounts and from what we've seen in limited action so far, this off-season has been one of growth for #3. He's had better pocket presence, has moved through his reads more effectively, and has made the correct checks, by and large. That being said, Wake Forest is the first real opponent that the ‘Noles will see in 2012, so we'll find out how he does when the bullets start actually flying.
To give FSU a chance to win the conference, EJ will need to continue to do the things he's done well early in 2012. Florida State has an excellent defense, but an unproven offensive line and some depth questions at running back, along with a loaded receiver corps. Manuel is going to have to generate offense through both the passing game and through his running game, which is his most natural skill. He doesn't have to be a world-beater, but he will need to handle the responsibilities of his reads and checks to find FSU the free yards he so frequently missed last season. If he can help the offense to move the ball consistently and avoid hanging the Seminole defense out to dry via turnovers and three-and-outs, I like FSU's chances in the ACC this season.
Playing an early-season slate the way you guys have is tough; you're beating the snot out of people, but against subpar opponents. Sometimes it is hard to gauge the effectiveness and quality of the team, and weaknesses get glossed over. How do you assess the team so far, gaudy scores aside, and what do the Noles need to work on as they get into conference play?
I think most ‘Noles fans are cautiously optimistic about what they've seen from the team against Murray State and Savannah State. As mentioned, EJ Manuel's pocket presence looks improved, as he's going through his reads and getting out of the pocket before too much time has elapsed. The offensive line, which is almost completely revamped from 2011's injury-riddled unit has looked very encouraging so far, especially left tackle Cameron Erving, a converted defensive tackle who was probably the biggest question mark entering this season. The running game has looked solid, though we've seen primarily outside zone runs (OZ) and very little of EJ Manuel carrying the football. One of FSU's biggest questions entering 2012 was how it would replace phenomenal punter Shawn Powell, and freshman Cason Beatty has looked serviceable for the most part. I'm still a bit worried about replacing Greg Reid at punt returner and at field corner, as well as Brandon Jenkins at WDE later in the season when snap counts begin to add up. These next two weeks will provide us with a better idea of how these issues are being addressed.
Who are the offensive and defensive x-factors in this game? Who should Wake fans be keeping their eye on?
Offensively, Rashad Greene is an excellent receiver coming off of a great freshman campaign. I also hope to see a good amount of tight end Nick O'Leary. Did you know he's Jack Nicklaus's grandson? You will after Saturday's telecast. Trust me. I'd also love to see running back Chris Thompson have a great game against Wake after breaking his back in last year's game.
I could gush about defensive studs for a long time, but I'll limit it for your readers' sakes. Lamarcus Joyner is the strong safety, which is really the free safety but Mark Stoops likes to play by his own terminology rules. He'll be all over the field and is frightening as a ball hawk and as a hitter. Linebacker Christian Jones is a freak of nature bound for the NFL rather soon, unfortunately. The obvious choice on the defensive line is Bjoern Werner, but I'll be keeping my eye on the other side as Tank Carradine fills in for Brandon Jenkins against a real opponent.
How do the Seminoles plan on attacking Wake playmaker Michael Campanaro?
This is something we've been talking about over at TN this week. We've come to a general consensus that Saturday will see FSU playing a lot of nickel, meaning nickelback Tyler Hunter will probably line up over Campanaro in the slot. Campanaro torched a quality cover linebacker for UNC last week, and though Christian Jones is excellent in such a role, I think Mark Stoops will opt for the nickel, as the ‘Noles have plenty of size up front in that package and won't need the third linebacker. I also don't think the Seminoles will blitz a lot, preferring to keep the motion, rollout, and misdirection concepts the Deacons are so fond of in front of them. FSU needs to be far more gap sound than they were a year ago (cough Telvin Smith cough). Plus, Florida State's defensive line shouldn't need much help in the pass rush against a depleted Wake offensive line, no matter what the Deacs throw at them to keep them on their heels. A solid mix of zone and man coverages out of the nickel package with a few Stoops favorites such as the occasional three-man front will be the recipe for containing Campanaro and the Wake offense, in my opinion.
What are your realistic expectations for the season? Do FSU fans expect to play/win for the national championship? What would make this season a success/what makes it a failure?
When the national media portrayed FSU as a darkhorse national title contender last season, we at TN said that they were a year early in doing so. While the ‘Noles dealt with an absurd amount of injuries in 2011, with the offense being the most injured unit in the entire nation, it was still premature to hail them as national contenders at the beginning of the season. 2012 is the year we've targeted as the defining one in the Jimbo Fisher era since he became head coach. The Seminoles have an experienced, loaded roster with quality depth. While they have their question marks, namely the o-line, punting and punt returns, and replacing Greg Reid and Brandon Jenkins, this is still a team that will likely be favored in every game it plays this season. I expect the ‘Noles to win at least ten regular season games and to win the Atlantic Division. I think they'll be favored to win the ACC title game, and I think 11-1 and even 12-0 during the regular season is not out of the question. Playing for the national title is a difficult expectation to have no matter the team, no matter the season. That being said, there are certainly FSU fans who do. Thankfully, I would consider these people a fringe group and we at TN try to instill realistic expectations every day of the year. Last season taught us not to set hard-line rules for success and failure in win totals, as we could never have anticipated the injury luck that befell the Seminoles. Absent such calamitous events, though, failing to win the Atlantic would be cause for great concern.
Let's hear it. Prediction time. How do you see this game playing out, and what's your final score?
Florida State fans are gun-shy of Jim Grobe's Demon Deacons. You can see it all over the internets this week. And how could we not be after losing four of six? We don't have a great feel for how good the team is just yet since games against Murray and Savannah State aren't the greatest barometer. But, this team is loaded and has played under a stable coaching staff for a few years now. 2012 is FSU's year to shine. The line is around 28 now, which I wouldn't bet but don't think is absurd. I think FSU moves the ball effectively, probably throwing early and running later in the game. I expect Wake to move the fairly well, probably to the alarm of some ‘Noles fans. But, I don't like Wake Forest's chances of scoring too many touchdowns. I'll say Wake covers at 37-16, Florida State.
Thanks again to Dylan and the gang at TN. Check our answers to their questions over there, and leave your thoughts and questions in the comments.