We have some excellent blogs in the SBNation network, but it is not a stretch to say that Tomahawk Nation is the gold standard (I promise I won’t go back on this if I run for POTUS) for sports blogs on here. Run by the never imitable Bud Elliott, the website consistently gets near 100,000 visitors a day, and does a truly outstanding job of covering Florida State football.
We were lucky enough to catch up with one of their writers, Dylan Kidd, to discuss the impending matchup between the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and the Florida State Seminoles.
BSD: FSU is now 4-2, with wins over Ole Miss as well as Miami, but is all but eliminated from the ACC Championship picture. Given that the team was preseason #4, what are you and other FSU fans thinking right now?
TN: We’re certainly disappointed, particularly given the way that this staff hyped the 2016 team. Last year, sources we trust in the program advised us to tamp down expectations for the 2015 squad, which they felt was likely to lose 3-4 games in a rebuilding year. They were ultimately correct, though the team overachieved to a 10-3 record against a soft schedule. So, when those same sources told us that the 2016 Seminoles were deserving of the pre-season hype as a national title contender, we believed them. Additionally, Jimbo Fisher brought in Showtime’s “A Season With” to chronicle the 2016 ‘Noles, which we don’t think he’d have done were he not supremely confident in the quality and maturity of this year’s team.
How the staff missed so badly on the quality of this team is definitely concerning. While the offense has been good, the defense has woefully underachieved. Given all of the talent that Florida State has on its roster, the results we’ve seen, particularly on defense, are not acceptable. We’ll see how the rest of the season goes, but the start to 2016 has given rise to questions about the general state of the program going forward.
BSD: FSU's defense is allowing nearly 33 points per contest, but the Seminoles have played a ton of very talented offensive teams. How good or bad do you believe the Noles' defense actually is?
TN: I think it’s somewhere in between what it was expected to be and what our eyes tell us it’s been so far in 2016. Last year, the Seminole defense was 10th in the nation by S&P+. The same defensive staff returned, along with an arguably greater amount of talent to work with. While the Seminoles have certainly dealt with injuries (Derwin James, Nate Andrews, and others more briefly), the overall performance has been quite bad. The ‘Noles currently sit at 51st by S&P+ on defense, and I think that’s about right. The major problems have been on the back end, where the Seminoles are prone to miscommunication, confusion, and big plays allowed. The defense has been simplified to try to reduce the number of free-running receivers, but simplification is a double-edged sword, particularly with a quarterback like Deshaun Watson left on the schedule. FSU will look progressively better on defense as the year goes along due to a drop-off in competition, save for the aforementioned Tigers. The advanced numbers that take opponent quality into account will continue to paint a more accurate picture, as they have so far.
BSD: You all at Tomahawk Nation know the Noles as well as anyone. Put yourself in Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson's position. How would you attack this Florida State team?
TN: The spread option offenses have given FSU more problems than those based on a pro-style system. Yes, it should be noted that FSU has only seen one pro-style offense, and it was significantly worse than the spread option offenses it faced in the previous weeks. However, I still think that the spread attacks are more difficult for this Florida State team to defend from a structural perspective. Offenses that make the Seminole defense stay disciplined in the run game and account for the quarterback run threat have found success on the ground. Those that have used motion, stacked receivers, and route combinations that force Seminole defenders to communicate and execute switches have also hit big plays in 2016. So, I’d use the zone read, run-pass option plays, and overload receivers to one side of the field pretty frequently. Force the Seminole defense to be patient in the run and short passing games and take shot plays off of play action, pump fakes, and wheel routes. Though Wake has played solid defense so far, to stage an upset of the Seminoles in Tallahassee, the Deacs will need big plays.
On defense, I think Wake will still want to try to limit Dalvin Cook and force Deondre Francois to beat them by staying patient and moving the ball with underneath passes. Wake Forest’s rush defense has been its strength, and if the Deacs can contain Cook with 7 or 8, they may be able to force Francois to be the driving force behind the offense. While he’s been pretty decent so far, the Demon Deacons want this game in his hands and those of his receivers. Loading the box and playing cover-3 or 4 behind it can force Francois to be accurate to the outside of the field, which he’s typically slower to read than the middle of the field.
BSD: Deondre Francois is just a redshirt freshman, but has performed very well so far this season (feel free to disagree in your answer). How has he performed relative to your expectations at the start of the season?
TN: Yeah, we try to remind ourselves to expect redshirt freshman performance from Francois in Fisher’s complicated system. He did a great job bringing FSU back against Ole Miss and has been fairly effective in games since. Our film reviews do show him missing some easy things that drive us a little nuts, but he’s certainly shown the ability to be a very good quarterback for FSU for years to come. As you’d expect, decision-making is his primary area for improvement. He tends to hold on to the ball for too long at times, which usually stems from not trusting what he’s seeing and going with it. He definitely has the arm strength to be quite good, and his accuracy is solid, too. We wish that Fisher would use Francois’ athletic ability more in the zone-read running game, but he’s a formidable threat on quarterback sweeps, as well as scrambles. FSU fans hope he continues to grow over the course of this season.
BSD: Finally, let's get a prediction in this one.
TN: First, let me congratulate y’all on the excellent 5-1 start. I’m glad the rebuild seems to be ahead of schedule, and hope to see Wake continue to do well. I think this one’s all about the extent to which FSU shows up. Their season is frankly over in terms of pre-season goals, and they’re coming off of an emotional win against Miami with a bye week and Clemson coming up. This seems like quite the sleepwalk spot. I think the Deacs can make it ugly and uncomfortable for a while, but I do think the ‘Noles ultimately pull away. I’ll take FSU at 31-16.