It’s a big weekend for Wake Forest football as FSU is coming to town, in case you’ve been living under a rock. I got a chance to sit down with Jon Marchant over at Tomahawk Nation. We talked a lot of football and you can catch my answers to his questions here. What do those who cover FSU football think about this season?
BSD: At the risk of rehashing bad memories: what’s the pulse of the fanbase right now after two close losses, one to a top 15 team and the other... not to one?
TN: For a lot of fans, all the excitement around the program after the Notre Dame game has evaporated. The team that played and lost to Jacksonville State looked uninterested and sloppy. No one knows what to expect out of FSU in this game, but after all the anger subsided a common sentiment remained: this is a must-win game for Mike Norvell. The fanbase has been through this too many times recently and likely won’t stick around if this season gets really ugly.
BSD: McKenzie Milton, a great story that he’s even playing, and we know what he’s done in the past, but can you give us a little bit of how he’s looked the first couple of games?
TN: He’s pretty much what we expected we’d get after FSU’s spring game earlier this year. You hold your breath every time he drops back and you wince every time he takes off on a scramble. He’s not nearly the athlete he was before, obviously, and that has affected his game in predictable ways. But, he’s still a sharp and quick passer. He almost always makes the right read and gives his receivers a chance to make a play. His anticipation and accuracy are his biggest assets and some of the best you’ll find in the country. Unfortunately, it looks like FSU’s wide receivers are nearly as bad as they were last year, and they might to some extent be capping the benefit Milton brings. On top of that, FSU has to manage Milton’s body so that he can last the whole season. That’s a big concern.
BSD: Defensively, it starts and ends with Jermaine Johnson at the EDGE. How does he and the rest of the line create such good pressure, and what vulnerabilities have you seen out of this defense?
TN: Johnson is easily Florida State’s best player this season, and it’s not close, so you’re right about that. There are times he’s done it all by himself. The defensive line overall has been much better at leveraging defenders, playing with better technique and effort. It also helps that the linebackers have been better at fitting gaps in the run game. However, there are two areas of vulnerability. The first is the linebackers in zone coverage. Young Kalen DeLoach is FSU’s best linebacker, but he’s suspended for the first half of this game. Outside of him, there’s not a lot of confidence that this group has the ability to cover out in space. The second is communication in the secondary. There’s just too many coverage busts, guys out of position, not knowing what the call is or who they’re supposed to be covering. While this defense is worlds better than they were last year, at least as far as what they put on tape against Notre Dame, there are serious questions about why they’re still making basic mistakes.
BSD: Expectations for this year going into the season, and have you adjusted them at all?
TN: My expectations were 5 or 6 wins. I was expecting 5 but hoping for 6. After Notre Dame I was ready to bump that up to 6 or 7 with the caveat that I wanted to see how they performed against both Jacksonville State and Wake Forest. Needless to say, JSU was a gut punch. You can’t lose to a team like Jacksonville State and still make a bowl game, unless the team finds a way to rally and turn it into a positive and start ripping off wins. At this point, the main concern is holding together FSU’s excellent recruiting class. It feels like the future of the program hinges on it. To do that, you need to show improvement. There’s not a whole lot more room for error.
BSD: If you had to give an X factor on both sides of the ball for FSU to come out and win, who would you name?
TN: For offense, I’ll go with Jashaun Corbin. As the starting running back he’s going to get plenty of carries. FSU is going to need him to make someone miss in order to hit some big plays. Honorable mention goes to Treshaun Ward, who has been excellent in relief. If I can get greedy, I think freshman WR Malik McClain could be an X-factor; FSU desperately needs someone to emerge in that WR room and he might already be FSU’s best receiver, although he’s obviously still raw. For defense, it would only be too easy to name Jermaine Johnson, and indeed FSU will need him to again be excellent. However, I’m gonna go with Travis Jay, who this staff has moved from safety to cornerback this season. He’s played well, but he could polish some things up and get better at playing the ball. He’s been close to forcing a few turnovers but hasn’t been able to finish the play. If he can do that against Wake, it could be a spark for FSU.
BSD: Lastly, final predictions?
TN: If they had managed to pull out the win against JSU, I’d say FSU 33 Wake 30. But they didn’t. They were one final play away from winning both games. Six total points from being 2-0. But they didn’t and they aren’t. I have to wonder about the state of the locker room. I have to wonder about this staff. There’s just too many question marks hanging in the air right now to be confident about this one.
FSU 24 - 34 Wake
Once again, I wanted to give a big thank you to Jon for chatting with us. Feel free to throw him a follow here on twitter.