I'm leaving tomorrow morning to make the drive to Tallanasty (I live in Tuscaloosa). This is the game preview thread. This is a long one, so make sure you click "continue reading" to get the whole thing. I've been very happy with the growth of Tomahawk Nation in our 20 days here. There won't be an individual rubric this week, but rather, I've included it in this thread.
Here's what this thread offers:
What is Everyone Saying?
What have we said?
What will happen?
Comment away. Where am I wrong? Where am I right? What are your predictions for this game? There won't be another update until the GameDay thread pops up around midnight Friday. Rock this thread. I'm heading to Tallahassee. You can catch me at a tailgate close to Wildwood and Jefferson. I'll be in the student section for the game.
What is everyone saying?
This game is getting lots of attention.
Rich at Chantrant did two great features: A Q & A with Zach of the OldGoldBlog and a recap of Jim Grobe's appearance on ESPN's college football live.
The guys at Scalpem have been busy this week, even calling Wake the biggest game of our season.
Andrew Carter of the Orlando Sentinel continues to tear up the world wide web like no other. 10 Articles this week? He posts like it's his job... oh wait, it is.
Heather Dinich at ESPN has dropped some knowledge this week. She's done an admirable job while visiting Tallahassee.
Doc Saturday is taking a wait and see approach (as well as a free half point for his hypothetical wager):
Oh, we've seen this story before with the Seminoles, haven't we -- boy meets Top 25; boy falls in love with Top 25; boy loses to some ACC stiff like N.C. State and Top 25 is whisked away, never to be seen or heard from again. Only this time, the dream-killer is Wake Forest, not a stiff at all but rather the team that's probably going to have the most use for a stay in Tampa once the dust from the ACC's 12-way, mules-over-a-turnip battle royale has finally cleared. This year's great white hope in Tallahassee is Christian Ponder, who elbowed Drew Weatherford out of the way to start off the season 24-of-39 for 376 yards and six scores against … uh, Western Carolina and Chattanooga. That plus two bucks will buy you a cup of blah blah whatever. Not that FSU can't be good, but its O-line has only 24 career starts to its credit, while Wake returns nine starters on defense. Another multiple-TD, zero-INT outing from Ponder falls squarely into the "I'll believe it when I see it" category.
What have we said?
Quite a lot actually. Your page visits and view back it up as well. We still wish more of you would open up and give us your input, but, I guess reading is better than not reading.
First, we did a DriveLog Review of the UTC game.
Did you miss the contest?. it is not too late to get in!
As part of a series, I answered some questions for Martin Rickman of The Sporting News. I really enjoyed working with Martin and was surprised at how much he knew about the 'Noles.
nolesblogger did a fine job breaking down some of the matchups in we will see in the Doak on Saturday.
We also had a radio appearance! Hear us here!
What did Bocephus say?
I've been waiting forever to post that.
The Rubric is a weekly piece I put together, profiling what we would like to see FSU accomplish.
No more than 2 : Fumbles (total, not lost)
I think the QB's should be able to hit the 140 mark, and I'd consider anything over 150 to be excellent. I don't want to see more than 3 balls that are thrown poorly into coverage or that are ill advised. This is a better measure, because I don't care if the corner picks it off or not. I am concerned with the corner having the opportunity to pick the ill-advised or poorly thrown ball. Finally, I want to see the quarterbacks continue to make great play fakes and use their mobility; both in and out of the pocket.
This is all about Antone and Preston. I want to see 90% of carries by the backs go for 2+ yards (we call this success %). Basically, this keeps us out of second and long (2nd and 9 or greater). Running backs will be important in this game, as I don't think wake can cover our backs with their linebackers. Finally, and maybe most importantly, blitz pickup. The 'Noles can't afford to have any busts in this area. Those freshmen offensive tackles will need all the help we can provide.
This is their game. If there is one obvious area that FSU is loaded at, it's wide receiver. Expect Preston Parker to lineup all over the field: at every receiver spot as well as tailback. FSU will use a lot of 4-wide in this game, as well as some 3WR, 1 Jarmon Fortson, and one back sets. Not only do Corey Surrency, Greg Carr, Preston Parker, Tawain Easterling, Rod Owens, Bert Reed, and Jarmon Fortson have to run great routes and make plays after the catch, but they also need to block like crazy in the screen game. We're going to try to bubble Wake to death. If it's a successful play early, it will be because of the aggressiveness and attitude of the 'Nole wide receivers. This is a huge key in the game, as there are all sorts of fakes that can be run off the bubble screen. Wake can take away one or two of these guys, but they can't cover 4 on a consistent basis. The goals: less than 2 drops and no holding, illegal formation, or block in the back penalties
This unit will be very important. They need to trust their rules and move as a unit. The Goals: No more than 1 false start and no more than 3 combined holding/ chop block penalties.
No more than 4 plays of 15 yards, no more than 2 plays of 25 yards, and no plays of 50+ yards.
This unit really needs to control Wake's so-far non existent running game, and get pressure on Skinner. Staying disciplined will be key. Play within yourselves, break down, and make the tackle. Don't pursue to your detriment. The Goals:
* 20% of running back carries for less than 2 yards. (20% stop percentage).
* 5: Sacks + Batted Passes
The pressure is really on this unit. Wake will complete some passes and move the ball. The key here is to make the tackle on the short stuff. Most teams can't move the ball all the way down the field in 5-yard chunks, and I doubt Wake can. The Goals: 1 Interception.
Now... the Preview
What will happen?
Let's start on offense, with what I think we know. The 'Noles will Start (from LT-LG-C-RG-RT) Datko, Hudson, McMahon, Furlong, and Greenlee. This unit won't be able to get a whole lot of push up the middle because Wake has a monster nose tackle. The 'Nole line will look to get him on skates, by using the zone run. The zone takes a long time to install, but FSU definitely looks more fluid running it this year than last. I think FSU will end up having success running the ball, but don't expect that success to come immediately. FSU will need to wear down the Wake defensive front.
The Noles need to use formation to their advantage. FSU doesn't have a decent tight end at this point, and they won't look to use one. Wake has an excellent group of linebackers. FSU will force them to use only one on the field at a time by going with a 4-wide look. I'm not being a homer when I say this wide receiver unit is the best in the ACC and top 10 in America. By spreading the field with four wide, FSU will look to exploit something that most college teams lack: talented depth in the secondary. Wake can take away a receiver with Alphonso Smith (probably Surrency or Parker), but they still have to find the personnel to account for Carr, Parker/ Surrency, Owens, Reed, Easterling, and Fortson.
What else does the spread do for Ponder? It gives him the clear read. Wake loves to blitz. This is part scheme and part necessity. Their defensive ends aren't good, and the 'Noles see much better in practice on a daily basis. Wake has to get pressure on Ponder to have a shot in this game, and they will have to blitz to do so. How Ponder handles the blitz will be huge. I expect the young tackles to blow an assignment or two. Ponder has a good grasp on this offense, but he will need to ace this test on Saturday. The spread will force Wake to do 1 of 2 things:
- Declare their extra rusher by walking him up. This gives Ponder an easier pre-snap read, and allows him to go through his progression mentally. The rush will come quickly in this scenario, but Ponder will know his hot. Speed is important here. The entire unit must recognize the blitzer, adjust accordingly, and block in a fashion that gives Christian enough time to fire quickly. OR
- Blitz without showing who will rush. This is the other strategy. Here, the advantage for Wake is that Christian won't know who is coming. The disadvantage is that the man has to come from a longer distance (because he would be covering a wide receiver). This strategy puts more pressure on the wide receivers and offensive line to read and react during the play. it does give Ponder more time to find his guy, however.
Wake won't rely on one of two blitz methods exclusively. Expect mixing and matching. Though I haven't seen it on tape, I wouldn't put it past the Deacs to mix in zone blitzes. In any situation, Ponder will go through reads like this:
"Who is my hot"? Where is my outlet? What are my checks?
FSU will need to make Wake pay for blitzing, and will need to do so early. How will they do that?
This isn't out of the spread, but the idea remains the same: force the defense to switch assignments while crack blocking on the outside.
FSU has a serious advantage on the outside because of their play makers. Early on, the idea will be to distribute the ball to them QUICKLY, to punish Wake for blitzing. We've already seen that one block on the outside and one move can equal a touchdown from the bubble screen look.
Remember, as we talked about earlier:
The reason screens are so successful in college football is that offenses take advantage of a very important NCAA rule. In college football, offensive players are allowed to block downfield while the ball is in the air if the ball is caught behind the line of scrimmage.
This is a major advantage to the offense because offensive players can actually pick defenders while the ball is in the air. Whether the defense is in zone or man-to-man coverage, this puts them at a tremendous disadvantage. (In the NFL, you are not allowed to block down field while the ball is in the air regardless of where it is caught.)
Will FSU be successful in stopping the Wake blitz? Moderately, yes. Wake's game is the blitz, and they do it well, but they don't face this type of attack very often, and their secondary members aren't near as adept at the blitz as their linebackers.
By running the ball with the stretch play, and effectively using the short and screen game, FSU can take wake out of their hyper aggressive approach. Personally, I don't think Wake can or will be as aggressive against FSU as they are against some teams, because of the serious skill position talent FSU lines up with.
Three other things to look out for are:
- The Play-Action game. FSU's tackle's aren't heavy, but they are athletic. Using run action allows them establish a better position from which to block. I expect FSU to hit two 30+ yard throws on Wake off of play action, one of them being a boot off of the stretch. I haven't seen anybody execute a playfake like Ponder since...
- The deep routes. Everyone knows that Weatherford horribly handicapped this offense because of his complete lack of ability to push the ball downfield or move the pocket. Ponder has a good college arm, and Wake will not be able to play him like they played Weatherford.
- D'Vo. When he's on the field, he's the best athlete. End of sentence.
I'm not going to say that I expect FSU to light up the Wake defense.Vegas expects FSU to drop about 26. I think 27-31 is reasonable. Wake is a good defense, but they are put in a strange position of risk evaluation. Wake will force Ponder to beat them, both on hot routes and on the deep ball. Combined with the running game, the multi-talented Preston Parker causing confusion all day by lining up at all positions, and Corey Surrency being Larry Fitzgerald 2.0, I think Ponder, and thus the offense, will succeed.
My Player of the game pick? Christian Ponder
I wavered over this choice, but in the end, I expect something like this: 18-30, for 240 Yards, 2 TD's and no interceptions. In all, I think the 'Noles drop 28 points.
Now, to the Defense
I've talked about this multiple times this week, but if FSU can get consistent pressure with their front 4, this game is OVER. Everette Brown and Markus White are the best set of defensive ends we've had this decade, to go along with an excellent pass rushing DT in Kendrick Stewart, and a Pocket-Collapsing DT in Budd Thacker. Combine that with the half second advantage the home crowd will likely provide, and this could be a tough task for the Wake offensive line. The Wake O-Line has severely underwhelmed and underperformed this season. Now they have to enter the Doak.
Now, I know you're saying "Mickey loves to blitz." You are correct. That scares us a lot. The hope, however, is that Mickey sits back, lets his front-4 go to work, and runs a lot of combination coverages in an effort to confuse Skinner. The plan is to limit the Wake offense to quickly thrown, short routes. The defensive back background of linebackers Kenny Ingram and Toddrick Verdell (both are former free safeties) could play right into the hands of the 'Noles. This unit needs to play within itself. If FSU can harass Skinner some, and Mickey plays coverage with 7 guys, all that is left to do is tackle. This FSU team looks to be a good tackling squad. Wake will get frustrated if they are being limited to short throws. It's very hard to drive the length of the field on a good college defense. A tipped ball could get picked (the 'Nole defenders definitely need to keep their hands up). Better yet, Skinner might get impatient and force something.
The losses attributed to suspension definitely hurt on this side of the ball. I don't think FSU misses LB Watson very much, but the loss of DT Paul Griffin is a small blow. The loss of CB Patrick Robinson is huge. Korey Mangnum will fill in for Robinson, but the drop off is considerable. In the Nickel spot will be "manned" by Micheal Ray Garvin. The questionable 2 and 3 corners are a great reason to NOT blitz.
Wake doesn't throw the ball every down either, it just seems like it. In recent years, they've burned the 'Noles on runs, particularly misdirection stuff. This year though, their run blocking has been horrible. Not quite "Clemson v. Alabama" bad, but pretty poor. I do think FSU can handle this running game, as long as they stay disciplined. We have some addition by subtraction here, via the loss of Roger Williams Geno Hayes (who played horribly against Wake, often being caught out of position.)
Wake likes to run out of their 5-wide set, by motioning a player down to create a 4-wide 1RB look. They also use a lot of 3-wide I set. I'll be pretty surprised if Wake tallies more than 80 yards rushing in this contest.
Wake should move the ball against FSU, but likely in smaller chunks than years past. Expect the space to tighten around the goal line. Making Wake settle for field goals in the red zone could spell a win for the 'Noles. I predicted 28-24 on ACC radio the other day. I'm going to change that now and go with 23 points for wake.
I'm not previewing this unit. Know these things: i don't trust the coverage units. Graham Gano is back, but don't expect him to handle anything but short field goals. I don't trust our field goal unit, and expect the 'Noles to go for 4th downs (something we desperately need to do anyways, to join the 21st century). Preston Parker is back and returning punts.
So, yeah... WAKE 23, FSU 28.
Comment away. Where am I wrong? Where am I right? What are your predictions for this game? Don't expect another update until the GameDay thread pops up around midnight Friday. Rock this thread. I'm heading to Tallahassee. You can catch me at a tailgate close to Wildwood and Jefferson. I'll be in the student section for the game.