Florida State Seminoles Game Preview: Louisiana-Monroe (ULM)

The Florida State Seminoles host the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks to open the season. This is the first meeting between the programs, both of which appear to be on the rise. For more on the Warhawks, please see Louisiana Monroe at Florida State: Scouting Report

Line:  FSU-29

Fun Stuff

Florida State will retire Terrell Buckley’s No. 27 jersey during a halftime ceremony at the season-opening game against ULM. A consensus All-American and winner of the 1991 Jim Thorpe Award, Buckley holds FSU’s career (21) and single-season (12, ’91) interception records. He is also the NCAA’s all-time leader in career interception return yardage (501).

Former Seminole greats Chris Weinke and Sam Cowart will be inducted into the Florida State University Athletic Hall of Fame on the eve of the opener. Weinke, winner of the 2000 Heisman, led the ‘Noles in a wire-to- wire run at No. 1 in the polls and a perfect 12-0 mark in 1999. Cowart, one of the top linebackers in school history, overcame a devastating knee injury to win the ACC’s Brian Piccolo Award in 1997.

Buckley, Weinke and Cowart are serving as the honorary captains on the field. -Media Guide

Strategy

Florida State has a massive talent advantage in this game. Instead of highlighting what FSU must do to beat ULM, I'll highlight things I plan on watching.

Games are won up front and that's where we will start this thing. FSU's offensive line can physically dominate ULM's defensive front... as long as they block the right defenders. As discussed, ULM's defense uses a ton of pre-snap motion, stunting, and blitzing. Florida State's starting offensive line of LT Andrew Datko, LG Bryan Stork, C Jacob Fahrenkrug, RG David Spurlock and RT Zebrie Sanders has not had the chance to work together very much as a singular unit due to injury. They must communicate well, make sure not to have two guys blocking one man and turn another defender loose unblocked. If they have their assignments down (and I think they will to an acceptable level as this is a veteran group under the tutelage of a great coach), they should open some huge holes. Oh, and I want to see the snaps from Fahrenkrug.

Watch how EJ Manuel reads the defense. We know EJ has a big arm and great legs. Is he reading the different levels of the defense? Is Manuel making the proper protection and play checks at the line? This is something the average fan didn't understand that Christian Ponder did so well.  Is he delivering the balls accurately? 

Speaking of those receivers, this is their debut. We've heard how they've improved this fall. With a new QB, FSU needs the receivers to play much better than they did last season. Christian Ponder is not there to bail them out. Are they running crisp routes and consistently catching the football? The score isn't all that important in this one. It's how the players play. Haulstead is out with the concussion, so look to see is Bert Reed and Rodney Smith play like upperclassmen. Also look to see who emerges from the group of young receivers consisting of Jared Haggins, Kenny Shaw, Greg Dent, Christian Green and Rashad Greene.

I know the running backs can run. I want to see how they pick up the blitz. Has this group shown a commitment during the week to focus on ULM's complex defense? It is their job to keep EJ safe.

The youth movement will be something worth watching. I expect at least ten of FSU's 14 offensive rookies to get playing time. This was the top recruiting class in the country, and this is your chance to see them in action before the medical redshirts are handed out after game two.

Many of the same themes found on the offense show up when watching the defensive side of the ball.

Florida State's defensive line should be able to dominate this offensive line. But that's not what you should watch. No, you should watch to see if the defensive line is playing disciplined, fundamental football. That means keeping leverage on the ball and not over-pursuing on the misdirection stuff. Sure, the line could probably afford to play recklessly here and still make the plays due to the advantage in athleticism, but that is not the way to develop good habits. Brandon Jenkins will be matched up with a freshman left tackle making his first career start and should have a field day. I am really excited to see Timmy Jernigan.

I also want to see where these defensive tackles and nose guard align. Is McDaniel really going to play the Nose and Erving the three-technique?

I'll be watching for different things from different linebackers. From Nigel Bradham I want to see if his hips have loosened up by watching his change of direction. For Vince Williams, I want to see him in coverage. Telvin Smith? I want to see him taking on blocks. Christian Jones? I want to see his pursuit angles. As a unit, I want to see this group move and properly react to any pre-snap motion. I want to see them play fast and read on the fly, showing their increased comfort within the system. I want them getting receivers out of the seams and now allowing static holes. And I'd like to see the reserves like Jeff Luc and Nigel Terrell show off their skills.

As for this all-star secondary, I want to see if they really focused this week during preparation. With all the pre-snap shifting and motion done by ULM, FSU is vulnerable to giving up a big play not based on a dearth of talent, but rather not covering the correct man. I want to see Mike Harris, Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes (all of which should play a lot because ULM is a spread team meaning FSU will use a lot of Nickel) quickly diagnose and jump route combinations. I want to see that feel from them that a dominant defense should have. And at safety, I want to see the Lamarcus Joyner we've been hearing about for a month now -- the Joyner that plays out of his mind and dominates from the safety position. And of course, I want to see who separates himself at the other safety position. Will it be Terrance Parks or Nick Moody? I expect a lot of cover-4 from the secondary, seeing that this ULM will show a lot of spread-option looks.

I also don't expect a lot of interceptions in this game. I anticipate Louisisna Monroe throwing very, very few intermediate or deep passes. Very hard to pick off the short stuff. And I expect ULM to run a lot as well.

Is a special teams preview really necessary for this game? I think not. Just avoid any embarrassing errors on national television. 

Jimbo's Mindset

Jimbo values his practice time and reps more than anything. I am sure that he could come up with a gameplan to score many more points than FSU will likely score. But where is the value in specifically installing things for Louisiana Monroe? Wouldn't it be more valuable to the team to run stuff that will also be run later in the year, to gain valuable reps in the base offense in a real game situation, etc?

I think the offense may frustrate some tomorrow. Pay special attention to what FSU is doing on offense. Most likely it isn't strategy specifically formulated to drop half-a-hundred on the Warhawks. If he did want to do that, I think he would go 4-wide, run the heck out of Manuel, and play action all day. But I don't see the value in doing so in a game such as this.

Chance of winning: 99%

Yards-Per-Play Projection (pre-garbage time): FSU 6.5 | ULM 4.0

Predicted Score: 41-13

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