FSU v NIU: Preview and Prediction Orange Bowl Edition

Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

The Orange Bowl continues the tradition of ho-hum match ups as the Seminoles meet the Huskies on the field.

8:30 | ESPN | Line: -13/59.5

v. Northern Illinois' Defense

When most people think of NIU they think offense first and for good reason. However, the Huskies field a very good defense also. From a FEI perspective FSU has only faced two defenses better than Northern Illinois'. NIU does an excellent job of shutting down the run and letting it's bevy of pass rushers obliterate the QB. Led by Alan Baxter the Huskies' defensive ends have accounted for 27.5 of NIU's 40 sacks. Florida State's young but talented tackles will have their hands full.

Compounding the issues in the pasing game is that NIU likes to blitz. As Bill Connelly notes in his preview the Huskies rank third in adjusted sack rate. However E.J. Manuel has shown a nice ability recently of getting the ball out quickly and to the correct reciever. When he doesn't do this he tends to spin into sacks so blitzes would seem to be a boom/bust proposition for both teams.

I expect FSU to try and run up the middle against Northern Illinois. The Huskies only have one player of note weighing over 290 lbs (Ken Bishop) so if FSU has the advantage there. However, Bishop has done a very good job up the middle both stuffing run plays and creating alleys for linebackers like Victor Jacques to make plays in the backfield.

Florida State should look to run Manuel early and often against NIU. Keep the ball on the ground and try to wear out an undersized defense. Since NIU rushes the passer well Florida State needs to slow them down with option plays and straight runs. FSU passes well off of play action and could very well eat up chunks of yardage if James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman can find some space inside.

In the pass game FSU should do it's best to get the ball to it's play makers in space. If FSU can get Nick O'Leary involved early like it has tried to all year the offense could see very good success. The offense has to at least gain a first down or two every possession to help keep the defense from getting tired and take advantage of whatever field position the defense and special teams can net Florida State.

Goals:

- more than 5.0 yards a play before garbage time (300 yards on 60 plays, 350 yards on 70 plays)
- No more than 1 turnover
- 75% or greater TDs in the red zone

v. Northern Illinois' Offense

Northern Illinois' offense begins and ends with Jordan Lynch. The junior from Chicago is NIU's do everything player. At 216 lbs he runs the ball very well choosing mostly to bowl over people than run around them. That doesn't mean he lacks running ability as he does a very good job of keeping plays alive in the pocket while keeping his eyes down field. Lynch isn't just a runner though as he does a very good job with his arm.

Lynch will mostly target almost solely his wide receivers led by Martel Moore. Moore has 71 catches on the year and is averaging just over 81 yards per game. Florida State will likely shade their safeties towards Moore's side. That won't make the Huskies offense inept however as Tommylee Lewis is no slouch himself.

Recently Lynch made comments to the media noting that he thinks NIU can wear down FSU's defense and he could be right. I expect the Huskies to run Lynch early, specifically zone reads to Bjoern Werner's side. Florida State is very thin at the defensive end position and Warner will likely play 95% of the defensive snaps. If the game is close late how much will he have left in the tank if he's had to chase Lynch and running backs Leighto Seattle and Akeem Daniels all day? While Daniels has not had a great season and NIU relies mostly on Lynch for it's running Daniels has seen a good bit of success lately.

I also expect Florida State to mix up coverage between both zone and man and play a cover-2 or cover-3 behind it. While NIU can certainly work their way down the field FSU cannot get anxious and gamble. Force Lynch to work through his progressions and allow the defensive line to do it's job. Eventually they will get to Lynch but they have to make sure to wrap up. When NIU does run it's option or slams Lynch up the middle FSU's linebackers have to be ready to be physical or risk being made to look silly. No defender wants to get run over by a quarterback.

Goals:

- less than 5 yards/play before garbage time (300 on 60 plays, 350 on 70)
- Force 2 turnovers
- 50% or less TDs in the red zone

Special Teams

Northern Illinois' special teams are certainly on the plus side of the average line but aren't all that special. Ryan Neir is averaging almost 38 yards per punt and very few of those punts are returned. Florida State will likely have opportunities to change that as FSU's special teams have been very good on the year. On the other side Cason Beatty has seen a bit of an uptick in his punts but it's certainly possible for him to return to form. FSU will need to do everything it can to keep NIU from having a short field.

The Huskies do not have much in the way of punt returns. Angelo Sebastiano returns punts for NIU but only averages 6.3 yards with a long of 30. The Seminoles may have solved their fumbling problem with Kenny Shaw manning the return duties. Shaw has shown good hands and has been adept at gaining a few extra yards on the punt. Hopefully that continues.

Northern Illinois' Mathew Sims is a solid but not great kicker. He's hit 14 of his 18 attempts missing 2 from 50+ yards and 2 under 30 yards. He does have a long of 54 though so the leg is there. Sims does not quite get enough leg into his kick offs and as such teams are returning about two of every three kicks. FSU's Dustin Hopkins is still Dustin Hopkins. There aren't many that can match his leg in field goals and he does an excellent job of dropping the ball inside the 10 with plenty of leg. Special teams should be FSU's opportunity to put itself in good field position just as it has all year.

Miscellaneous

This is certainly a lose lose game for FSU. If Florida State wins big people will just admonish NIU but if it's a close game or FSU people will knock FSU and note a weak ACC resulting in an Orange Bowl bid. Florida State must take Northern Illinois seriously as the Huskies probably represent the third toughest team on FSU's schedule behind Florida and Clemson.

Both staffs are in the midst of coaching changes with FSU losing Mark Stoops, DJ Elliot and Eddie Gran leaving FSU with Sal Sunseri making his debut as a FSU coach. NIU lost Dave Doeren to North Carolina State but the rest of the staff is staying on to coach the bowl game with Rod Carey taking over the head coaching duties. It's doubtful that either team will see any side effect from the coaching changes but it is certainly possible.

Prediction: Florida State 28, Northern Illinois 24

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