This Saturday, the Florida State Seminoles will take the field against the Murray State Racers and our long nightmare of no college football will finally end. Nobody expects Florida State to lose this game, not even Murray State coach Chris Hatcher:
I’m not a big proponent of playing a team from outside your level. This game is strictly about us getting a paycheck. That’s all it’s about.
What should FSU fans look for this weekend during the probable manhandling of Murray State? Hit the jump to find out.
Click for depth charts! urray State has a very good offense for an FCS team. Casey Brockman returns for his senior season and is the Ohio Valley Conference Preseason Player of the Year for the second year in a row. They also return three offenseive linemen and most of their receivers.
Expect FSU to play a mostly vanilla defense. FSU's line should be able to handle MSU's offensive line without haveing to blitz. Stoops does not tend to blitz anyway, so expect to see LBs mostly in coverage. Both Vince Williams and Christian Jones return as starters and are expected to play sound football. The linebacker to watch is Nick Moody, in his first year at the position. Does he force receivers towards the parts of the field the defense has coverage in? Does he show an understanding of the routes MSU is expected to run? He needs to demonstrate similar understanding in the run game. Nick Moody is the force player this year. A victory for him is forcing the runner into somebody elses arms and not getting the tackle himself.
In the secondary, Nick Waisome will be doing his best to hold off Ronald Darby. Both will likely play with the starters in this game and will be tested. The player that understand assignments and tackles soundly will be the one to win the starting spot. Like Moody, understanding where defensive help will come from and what routes are likely to be run will be key. This is the same with Tyler Hunter, who is taking over the nickle position for the departed Mike Harris and Terrenc Brooks who moved to safety. On the other side, keep an eye on starting cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Has he recovered from his injury completely? Against this competition, FSU fans may only get a partial idea of how well he has healed.
On the defensive line, Timmy Jernigan will be taking over as starter for an injured Amp McCloud. Does he command double teams and how does he handle them? There is little reason offensive linemen should be in the defensive backfield this game. If they are, Jernigan is likely getting blocked by one man and that is not acceptable for a 298 lb DT of his caliber.
Murray State had an excellent offense last year. However, the defense left something to be desired. The big knock was giving up 4.4 yards per rush. For comparison's sake, FSU averaged 3.3 yards per rush last year on offense. The other problem Murray State had was lack of depth in the secondary, although that will not be a problem today.
Look for FSU to run mostly between the tackles. The strength of FSU's line will be in the middle with Josue Matias, Bryan Stork, and Tre' Jackson outweighing the gentlemen across from them by at least 15 lbs. However, the tackles are the ones to watch in this game. Cameron Erving has gotten great reviews in the offseason regarding his switch from defense to offensive tackle, however he has not logged any game time there. The same can be said of Menelik Watson and Daniel Glauser, both of whom will see a good amount of playing time. There is little doubt whether or not they can block the man they want to in this game, but will they choose the right man? How well will they react to stunts, zone blitzes, and linebacker blitzes? Do they get the right leverage on defenders to seal them off or create a pocket? They need to keep their hips square to the defender by moving their feet and punch hard into the defender's chest on passing plays. Lock on and drive on running plays.
The running backs will be sound in the run game but will they shy from hits? Chris Thompson and Devonta Freeman had back injuries last year and reports from practices say they have not shied away from hits. Doing that in a game is different though. How will they react? James Wilder Jr. is still working hard to convince people he is a running back. Does he hit the right hole? Often times, Wilder would get the ball and run right up his lineman's rear. He needs to stay patient, find his crease and get through it fast. How well does he react in blitz protection? The more blocks he picks up against the blitz, the more snaps he is likely to earn over the course of the season.
There are very few questions at the wide receiver position. They have all shown promise as long as they can stay healthy. The biggest two questions are Greg Dent and Kelvin Benjamin. Fisher praised Dent almost daily noting he was the most improved receiver in camp. Does that translate to the field? How many snaps does he see and how many are with the first team? Nobody doubts Benjamin's talent, but people do question his route running. He needs to be where EJ expects him to be. If he can do that, he will get a chance to shine. Seeing EJ double clutch or throw a different route than what Benjamin is running will be a good indication that he still has a ways to go.
Nick O'Leary will be the starting tight end and has shown that he has solid hands. However, he needs to work on his route running, knowing the playbook, and blocking. He needs to become a competent blocker to be effective as a pass catcher. Also, how often does he stand up and motion along the line. The potential to move defenses around and create mismatches depends on O'Leary's improvment. The better he is at each aspect of his game, the more opportunities FSU's offense will have. Behind O'Leary sits Kevin Haplea and Christo Kourtzidis. Look to see where they play and what their roles are to get an idea of how they'll be used this year. Are they blocking? Are they effective? What looks does FSU show when they enter the game?
EJ Manuel enters his second and last season as FSU's starting quarterback. While EJ had the highest ACC passer rating last year, he left something to be desired by many fans. That's a bit unfair to EJ as he had no running game and little in the way of protection. The most important thing EJ can do this year is get the team into the right play. Part of that is not always going for the long ball and taking what the defense is giving. FSU's has playmakers all over the field and EJ's job is to hit the open man and let him run.
Fisher has noted that he and EJ have better communication this year as opposed to last year. Hopefully that will show with FSU running an offense that EJ feels more comfortable with. Expect to see a balanced offensive attack in this game. In the first two games last year, FSU passed the ball plenty getting EJ comfortable as a starter. This year, the focus will be on the offensively line, which is not proven at any play type.
As previously stated, Mark Stoops will run a vanilla defense that lets his players read and react. However, the formations are the interesting part here. FSU will see a good bit of 4 wide sets but it is the 3 wide sets that will be more interesting. Does FSU go with a nickel or dime coverage, or does Stoops have confidence in his LBs to go with a 4-3 look.
The question is not whether Dustin Hopkins will kick well. The question is whether Dustin Hopkins will kick the ball out of the endzone or let Murray State return it. With the change in kickoff rules (kickoffs are from the 35 and touch backs come out to the 25) and FSU's excellent special teams, does it make sense to make teams return the ball? We should find out how FSU adjusts to the new rule this game.
Cason Beatty apparently has done well in practice. In the scrimmage...not so much. Hopefully he's gotten the butterflies out of his system and can have a solid punting show.
Murray State will do it's best to not let FSU return any kickoffs or punts like most other teams will do this year. Rashad Greene will be FSU's new punt returner. Greg Reid was excellent at making sure FSU did not lose any cheap yardage/field position on punts. Can Greene do the same?
One other new rule that might rear it's head is the lose helmet rule. If a player loses his helmet for any reason they have to leave the game for one play. Chin straps will be key. Will FSU have a chin strap coach like many teams have a "get back" coach (used to keep players away from the sideline)?
Watch your waitress/waiter/bartender/spouse/child through this game. How quickly do they refill your beverage of choice? Is there good food to be had? Is your server attentive and engaging? Do they walk in front of you during a play or wait until the end? Sure this is only Murray State but this game sets the tone for the whole season. There are no off weeks.