So far in 2012, the reworked Florida State offensive line has looked much improved from the unit that struggled mightily last season after suffering a rash of injuries. The caveat to that, of course, is that those strong performances have come against the likes of Murray State and Savannah State. Against these opponents, FSU’s new linemen were able to simply rely on their superior athleticism and ability, and their huge advantage bore out on the stat sheet, as the Seminoles racked up 452 yards and 11 scores on the ground, at an average of 6.95 yards per carry, in the first two weeks.
This week, against Wake Forest, while they still will have an edge in physical stature and athleticism, the relatively green group will face a much greater all-around test in the Seminoles’ first real contest of the season.
"No doubt. When you go to a 3-4 team, it’s definitely a different scheme," Jimbo Fisher said when asked about the challenge his team would face this week against Wake’s active 3-4 front. "Not as many people play it, there are little nuances you have to understand, and they do a really nice job of it."
The new-look starting unit, consisting of Cam Erving, Josue Matias, Bryan Stork, Tre Jackson, and Menelik Watson, will have to prove that they can handle the nuance of the Wake defense, which relies on a variety of shifting, angling, and stunting to keep opposing offensive lines off balance and guessing. As we’ve discussed, there’s not too much doubt that the Seminoles’ blockers possess impressive athleticism and size compared to last year. However, it remains to be seen how they will perform when presented with a defense that will test their ability to process, communicate, and adjust on the fly.
Despite the lack of competition in actual games thus far, Fisher sounded confident about the progress the group has made to this point. "I think we’ve learned about our offensive line," he said Monday. "We think they can communicate in the game, and they can execute, can do a nice job."
Whether or not that confidence is well-founded remains to be seen, but Fisher’s belief stems from his confidence in the intelligence of the group.
"Yeah, we thought they were intelligent guys," Fisher said of his impression of the linemen when they were recruited. "I mean, intelligence up front, you can’t put a price tag on that."
Wake Forest’s down linemen are relatively small in stature, but Fisher said that the Deacons compensate with a strong grasp of their system. "They know their defense so well, the constant movement and different looks; slanting, angling, stunting," he said. "They’re constantly moving those guys around so they’re not stationary targets."
The toughest target for the Seminole line to hone in on will likely be Wake Forest nose guard Nikkita Whitlock. While Whitlock’s status for Saturday remains somewhat up in the air as he deals with an injury, Fisher remains extremely leery of the 5’11 junior.
"Oh, he’ll play," Fisher said when asked about Whitlock and his status. As to what Whitlock brings to the field if he does indeed play, Fisher seems to think quite highly of him. "He sets the tone inside, he’s quick, he’s athletic. He’s one heck of a football player."
Whitlock will provide a stiff challenge for center Bryan Stork, who will return to the lineup after being held out of the Savannah State game with a minor injury. It will also be very interesting to see how Watson and Erving handle pass protection against the shifting and stunting Wake Forest throws at them. Florida State has yet to allow a sack so far, but that spotless stat won’t be nearly as easy to maintain this week.
Fisher acknowledged that the group would likely have its struggles. "It’ll be a different challenge, there’ll be some ups and downs," he said. "There’ll be some things that happen in the game like always, and hopefully we can adjust and get the team to play well."
Fisher had better hope so. The offensive line remains one of the few question marks for this team. Wake Forest will be a key first test to see how far they have really come, promising early returns aside.