Florida State Seminoles football (4-3, 2-3 ACC) is rested up and off its second bye of the season, looking to snap a three-game losing streak this Saturday vs. the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-4, 2-2 ACC).
FSU will also be looking to snap a two-game losing streak to Georgia Tech on Saturday at noon, having lost to the Yellow Jackets off a field-goal return in 2015 and in the opening game of the Mike Norvell era in 2020.
The Seminoles are currently 23-point favorites, according to DraftKings, as the Yellow Jackets look to bounce back after a 16-9 loss to the Virginia Cavaliers last Thursday.
On this week’s episode of the Line of Scrimmage, where ahead of each game this football season, we’re giving you insight into Florida State’s opponents from those in the know, we spoke with Robert Binion of our SB Nation sister site, From the Rumble Seat.
Robert, who was one of the first-ever guests on the Tomahawk Nation podcast network to preview that aforementioned 2020 game, jumped on to talk about Georgia Tech’s new life after firing head coach Geoff Collins, what the quarterback situation for the Yellow Jackets looks like, how the offense and defense have looked and a prediction for Saturday.
On September 26th, Georgia Tech was 1-3 and had just fired their head coach Geoff Collins and named assistant Brent Key as the interim coach. The response? Tech went 2-1 over their next three games (And potentially 3-0 has Jeff Sims not been hurt). What’s been the difference?
Robert: Have you ever tried to swim with an iron vest on your back? And then you take it off and it’s like, this isn’t so hard. Collins was the iron vest that was keeping everyone weighed down and miserable. And I don’t think that the current coaching staff is that special, but you remove a big enough negative and it makes a big difference. He was in over his head, and it’s a new day now. I think that his estimation of himself and his coaching abilities, and his accomplishments were just drastically out of touch with reality. I mean, even in his final couple of games, you’d hear him talking about how he had this elite track record and was regarded as this excellent defensive mind by other coaches, and all of a sudden, three games without him, they’re giving up like 12 points a game.
There was just this massive disconnect where he thought he needed to be involved in every little aspect of the program, and lo and behold, you take him out of the equation and you start to see some results, especially on defense and special teams.
As we alluded to in the first question, if the Virginia game taught us anything it’s that this Georgia Tech offense needs Jeff Sims healthy in order to be successful. What’s the latest on Tech’s signal caller?
I‘m hearing it’s more of a week-to-week thing than a day-to-day thing — he got hurt vs. Duke, he gets 10 days off before Virginia, and it was obvious from snap one that he wasn’t close to 100%. I’d be shocked if he played this weekend, it seems like something that he needs a little bit more time to recover and it seems like he’s not going to be effective if he does try to go again.
After not getting many touches in the first few games, Hassan Hall appears to have seized the running back room for Tech. He’s averaging over five yards a carry. What’s allowed Hall to jump ahead of Dontae Smith and others?
There are two things that are kind of on-the-field, off-the-field issues. Smith was obviously the presumed lead guy coming into the season, and he got off to a fine start, and then the week that Collins got fired, he was super outspoken on social media against the firing.
And then Hassan Hall has also been a much better blocker in pass-type situations and the key has been keeping the quarterback upright. By the Virginia game they were back to splitting carries and then Smith got dinged in the second half — I think Smith’s kind of doing what he needs to do behind the scenes to get back in the good graces of the coaching staff, he’s better at catching the ball out of the backfield if he’s available for that. Smith and Hall are pretty complimentary with each other.
Receiving-wise, Nate McCollum is the team leader. What can FSU expect from McCollum and this passing attack?
Nate’s the classic slot guy. He’s going to be heavily targeted in the middle of the field running crossers and slants, you’ll see the occasional end around where he’s getting the ball in the backfield — those haven’t worked terribly well, but they’ll usually try something like that once a game. He’s definitely been the most reliable receiver. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t the leader and targets again this week.
On the outside, it’s just a bunch of parts that aren’t working together. Malachi Carter is a fifth-year senior guy who has been around forever, never broken through, seems to always have a key drop. And then they brought in EJ Jenkins, who looks more like a tight end. They’ve tried to feed him and in goal-line situations, are throwing fades to him like he’s Calvin Johnson, which is just painful because he’s not that good. He was a heavy target guy the first few games and that’s really gone down.
The wildcard is Leo Blackburn, he’s a redshirt freshman who was getting all sorts of rave reviews in camp last year and then he tore up his knee in August and missed the year. More rave reviews this summer, and then he broke his wrist and missed the first five games. Duke was his first game back, he had a 37-yard touchdown catch on a back shoulder play that was awesome and it was like, “this is why we’ve been so excited for two years about this guy.” And then he had a couple really terrible drops last week and was struggling to get open. He’s definitely the highest potential guy, if somebody is going actually to make a play on the outside it’s going to be him.
Finally, on offense. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the offensive line?
I don’t want to be terribly glib, but there’s really not a strength to give you. I was browsing PFF before we talked and the highest-graded lineman for the season is a 57, the other starts are 56, 55, 52, 52. The pressure rate allowed is bottom of the country, allowing tons of run stuffs. And without the Sims running threat, it looks like what it did in the second half against Virginia — eight sacks. Spin one way and there’s another defensive lineman there. It’s bad, it’s bad. I’m concerned about Jared Verse and company.
Let’s jump to the defensive line. Senior Keion White is the name to know for this Tech front. He leads the team in sacks. Is this the jump the Yellow Jackets were hoping from White after injuries limited him last year? And who are the other impactful players along the defensive line?
It’s been great to have Keion out there every game this season. He got the three sacks early and while he’s kept up the pressures, just hsn’t bought as many of them home the last few games. He’s been consistent in moving the pocket, disrupting the opposing quarterback, causing distruptions that you don’t see in the same way in the stat sheet. He’s definitely the best guy off the edge.
D’Quan Douse is a guy who has been around for awhile and all of a sudden is an above average ACC starter in defensive tackle, I’ve been really surprised and pleased with the improvement he’s shown.
And then White’s backup is a guy that was recruited out of Belgium, that was one of Collins’ glamour development projects, but he really has taken a step. Sylvain Yondjouen been though some injuries and is finally healthy this year, and he’s been awesome rushing the passer. The other defenisve end spot has been a bit of a wasteland, but the top three or so guys have been good enough to keep contain and keep quarterbacks uncomfortable.
As far as the remainder of the defense, who are players of note? Ayinde Eley and Charlie Thomas both jump out statistically. But what can fans expect from the linebackers and defensive backs?
The improvement at both of these spots is really stunning to me this year. It’s a night and day difference. Thomas and Eley were both starters last year, but Thomas was hurt for most of the second half of the year and Eley just really struggled with missed tackles and being in the wrong spot and he was trying to do two people’s job at once. They’re both going to be used to rush the passer a lot. And they’re both pretty effective at that. Eley does tend to miss a few more tackles. Still, he’ll get a little bit creative outside of what it looks like he’s probably supposed to be doing but they’re a really solid pairing in the middle.
And on the back end, similar to how the team had the addition by subtraction getting rid of Collins the secondary did that with three seniors last year who were completely out of sorts and had completely given up on trusting each other and playing coverage. They all are gone and the secondary is so so much better. The corners are both really solid. I mean, they’re not, you know, spectacular. They’re not probably NFL players, but they’ve both done their job. They’re going to make you work for it.
Finally, this is the first match up since Coach Mike Norvell’s debut at FSU. An ugly game which say Georgia Tech win 16-13. Can the Jackets pull off another upset this Saturday?
I think you need would need at least two defensive or special teams touchdowns probably, because I really don’t see how the offense is going to be remotely functional. You’re either looking at a hobbled Sims, when you know his rushing has been his best weapon this year, or you’re looking at a guy that just got sacked seven times and a half by Virginia. I really can’t see that offense scoring more than 10 points. I don’t see this offense moving the ball with who is available — to me, it’s like a 10-15% chance of a Tech win.
I will tell you — the last one of these I was on was before the Pitt game, and I said that Pitt would win 35-7, so just know that the reserve jinx is real.