There is a strong chance that Florida State football fails to make a bowl game for the first time in over 30 seasons. While the Seminoles have four wins and three games left, none of them are particularly easy. Their next match-up happens to be against an undefeated Notre Dame team who inches closer to the College Football Playoff each week.
The loss against NC State last week revealed potential weaknesses that were completely surprising to any observers of this year’s team. We discuss those surprising weaknesses and what Florida State can do to mitigate them.
Will the Defensive Line Rebound?
It should be noted that even Clemson’s otherworldly defensive line was unable to muster more than one sack of NC State quarterback Ryan Finley. From a pass rush perspective, it’s clear that Florida State’s performance on Saturday was not unusual. More credit needs to be given to the Wolfpack’s system and Finley’s style of play.
However, that does not explain why the defensive line was gashed by the ground attack of the Wolfpack. NC State was very effective at getting to the second level of the FSU defense, which is basically a death sentence for a thin, suspect FSU linebacking corps. That is not supposed to happen against a defensive front which boasts the amount of talent and experience that the Seminoles do.
Whether it was a mix of effort, personnel decisions, or any number of factors, the Seminoles’ line did not play up to expectations in Raleigh. It is absolutely essential that they do so in South Bend, or else Dexter Williams can blow past them with relative ease.
How Will They Hide Deficiencies at Linebacker and Safety?
Speaking of the second level of defense…the absolute biggest change that needs to happen for the defense to perform well is better play from the linebackers and safeties. That’s not really possible at this point in the season, so we’re assuming that FSU will try and hide the issues altogether.
How could that be accomplished? In addition to better play from the defensive line, the Seminoles could opt for more cornerback-heavy packages or switching up positions. They played Stanford Samuels III at cornerback against NC State, and while he did OK, it was obvious after watching A.J. Westbrook that Samuels is severely needed at the free safety position.
An injury to cornerback Levonta Taylor prevented him from playing last week, and his status is uncertain going into Notre Dame. Even if he is sidelined again, Florida State should seriously consider a different cornerback pairing. Samuels is too valuable at safety to put him in one of the corner spots.
Can Blackman Avoid Pressure?
Notre Dame’s defensive front is good. Really good. Even if the star power is not as apparent as Clemson, the Fighting Irish get pressure on opposing quarterbacks at an alarming rate.
Depending on what offensive coordinator Walt Bell and head coach Willie Taggart want to do offensively, James Blackman or Deondre Francois may not have many opportunities to stand in the pocket. On those rare opportunities, the FSU quarterback will need to navigate the pocket better than he did at any point last season.
Blackman showed promise against NC State and looked more fluid than Francois. But now the difficulty level will rise, and the FSU signal-caller needs to make the most of what the play calls are dictating.
How Does FSU Move the Ball?
As mentioned in our first look, Florida State would be wise to figure out where Houston Griffith is on each play and target him. But if Tamorrion Terry and D.J. Matthews showed anything last week, it is that they will find separation against any defender. Terry has been showing it all year.
Observers should expect another pass-heavy game plan. When an offensive line is this banged up with this little talent, running the ball becomes less of a tactic and more of a distraction. It will be on Blackman — assuming he is the starter — and his receivers to make plays down the field and to convert the short passes into positive yards. Screens will play a bigger role in this one than they did against NC State. More option reads can also be expected.