Talking FSU With Tomahawk Nation
More Q&A action! Thanks to Bud for taking the time to answer my questions. My answers to questions from his community are here.
1.) NC State's last two opponents have had great success spreading things out and throwing the football. Do you think Florida State will come out firing, or that they'll be happy to just continue pounding the ball on the ground?
I hate to start off with a cop-out answer, but I think FSU will go with whatever the Pack's defense gives them. Wake looked as if they would give up the run, and FSU did not take it. Colorado and Miami gave up the run to take away the pass, and the Noles gashed them for almost 600 yards rushing. My hunch is that the Noles will come out firing as the Wolfpack will not want to suffer the same fate as the Buffalo and Hurricane rush defense's. The Noles are determined to get the passing game going, and I think they have the talent to do it. If NC State decided to play 7 in the box, and doesn't use one of those 7 to account for QB Christian Ponder, however, then expect the Noles to run the ball. I just don't expect the 'Pack to do that.
2.) And anyway, why is Florida State's ground game so much better this season?
Mindset and personnel. OC Jimbo Fisher loves to run the ball. QB Christian Ponder is extremely quick, posting one of the fastest pro-shuttle times on the team. The offensive lines of the past few years have been slow, weak, and not in great shape. This year's line is quick, and in shape, while still being weak. The weakness, however, is really a result of the Nole's youth. FSU has the youngest starting offensive line in Division 1 football, with the starters (from left to right) being 18, 19, 20, 29, and 18. There are no upperclassmen playing. The Noles offensive line doesn't blow people off the ball, but much like West Virginia of the past few years, they beat their opponent off the ball, use good leverage, and essentially just get in the way of the blocker. The Nole backs are hitting the holes much harder as well, which means that the linemen don't have to hold their block's for long. I coined the Nole running game the "cut n go" because it's a quick cut block and go. I'd be foolish not to mention TE Caz Piurowski here, the Noles 270LB+ Junior TE, who is effectively another offensive tackle.
3.) Against I-A opponents, FSU's quarterbacks have completed barely 40% of their passes and have averaged just 4.4 yards per attempt. What've been Christian Ponder's biggest issues so far? Any QB controversy?
Clearly, those numbers are not acceptible. Christian got off to a horrible start against Wake Forest, as his first pass was intercepted, and I think this made him a little gun shy. Despite the shocking play of the offensive line, relative to their youth, we've still had pass protection issues. Poor wide receiver play has also contributed, as there have been incorrectly run routes and dropped balls. Ponder is also at fault, obviously. His drops have been inconsistent, his steps are sometimes too large on play action (great fakes though). His biggest issue is trust and inexperience. He has to learn to throw the ball before the guy is open. I think he's starting to do that, but as of yet, he still usually waits for the guy to come open before throwing. That seems to be an inexperience issue. He has really improved in his pre-snap reads, and I have to think that he will continue to progress. The Miami game was really a bad game for passing, since it was played in a downpour, and Miami really gave up the run to take away the pass. There is no QB controversey, Ponder is the guy. He needs expeirence, consistency, and trust. I think all of those can be remedied with time. Luckily, he seems to be able to rely on his legs for now.
4.) What's the strongest aspect of Florida State's defense?
Wow. I'll have to say the linebackers. Our best player is DE Everette Brown (NFL bound, this year, as a JR), but our best unit is the LB corps. We rotate 6 guys, and I think that objectively, 3 of these guys are first day NFL picks. Another two are former safeties, who've added size. That really helps in coverage. FSU tipped/ batted 13 balls against Miami, many by the linebackers. They've really impressed me, and this was the unit of the defense that worried most people when the season started. I'm particularly happy that we have size again at the LB spots. FSU had been small at LB in recent years. This year, the size has returned. Watch out for Dekoda Watson and Derek Nicholson (a North Carolina native). FSU is 4th in the nation in tackles for loss, despite only playing 5 games (some teams have played 6 or 7).
5.) Happy with Jimbo Fisher so far?
I am, for the most part. The step-up in quality from the previous guy, to Jimbo, has been huge. He brings an aura of professionalism and confidence, yet still seems able to relate to young guys. He has enacted a ton of changes in the program, most of them good, and is on the road to bringing us back to the level of a dominant program. One major difference has been the total Bill belicheck style of media relations. Practices are closed to everyone. Injury info is tightly monitored, and often addressed in terms of "upper body injury." As someone who doesn't live in Tallahassee, it doesn't bother me as much as it does the beat writers, but it's a change we've had to adjust to. Fisher has been a blessing, as he let's recruits know who will be here when Bobby leaves. He's not an offensive genius, but he is a great recruiter and motivator. I'd put him in the Les Miles mode in that regard, but he does retain some of his Sabanesque qualities (from his time at LSU).