Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
The inaugural college football playoffs concluded Monday night after the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Oregon Ducks 42-20 in AT&T Stadium. Watching the Buckeyes defense completely dominate the high-powered Ducks offensive attack has given Seminole fans a lot to think about.
Ohio State held Marcus Mariota and Oregon’s offense to an abysmal 2-for-12 (16%) on third downs while the Seminoles allowed them to convert on 7 of their 12 attempts (58%). The Buckeyes found a way to stonewall Oregon’s dominate rushing attack, only allowing 132 yards on the ground. When Florida State tried to stop this offense, they marched all over the Noles for 301 yards. Ohio State also found a way to get consistent pressure on Mariota, a task that seemed impossible for Florida State.
There are a lot of people that will point to the Seminoles 5 turnovers as the reason for this collapse, but guess what, the Buckeyes also gave the ball away 4 times and faired much better. When Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes needed the defense to get a stop after an offensive turnover, they were able to. On the flip side, when the Noles needed a stop…. well, you saw the final score.
This was the same Oregon offense that gashed the Noles defense for 639 yards just 10 days prior, so why couldn’t Florida State do what Ohio State did? Most people will put the majority of the blame on FSU’s defensive coordinator, Charles Kelly.
Whether it’s fair for Kelly to shoulder the blame or not, it’s easy to see why the fans are quick to point the finger in his direction. Last season Jeremy Pruitt lead one of the most dominating defenses in school history that ranked 3rd in the nation in total defense. That NFL caliber defense only allowed 21 touchdowns throughout the entire season. This season, Kelly’s unit was ranked 61st in total defense and allowed 44 touchdowns. So what went so brutally wrong to make Kelly’s defense much worse than Pruitt’s when schematically, they are quite similar?
Well for starters, the Noles lost 5 phenomenal starters to the NFL and some key back-ups. All five of these players weren’t just stars on the field, but they were imposing leaders that glued this unit together. In the beginning of the season I alluded to the fact that the defense lacked leadership, but in no way did I think that it would become this detrimental to its success. I thought that the talent alone would be enough to overpower opposing offenses but that wasn’t the case.
What fans need to realize before they start a riot to fire Charles Kelly is that there was not one single senior starter on defense. That is extremely rare for a team with a roster as a deep as the one in Tallahassee. On top of the lack of leadership, we saw how the lack of experience hindered the performances of this unit. I think that another component to the lackluster season performance was complacency. There were multiple occasions where I felt as though certain players had this aura about them that “we are the defending champs and we’re better than you.” It’s hard not to feel that way after dominating in the fashion that they did the season before, but when you have that attitude it’s hard to be as hungry for success play in and play out.
Don’t write off Kelly just yet because we’ve seen defensive coordinators turn programs around in their second season. Last year there were a lot of Clemson Tiger fans that wondered if Brent Venables was the right man for the job. In his first season as defensive coordinator, his unit was ranked 25th in the country in total defense, but after one short season his defensive skyrocketed to 1st in the nation for the 2014 season. The team that just shutdown Oregon’s potent offense had defensive coordinator questions going into this season too. Last season the Ohio State faithful were wondering if Luke Fickell was the weak link. But we saw what he did this season, improving the unit from 46th in 2013 to 19th this season.
With the loss of 4 underclassmen to the NFL Draft this offseason we could be in for another dreary season defensively, but there is hope that this uber talented recruiting class can provide instant impact players to add a spark to this mundane unit. I think with the majority of contributors from the freakish championship defense departed, the younger players will be hungry to prove their abilities and allow this defense to take strides in the right direction.
Sometimes we write people off too soon, and other times our initial assessment was spot on. I can’t tell you whether or not Charles Kelly will be able to revive this defense, but I can say that it’s too soon to make any irrational decisions. Kelly will be on the hot seat next season, and as we’ve seen so many times in this business, pressure will either elevate you, or cripple you. What’s it gonna be?
Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
On September 2nd, 2013, I watched a redshirt freshman from Hueytown, Alabama jog out onto the gridiron from my seats in the upper deck of Heinz Field. I’ll never forget the command that Number 5 had in the pocket in his first collegiate start. Passes were fitting perfectly between defenders, landing in the arms of the Seminoles receivers, racking up chunks of yards with each flick of the wrist. I remember wondering after his 25 of 27, 356 yards, 4 touchdown and 0 interception performance, if he was really that good, or if it was just a case of beginners luck. These near perfect acts were far from beginners luck, they were routine.
Jameis Winston took the college football world by storm with his jaw-dropping performances, immeasurable competitiveness and contagious charisma. He will go down as the best quarterback in Florida State history, over former Heisman trophy winners Chris Weinke and Charlie Ward.
FSU is losing the teams’ leading receiver, Rashad Greene, Nick O’Leary, the best tight end in school history, and four starters on the offensive line, so it comes to no surprise that Jameis Winston decided not to return to play for Jimbo Fisher next season. There isn’t anything left for him to prove here and I can’t wait to watch Number 5 compete on Sundays against the best competition and prove himself all over again.
With Winston declaring for the NFL draft, the Florida State coaches will now be taking auditions for a replacement. We’ve seen how difficult it is to replace a quarterback legend in college football. The Florida Gators have yet to find a replacement since Tim Tebow left in 2009. FSU struggled for years after Chris Weinke left, and even then with Christian Ponder, it is debatable if he brought the Noles back into the national spotlight. So, who will be summoned with the tall-task of replacing Jameis Winston next season?
We got a quick glimpse into the future earlier this season when Sean Maguire had to start for the suspended Winston and that glimpse was nerve wrecking. We’ve been spoiled with an offense that can move the ball at will, but with Maguire under center, the Noles couldn’t get any offensive rhythm going. Maguire will be the lead candidate to replace Winston this offseason based strictly on his seniority and experience. Much like what we saw with Clint Trickett having the lead over Winston and Jacob Coker in that quarterback battle two seasons ago.
Behind Maguire is redshirt freshman J.J. Consentino from Pittsburgh Central Catholic (same school as Dan Marino). Consentino has yet to play a down for the Seminoles but was hand-selected by Jimbo Fisher in the 2014 recruiting class. In high school, he threw in person for Fisher at Jimbo Fisher’s summer camp and was praised for his mechanics and powerful arm.
Three freshman gunslingers from this years’ recruiting class will look to throw their name in the mix as well. Jacksonville’s own Mr. Football in the state of Florida, De’Andre Johnson (4-star), Deondre Francios (4-star), and Kai Locksley (4-star), will all be competing for the vacant quarterback spot. Johnson may have a advantage in the competition because he enrolled in school early and is already with the team and learning the playbook. Francios has the strongest arm of the three and had a phenomenal showing in the Under Armor All-American game this past week against the best high school players from around the country. Locksley is the most athletic of the three. He actually played wide receiver in the Under Armor All-American game and performed very well, but is coming in to FSU as a quarterback.
With the cupboard full at the quarterback position, completion will be heated throughout camp. The pressure of filling Winston’s shoes won’t set in until one of these guys is named the starter, but make no mistake about it, the pressure will be there. Regardless of who leads the Seminoles offense next season, he will never be Jameis Winston.
Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
Florida State has once again been penelized for a close win, while other teams continue to be rewarded for “quality losses.” TCU is the most recent team to hop the Noles and send FSU to the backside of the playoff rankings at number 4. TCU was never panelized for their 34-30 victory over a Kansas team that boasts an embarrassing record of 3-9 while the Noles close wins remain detrimental each week.
The sad reality regarding the human committee’s power to determine the rankings is that money, whether consciously or subconsciously, plays a factor in the rankings. Florida State right now (if the rankings remain the same) would be set to face Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, drawing an enormous amount of money and TV ratings both in the southeast region and nationally. This matchup has been a pipe dream among college football fans since last season, and the committee now has the power to match these two teams up.
However, the Seminoles won’t be playing in any playoff game if they don’t beat No.11 Georgia Tech this weekend in the ACC Championship game. I think this season would be a complete failure if the Noles don’t win their own conference. Sure, an undefeated regular season is an amazing accomplishment, especially when you do it two years in a row, but at the end of the day, if FSU loses this weekend they will be the second best team in their own conference. On top of being out of the playoff picture, they would also be out of the BCS bowl game picture. If Jimbo Fisher can’t even get into a BCS bowl game then no one would even care, or remember about the second consecutive undefeated regular season.
No.11 Georgia Tech is coming off of an overtime victory over their archrival Georgia and look to snap the Seminoles 28 game-winning streak. The Yellow Jackets boast the 3rd best rushing offense in the nation behind their dangerous triple-option attack. Along with stopping the triple-option, Florida State will have the difficult task of containing QB Justin Thomas. Thomas is a superior athlete who is just as dangerous with his arm as he is with his legs. FSU defensive coordinator Charles Kelly coached at Georgia Tech under Paul Johnson and should have a good grasp on how to slow down this option offense.
The Noles rushing attack has been respectable in its’ own right. The emergence of freshman running back, Dalvin Cook, has made Florida State so much more dangerous. Senior running back Karlos Williams is out for this game with a concussion and with rain in the forecast, establishing the rushing game will be critical. Georgia Tech’s rushing defense is 70th in the country so look for Cook and backup running back Mario Pender to play a major role in the offense.
With no control over the rankings, the Seminoles can only keep winning. A win over the No.11 team would hopefully be enough to keep the undefeated Noles in the playoff mix.
Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
Nick Joost (@juicyjoost)
The Gators travel to Tallahassee this weekend to take on the Seminoles in Will Muschamp’s final game as head coach for the Florida Gators. The last time Florida brought a coach to Doak Campbell Stadium for his farewell tour was in 2004 when Ron Zook stunned the Noles. Despite the differences in records, FSU fans have to be wary of an archrival team that has nothing to lose.
This week, Gator blogger Nick Joost and myself will be answering 5 of the popular questions asked leading up to this rivalry match-up between the Gators and the Noles.
1. What needs to happen for Muschamp to ride off into the sunset with a season spoiling victory over FSU Saturday at Doak Campbell, just like Ron Zook a decade ago?
Alex (FSU): A couple things need to happen for the Gators to spoil the Noles season and end their 27 game winning streak. First, UF needs to run the ball effectively. Florida State is ranked 43rd in the nation in stopping the run and everyone saw what the Gators did to Georgia this season rushing for over 400 yards. Secondly, Florida has to win the turnover battle. Forcing turnovers will keep the Seminoles offense from putting up points and give the Gators a chance to dominate the time of possession. Last but not least, they need to play loose and full of emotion. There is nothing to lose for the boys in orange and blue, and in a rivalry game, momentum could be the difference between a win or a loss.
Nick (UF): In short, a lot. The last time FSU lost (28 games ago, vs UF in 2012), it was during a time in which Will Muschamp was about to be named SEC Coach of the Year. Much has changed since the Gators last took the field at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Worth mentioning: A Gator victory this Saturday would be far more improbable than Zook’s triumph in 2004. The ’04 team averaged nearly 32 points per game and led the SEC in passing offense. It also featured junior running back Ciatrick Fason, who led the conference in rushing. The shock value of the 2004 victory had a lot more to do with the fact that Florida hadn’t won in Tallahassee since 1986, and that it was on the same day FSU would dedicate its field to Bobby Bowden.
For the Gators to win Saturday, the turnover battle must lie decisively in UF’s favor. Turnover margin, along with which team is able to rush for more yards, will be the most telling statistic of the game. Here’s an encouraging nugget for Gator fans: In Florida’s last four games (UGA, Vandy, SC, EKU), it has turned the ball over just three times. The previous four games (Bama, Tenn, LSU, Mizz) — Florida relinquished a total of 15. The Gators need to keep that trend steady.
On the other hand, UF has fallen behind by seven or more points in three of its last four games — not a place you’d like to be against Jameis Winston and his explosive ‘Nole offense. Bottom line, Florida wants this game to be won or lost in the trenches, not through the air and not through special teams.
2. Treon Harris, a long time FSU commit, will start at QB for Florida. Dalvin Cook, a long time Gator commit, will factor in largely at RB for the Noles. Who does a better job of sticking it to the team they rejected?
Alex: I think that when its all said and done Saturday, Gator fans will be looking around at each other saying: “I wish we had that guy,” when they talk about Dalvin Cook. Cook, who is leading the Seminoles in rushing, has improved each week and his big-play potential is evident every time he touches the ball. On the other hand, Treon Harris has been a very effective runner, but the question is: if FSU bottles him up on the ground, can he beat the Noles with his arm? That remains to be seen.
Nick: I guess that ultimately depends on whose team wins the game. Dalvin Cook, arguably FSU’s most talented ball carrier, will likely have the more productive day. Cook has shined the brightest when the ‘Noles needed him most — coming up with huge scores against Louisville and Miami — and has reminded Gator fans why he was such a devastating loss to last year’s recruiting class. I think Treon Harris certainly plays a vital role in the outcome; the less you hear Harris’ name, however, the better for Florida. Ball security is priority number one for the freshman quarterback.
3. What are the chances Muschamp is auditioning to be long time friend Jimbo Fisher’s defensive coordinator next year on Saturday?
Alex: Man, I would love to say that Will Muschamp would be teaming up with his good buddy next season as the defensive coordinator at FSU but I just don’t think its realistic. Sure, the Noles have struggled defensively, but realistically I have to say the chances are slim to none. Jimbo Fisher would be the only coach in memory that fires a coordinator that has zero losses under his belt to date. Muschamp might just sit at home on the couch and count his dollar bills until a perfect opportunity presents itself.
Nick: 0% chance that Muschamp is somehow ‘auditioning’ for the Seminole Defensive Coordinator position. There is no audition. If Muschamp becomes the next DC at Florida State (I don’t believe he will, but for the sake of argument) it would be based on his impeccable resume in his many years of coaching defense in the SEC and NFL. I don’t believe Will Muschamp would go to Florida’s arch-rival, even if offered the job. Considering the kind of relationship he’s built with the locker room in Gainesville, I can’t picture Muschamp wearing garnet and gold next fall. He’ll land a DC job somewhere — not Tallahassee.
4. What player scares you the most on each side of the ball and why?
Alex: Anytime you’re playing the Gators you know that their roster will have some top tier talent regardless of the teams’ record. On offense I’d say that running back, Matt Jones, strikes the most fear in me. Jones is a bruising running back that had a great deal of success running down the Noles throats in 2012 where he averaged 10.1 yards a carry. The Noles inability to stop the run has to have Jones drooling at the opportunity to batter the Seminoles. Whether it was Louisville, Miami, Boston College, it has been obvious that Florida State can’t stop the run.
On defense you would be hard pressed to find any player more terrifying than former FSU commitment, Dante Fowler Jr. Fowler is an elite pass-rusher and a sure-fire first round pick. True freshman left tackle, Roderick Johnson, will be making his 3rd consecutive career start and will be lining up across Fowler. If Johnson can’t contain him, Fowler will be in Jameis Winston’s grill for most of the afternoon. A good pass rush can create turnovers and ruin field position, so the success of Fowler could translate into the Gators’ success. (Note: Johnson will likely have a tight end lined up with him on most plays to chip Fowler and attempt to slow him down)
Nick: Easy. Florida has to be most concerned with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, and it’s not even close. Sure, Winston hasn’t been able to replicate his incredible freshman season statistically, but he still possesses all the tools and experience that make for a game-changing quarterback. Two years ago, EJ Manuel threw three interceptions and lost a fumble, which proved to be too much to overcome. Winston has been more turnover-prone this year, but his M.O. is still based on his ability to change an entire game’s momentum with one flick of the wrist. He has the Charlie Ward, Tim Tebow, Vince Young kind of moxie you want in a college quarterback — that’s why he’s never lost a game. The entire team responds to Winston’s energy. Florida must find a way to rattle him early in the game.
Defensively, I’d be most concerned with defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr. Edwards emerged as one of the nation’s top defensive ends last season and has blossomed into one of FSU’s best players on defense. We’re talking about a guy who scooped up a fumble against Clemson last year, and bulldozed 37 yards into the end-zone faster than most linebackers would. What’s dangerous about Edwards is, at his DE position, the fact that he can wreak havoc in both the passing and running game. Florida must neutralize Edwards if it wants to send Muschamp out with a win.
5. What is more likely, Noles break out of their funk and pound the rival Gators at home, or the game comes down to the wire with Florida getting a chance to win at the end?
Alex: I’d really like to say that a fire will finally be lit under the Seminoles and they will come out of the gates guns blazing and not look back, but the sad reality is that we haven’t seen that yet. I think the Gators will have success on the ground, allowing them to control the game clock and ultimately keep this game close. The way the Seminoles have let teams hang around has to concern FSU fans and coaches, and I don’t see that changing this Saturday. I think the Noles find second half magic once more to hang on against their archrivals.
Nick: This is probably the toughest question for a number of reasons. Watching the Gators and ‘Noles this season, there’s still that feeling that we haven’t seen either team’s true colors. We’ve been waiting for FSU to flex its muscle all year and show us a glimpse of the 2013 ‘Noles, and we haven’t quite seen that. Florida has been so inconsistent; there’s no rational explanation as to how Florida can lose to Missouri 42-13 on Homecoming, and beat Georgia 38-20 the following game — that’s just college football for you. I expect the game to make fans of both sides bite their nails throughout, and we may even witness the first Florida-Florida State overtime game before it’s all said and done. Believe it Gator fans, Florida will win Saturday because it will emerge as the more physical team and FSU will succumb to the pressure it’s faced all season.
Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
Apparently winning isn’t everything anymore, just ask Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles. When the college football playoff committee released their new rankings on Tuesday, it was a one-loss Oregon team that found itself ranked number 2 instead of the unconquered reigning National champions.
The Ducks win over the Utah Utes last weekend must have been enough to pole-vault them over the Noles despite their loss to the 7-2 Arizona Wildcats earlier this season. Arizona is no powerhouse either, losing to 6-3 USC (who lost to Boston College from the ever so weak ACC) and 8-2 UCLA. So how is Oregon being rewarded for losing to the Wildcats? Since when did a loss mean less than an “unimpressive win?” I used to think that the point of this new playoff committee was to do away with the “style points” that once ruled the rankings of the old BCS system.
The Seminoles keep winning, and the Seminoles keep dropping. The accumulation of 25 consecutive victories has yet to impress the committee because FSU isn’t absolutely obliterating teams like they did just a short season ago. But what the Noles have done is win, and if they want to stay in the final four, they better keep winning.
What better way to gain the attention of the national media than beating the Miami Hurricanes in Miami? As if the Noles needed any more inspiration to beat the Hurricanes, they now are not only fighting for bragging rights in this heated rivalry, but they are also fighting for their ranking. A win over Al Golden’s Canes could be just enough for the Seminoles to impress the committee and regain that number 2 ranking. However, beating Miami will be easier said than done. This is a team that has improved with each game as their freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya continues to build confidence. Kaaya is quietly leading the ACC in touchdown passes and after early losses to Louisville, Nebraska and Georgia Tech, he has taken his game to the next level, performing at a Jameis Winston type level statistically.
Even with the emergence of Kaaya, the Canes most dynamic offensive weapon is Duke Johnson. Johnson is the ACC’s second leading rusher and averages 7.7 yards per carry. Last season against Florida State he scampered for 97 yards before breaking his ankle in the third quarter. Johnson may be the most elite back to play in Miami since Frank Gore in the early 2000’s and the Noles will have a difficult task containing this game breaker.
The keys for a Seminole victory are simple: Limit turnovers, slow down Duke Johnson and start fast. Jameis Winston has thrown five interceptions in the last two games alone. If the Seminoles want to start fast and beat the Hurricanes, protecting the ball will have to be a priority. Stopping Duke Johnson is almost impossible, so in order for the defense to be successful they will at least need to slow him down. It will be important to get penetration in the middle of the line and make Duke stretch the run to the outside. Forcing plays to the outside will allow the Noles to swarm to the sidelines because of their elite defensive speed. If the Noles want to avoid an upset, they need to come out of the gates firing and not look back. A slow start against the Canes could result in an insurmountable lead.
Florida State has every reason to come out guns blazing and lay it on the Hurricanes. The drop in the rankings and the pressure of the rivalry may be just enough to wake up this sleeping giant.