After what was a tumultuous week in Tallahasee, the Florida State Seminoles will once again take the field this evening. Coming off a difficult upset loss, today fans will get an idea of how this FSU squad is responding.
Are they angry or are they reeling? Will they come out with killer instinct and hammer a team like they did the first four weeks or will they sleepwalk through another Saturday like they have the past two?
This is a bigger game for Florida State than a lot of people realize because they need to set the tone for the rest of the season. At the end of the day, only one team wins it all, lots of teams stumble and if Florida State can finish the year by winning out the NC State loss will be seen as a growing pain, perhaps even a necessary lesson.
It won't hurt less for Seminoles fans, but it will have something redeemable about it.
If Florida State comes out flat though, watch out. Then that loss starts to be viewed as the start of a potential slide.
BC can beat Florida State but they would need to really put together a flawless performance, the more likely scenario is that a flat performance would do little to assuage fans doubts that the meltdown is coming.
It's been a decade since Florida State stopped letting potholes become sinkholes. Fans are a bit shell-shocked from that. FSU cannot afford to have a mediocre performance today or they're going to play right into fans paranoia.
The best thing Florida State can do is play like they did against Wake, leave little doubt and get back in the win column.
'A win is a win' is only good for so much today.
Here's three things to watch for:
1.) The First Ten Minutes
I'm going to be paying extra special attention to Florida State's body language and energy levels over the first ten minutes of the game. While it would be fine for Florida State to start slow, warm up over the first half and win handily, if they come out sharp that's going to say a lot more. This was a trying week for the team, players all dealt with the loss in their own way and at their own pace. A quick start would be a good indication it's behind them.
Florida State should win this game easily, like I said, but the fact of the matter remains style points matter to a degree. They don't need to hang 60 points, but they need to look motivated, fly around and most of all not look even remotely flat. This is where you see what kind of leadership the Seminoles really have. If the team isn't ready to play from the opening whistle, that could be indicative that it's not as strong as Florida State would tell you.
2.) How Does Jimbo Fisher Handles the Backs?
Last week it was pretty well-documented that Chris Thompson got the lion's share of work while James Wilder Jr. carried the ball just once. That was one of the more talked about developments this week and something that could alter the way Fisher uses his backs tonight. There's more to it than initially meets the eye though. The real reason Wilder didn't play much last weekend had less to do with Thompson or the hot hand and more to do with Wilder.
In the second half EJ Manuel was 0-for-6 throwing against the blitz, NC State was bringing it almost every play and Wilder is still developing as a pass protector. That's a liability FSU couldn't afford down the stretch.
This week I will be interested to see how the rotation is though. You know Fisher is going to want to give his other backs some touches, but the unfortunate thing is that Chris Thompson has kind of come on as a feature back kind of player. It's going to be interesting to see how Jimbo balances working a better rotation in the backfield with continuing to feed Thompson– who has become the most dynamic player on offense.
3.) EJ Manuel
With six regular season games left in Florida State's season and EJ Manuel's career as a Seminole, it's time for Jimbo Fisher and Manuel to turn things loose. Some weeks Manuel is a running QB who is great at the option, others he's almost exclusively a pocket passer. Whether or not a struggle is playing out behind the scenes where somebody doesn't want Manuel to run, I do not know. But I do know that Manuel with the ball in his hands adds a wrinkle to the offense that makes defenses struggle.
Going back to last week, one of the problems in the second half was the predictability of the playcalling. Florida State wasn't doing much to switch it up, they were running the same run plays as in the first half and throwing almost exclusively out of playaction. NC State could just pin their ears back and blitz almost every down because Florida State's offense wasn't keeping them honest.
Over the last 6-8 games of Manuel's career, all options should be on the table. Whether that's running with him, asking him to throw more out of the shotgun or even just giving him a little more flexibility in the offense. From here on if Manuel fails it should be of his own accord.
I'll have more for you later today when I had to Doak. Keep checking back...