Florida State’s SB Nation Site’s Dylan Kidd answers some questions from Gobbler Country’s Joshua Schneider about their revamped program, and some of their perceived issues around the big changes. They are posting theirs where Josh answered Dylan’s questions. It’s going to be fun.
1. Can you describe to me how awkward the end of last season was for Seminole fans?
It was certainly interesting, to say the least. I can tell you we got increasingly concerned about the direction of the program as 2017 progressed (not really even due to the on-field performances), and we did have a few indications that what ultimately played out was on the table rather early on. In the end, I think it was best for everyone involved. I don’t think Jimbo was going to get the necessary culture back at Florida State if he had stayed. Florida State needed a revitalization with new blood, and Jimbo needed a fresh start too, both personally and professionally. I was pleased with how FSU handled the coaching search and I’m excited for the new era under Willie Taggart.
2. Anything to say on the Jimbo Fisher experience and the stuff he’s now found himself embroiled in at Texas A&M?
Not much, honestly. As to the experience, he’s a really good football coach and can build you a high-level program. I don’t think there are many better offensive minds in the sport, even if we had our quarrels with how he did things sometimes. Jimbo is a great change agent, and I think he can flip the culture at A&M and build a good team in 3-4 years. How it goes beyond that is anyone’s guess. He’ll need to improve dramatically in how he handles his interpersonal relationships to avoid burning out again. Regarding the potential NCAA hot water, I think the player treatment stuff is unfortunately quite common. The extra cash on recruiting visits absolutely is and I have no problem with it. I don’t really hold a vendetta against Fisher, but it will probably be hard not to let some level of schadenfreude seep in if he struggles, probably because he quit recruiting for FSU and put Taggart in a tough spot for his first two classes.
3. What’re the expectations for year one with Willie Taggart and what did you think of the hire?
As it happens, I wrote on that this week!
My main point in the piece was to point out that the record isn’t the most important consideration in evaluating Taggart’s first year. Florida State plays a really difficult schedule this year and is installing brand new, significantly different schemes on both sides of the ball. As a result, I’m much more interested in how they fare by the advanced statistical measures, which can filter out the random variance between a 7-5 and 9-3 final record. But to put it in terms of wins, Vegas sees FSU winning 8, and SB Nation’s Bill Connelly projects 7.2 wins, which he acknowledges is on the low side. So if I had to guess, it’ll be within a win of 8-4 .
I really liked the Taggart hire for several reasons. First, the most important part of college football is recruiting, and he’s really good at it. So was Fisher, for that matter, and FSU needed to hire someone who could continue to bring in top talent in an increasingly crowded landscape in the southeast. Second, I like what he does on offense and how it will fit with Florida State’s talent. Willie brings the very high-tempo Gulf Coast Offense to Tallahassee. It will look like Baylor because of the receiver splits that will take the outside guys to the sidelines and the similar passing concepts. However, it’s a run-first offense, and they’ll employ Michigan’s ground concepts with lighter personnel. You’ll see a steady diet of FSU’s excellent running backs, jet action from its slot receivers, and some shot plays in the passing game. I’m excited to see it, even though I know there’ll be quite a few growing pains this season.
4. Heard that Deondre Francois is supposedly going to be the starter for the game; think that was the right move or would you have preferred James Blackman?
I’ll trust the coaches on this one. Francois is coming off of a really serious knee injury that has ended the careers of others, so I’m glad he’s rebounded well enough to win the job. Especially since a factor in the decision was his superior running ability to the other guys on the roster. He also had a long way to go in terms of maturity, as Taggart noted shortly after he took the job. Francois has not always been the best leader, so it’s good to see he’s made significant strides in that department as well.
Deondre has his strengths and weaknesses, just like the other two. He has never been a particularly accurate passer, completing only 47% of his passes against ranked teams during his first season. But he does have a solid arm, seems to consistently know where to go with the ball, and has run the offense the most smoothly in camp, limiting turnovers. Blackman probably has a better arm and I like his potential, but the coaches believe Francois can be a better point guard in this offense right now, and I’ll trust their judgment.
5. We kind of know about Cam Akers and how he tore up the league last year, any other offensive players you want to highlight?
As I mentioned, you’ll see a lot of FSU’s running backs, so I’d keep an eye out for Khalan Laborn and Jacques Patrick along with Akers. Laborn is the speed guy, while Patrick is the experienced big back. At receiver, Tamorrion Terry could be a breakout star for FSU on the outside with a crazy size and athleticism combo. I think you’ll see the Seminoles utilize plenty of jet action with slot receiver D.J. Matthews, who is a terror in space and will also return punts. Tre’ McKitty is the most significant threat at tight end, and you’ll see him working up the field in the seam on some run-pass option plays. I’d keep an eye on FSU’s tackles, though. Dickerson should be solid at right tackle, but Jauan Williams is a real wildcard at left tackle, and the Seminoles have virtually nobody behind these guys. They’ll help them out by throwing very few straight drop back passes, but that position is the clear weakness.
6. What’re the expectations for the defense and who’s the next big thing that side of the ball (since there were more than a few starters that got drafted from last year’s edition).
Florida State finished 33rd on defense last season by S&P+, and while they jettisoned a coaching staff many felt wasn’t getting the job done, they also lost some significant talent, as you say. Thankfully, they’ve recruited very well on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield. Brian Burns, Demarcus Christmas, Marvin Wilson, and Josh Kaindoh should be ready for excellent 2018 seasons, although the latter two will probably be limited against the Hokies. Corners Levonta Taylor and Kyle Meyers are earning rave reviews, but things get a little more interesting among the safeties. AJ Westbrook is a solid player, and Stanford Samuels III is a freak, but Harlon Barnett’s defense runs through the safeties and heaps a lot of responsibilities on them. I expect a few busts due to the learning curve, and I hope Samuels is healthy, as he’s been nursing a knee injury over the last week or so. True freshman Jaiden Woodbey will start at the Star position, which the Hokies will try to stress with some RPO plays. How will it go? I don’t know!
Linebacker is the problem area on defense. Dontavious Jackson should be a good player at Mike, but the ‘Noles are currently looking at starting a quite undersized DeCalon Brooks alongside him (he is Derrick Brooks’ son though!). The depth is scary should either go down. Expect the Hokies to go after these guys as often as they can. Barnett’s system is a cover-4 base, which makes the middle of the field an ideal attack point to begin with. With FSU’s linebacker weakness and safety inexperience, I’d bet on seeing quite a lot of shots to this area on Monday night.
7. If Florida State were to win this game, what would it look like, and conversely, what would you envision a loss looking like?
I think they’d look pretty similar, honestly. When it truly comes down to it, it’s game one for this staff, and we can watch all the film we’d like of the spring game and what the coaches have done at other places, but we don’t really know how it’ll look on Monday night. But I feel confident in saying it will be a very fast paced game, and I expect plenty of points for several reasons. First, Florida State has a bunch of freaks on offense and will be looking to hit big plays at warp speed against a Tech back seven that has lost, I don’t know, everyone? FSU itself will give up plenty of those big plays on defense because Tech has some good offensive players and coaches, and the ‘Noles are playing their brand new defense against someone other than themselves for the first time. I’d call this a boom or bust kind of game. You’ll see FSU look awesome at times and like they have no idea what they’re doing at others (cause they won’t). I think it will be important for Florida State to get off to a good start. I expect the Hokies to score early with their scripted drives, and I don’t want to see FSU trying to play from behind. That could snowball on the Seminoles, who simply won’t be good in obvious passing situations with this offense. Willie typically comes out throwing hammers, though, so this could be fun from the jump.
8. This is Tech’s first time down in Tallahassee in a good long while, for those Hokie fans going down there, give us a lay of the land and suggest some sights and sounds to go see or do.
Well, if you’re arriving on Sunday and happen to like soccer, Florida State’s women’s team is hosting a top-5 match-up with UCLA. I’d also point you to the College Town area and Madison Social in particular, and not just because they’re a sponsor of the Nolecast. Our own Bud Elliott and the aforementioned podcast are hosting a bar crawl during the late afternoon hours, and there will be no shortage of fun to be had down there. As far as game day goes, I’d tell you to check out the Sod Cemetery, which commemorates FSU’s major road victories over the years. Peter Warrick, who is having his number retired on Monday night, will be giving this week’s Sod Talk, although I understand if Virginia Tech fans in particular want to avoid that. FSU’s Marching Chiefs typically play a pre-game concert on the baseball field as well, and they’re a lot of fun to watch. I think y’all will enjoy your visit, but fingers crossed for a clear forecast.
9. Big lights, big game being the Labor Day game, what’s your final prediction?
I think this one is going to be a lot of fun, particularly for the neutral viewer. Points and storylines galore. It’s very important for you to know that FSU is wearing its all-black uniforms, which has been the source of great concern among some of the fanbase. Also of note is the throwback end zone paint scheme they’ll use. You might think these are trivial details, but our traffic numbers at Tomahawk Nation indicate otherwise. I really could see the game going either way, but I do expect the point total to be over the current 54. In light of the high level of uncertainty and out of general optimism for the Taggart era, I’ll say the ‘Noles are able to start fast and are ultimately too much for an out-manned Virginia Tech on the road. Call it 37-30 FSU.
FSU’s posting up their article with our answers to their questions this morning. We’ll update you with the link to Tomahawk Nation’s post up when we get it.
Update: Here’s a link to their article where I answered their questions.