17 September 2011
Ladies and gentlemen, the time has officially come. It’s time for one of the most anticipated games at Doak Campbell Stadium in the past 10 years; time for one of the biggest out of conference games on the 2011 college football schedule. A top five matchup between a national powerhouse and a program fallen from grace, seeking to regain its footing atop the college football world. We’re talking primetime, Saturday night, big lights college football with a field packed full of future NFL stars. There is a litany of questions surrounding how both teams will step up to the challenge. With Oklahoma traveling on the road where they’ve struggled noticeably in recent years and Florida State looking to bounce back from an embarrassing defeat one year ago in Norman, how will this clash play out? Here at UnconqueredNoles.com, we take a look at each upcoming game from the perspective of three different Florida State Seminole fans. Hit the jump to find out who they are and hear their takes on things.
First, we have Harry Homer. Harry is a great guy, but to say he’s sipping the kool-aid is putting things rather lightly. Quite frankly, Harry will pump you full of sunshine and lay it on thick. He’ll dress it up real fancy for you by throwing out some pretty favorable numbers and just about every positive that his beloved Noles have going in their favor. Next up, we’ll hear from Pete Pessimist. Pete can be a bit of a Debbie Downer when it comes to the Noles. He is a long time fan who is simply quite jaded and lacking confidence in the program after the lost decade. When everyone else is feeling the buzz and excitement of change, good ole Pete can’t help but allow doubt to creep in. He’s typically going to let you know what FSU should be most worried about when entering any matchup. Finally, Randy Realist will give the straight talk about this game. He will be honest and objective as he can be, while never denying the fact that his heart lies with Florida State. Randy is looking to keep all of us informed as opposed to painting a pretty picture or grim outlook. Now that the introductions are out of the way, let’s dive in and hear what these guys have to say about Saturday night’s game.
Harry Homer says: Well Noles, there’s no looking back now! Saturday night our boys go out there and prove to the rest of the nation that sleepy time is over and the resting giant is back in the game. I know a lot of you guys out there are nervous and I’m no fool, I can understand why. The #1 team in the nation is coming to town and they whipped us pretty damn good last year. But how about you go ahead and lean forward and let me tell you why you shouldn’t fret too much. Anyone who expects this game to play out the way it did last season is fooling themselves.
The defensive personnel that the Seminoles field Saturday night are far more mature and experienced in Mark Stoops scheme than they were last season. The matchup in Norman featured a defense that was playing just their second game in an unfamiliar system. In contrast, this group has taken its lumps and now features more talented personnel in addition to the valuable experience they gained in all of 2010. With a more physically imposing front four and a secondary that has developed into a group that features possibly the best cornerback trio in the nation in Xavier Rhodes, Mike Harris and Greg Reid, the Seminoles will do a much better job at slowing down the potent OU offense. One key piece that will help to make the secondary more dynamic is the addition of former five-star CB Lamarcus Joyner to Safety. Coach Fisher has dubbed him ‘The Eraser’ due to his ability to cover ground and make plays that compensate for mistakes other players may have made. Joyner has the speed and coverage ability you covet in a corner and the tenacity and aggression you get from a safety. His presence alone gives the defense an entirely new look.
In addition to the new look defense, it’s important to look at the struggles that Oklahoma has had on the road in recent years. By the numbers, the disparity between their performances at home in Norman and on the road, particularly against quality opponents is shocking. Landry Jones’ play in road games is not the typical level that Sooner fans are used to seeing out of their Heisman candidate. In addition to being 5-4 on the road, he has thrown 15 of his career 19 interceptions in away games also. The team as a whole is sporting a record of 36-1 at home dating back to 2005. Compare that to a 15-10 road record in the same time period and even worse yet, a 4-8 record in road games against teams that go on to win 9 games or more on the season, you realize that something about hostile road environments and top competition makes the Sooners much less effective. This could be the perfect storm for the Seminoles to come out and help continue the trend of underperformance, being that we now have the mix of talent and experience necessary to match up.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Seminoles should have something special in store for Oklahoma. EJ Manuel has been shackled, albeit by design, in the first two weeks of the season. In past playing time, Manuel is often rolled out on bootlegs and runs a good bit of option. In 2011 thus far, we’ve barely seen any bootlegs at all and quite literally no option plays. Both facets of the offense will most surely be making a return on Saturday night and will do wonders to bring balance to an offense that has seemed very pass heavy early on. Which brings up another point; I know everyone has been all up in arms about the running game this season, but let’s put all that to rest. Ole Jimbo has pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes and has people thinking this offensive line can’t move a JV team. Very little of the basic run scheme has been shown in these first two weeks and you’ll start to see that look differently in the game this weekend. There will be more inside and outside zone runs, allowing blockers to reach the second level and really put the talented stable of backs to use. As stated before, the option run will provide a new wrinkle and dynamic that opens up other opportunities in both the run and pass.
Altogether, with the maturation of a loaded defense, the hostile environment of Doak Campbell Stadium and much more mature skill players on the offensive side of the ball will make the difference for Florida State on Saturday. You heard it from me first: Florida State 31, Oklahoma 24.
Pete Pessimist says: I have to be honest with my fellow Noles here; I just don’t have a good feeling about this game. Granted, I’m sure we all get a little nervous for every game, but we’re talking about the #1 team in the nation that features two legitimate Heisman caliber players on their offense. I understand that we have progressed as a defense since last year’s showdown, which is undeniable. But we can’t seriously allow ourselves to neglect the fact that Oklahoma is a better offense as well. They return the full gambit of stars with the exception of Demarco Murray, who was not really the thorn in our side in Norman. Ryan Broyles is still a dangerous and complete receiver and Landry Jones has gone through the highs and lows of two full seasons of starting now. Say what you will, but the belief that our defense is prepared is mostly theory and I’m sure no matter how much most of us would like to believe in that theory, we will all be holding our breath in angst once they take the field for the first time on Saturday. As talented as the FSU secondary is, OU will be fielding perhaps the best receiving unit in the nation. It isn’t just Broyles, it’s sophomore Kenny Stills, it’s jumbo target Dejuan Miller (6’4, 220 lbs) and even Cameron Kinney, who burned FSU last season on a long touchdown. If Oklahoma jumps out to an early lead can the Noles pull themselves together and avoid hitting the panic button?
Then we have to talk about this Florida State offense. Like it or not, there are still legitimate questions surrounding the offensive line, particularly on the interior. Pass protection has been solid, albeit against inferior opponents and while I can acknowledge that the blocking schemes in the run game have been severely watered down I am not happy at all with the fact that we seem to get zero push off the line of scrimmage. Some guys like Harry Homer might like to paint a beautiful portrait of a trolling giant of a run game that suddenly breaks out for 200+ yards against the #1 team in the nation, which would surely be wonderful, but I’m not buying that movie script at all. This is real life and with my own two eyes, I’ve seen an offensive line that struggles to make room for those talented ball carriers and for some reason, ball carriers that seem to be noticeably timid about hitting the hole when there is one. If those kids can get it together and resemble who they were throughout 2010, it would be a huge help.
Overall, I’m really just in a wait and see type of mode. I have to see this great improvement against a quality opponent before I jump for joy and crown these kids with anything. I see that they are big and talented, I understand that they have more time in the scheme, but now is the time for them to show the world what they have. In the end, I’m going to have to roll with Oklahoma pulling this win out, though I do think it will be more competitive this time around. Score Prediction: Oklahoma 28, Florida State 21.
Oklahoma’s struggles on the road are not a fluke. This has been an ongoing issue for the Sooners for the past five seasons consistently, especially when playing quality opponents. OU allows nearly 30 points per game on the road (29.8) and struggle against the run. That being said, the focus is on EJ Manuel. Much of this game will depend on his ability to make sound decisions, which he generally does. The issue when facing the #1 team in the country, with that high powered, fast paced offense, is that any mistakes that are made become amplified. Manuel has shown throughout his career that he will force at least one bad pass per game and depending on the circumstances Saturday night, continuing that trend could be extremely costly. As the game progresses, the Seminoles ability to establish the running game effectively will do wonders for keeping the defense fresh. It is important to keep in mind that the Sooners are without their top four tacklers from last season. They are without their two starting safeties from 2010 and have had Tony Jefferson, a talented sophomore who played nickel corner last season, slide down to linebacker. There are holes there to exploit, so from there it will be all about Florida State’s ability to execute.
The Florida State defense is being hailed early as one of the best in the nation personnel wise. Oklahoma is easily the biggest test they will face in 2011, so how they fare against them is going to say a lot about where they truly stand. Make no mistakes about it, OU will make plays, they are an elite unit and their system lends itself to getting the ball to playmakers in space. The Seminoles return the majority of what was a top 30 run defense in 2010, in addition to an elite pass rushing front four. The Sooners have a weakness at right tackle in the talented, but inexperienced Lane Johnson getting his very first start. This could be something to keep a sharp eye on. The majority of the nation is well aware of Florida State’s All-American defensive end Brandon Jenkins, but with Johnson starting at right tackle, they may get their official introduction to sophomore stud Bjoern Werner. If the Sooners feel the need to compensate for Johnson by sliding protection, it would only make the opposite side more vulnerable. The Florida State defensive line is not a one man show and will need to prove as much in order to keep Landry Jones in check. This game could honestly end in several different ways, but I expect it to be a battle. In the end, Florid State pulls off the upset in front of their home crowd. Florida State 28, Oklahoma 24.
Players to watch
Florida State CB Greg Reid – Reid played an abysmal game against these Sooners, for which he has been relentlessly reminded of for the past year in Norman. Saturday night is an opportunity for Reid to redeem himself. It is easy to forget that last season’s game was essentially Reid’s first time playing in a brand new scheme against live competition. As a true sophomore, his name, reputation and notoriety made him an easy target for scrutiny, whether fully justified or not. He is a much improved player since that date and will be under the microscope yet again this weekend. His play is critical to Florida State’s success.
Florida State QB EJ Manuel – The redshirt junior has been praised all off-season for everything from his smile to his relentless work ethic and focus. Now is the time when the light shines brightest and to date, he has said all of the right things. To Manuel’s credit, he has faced big time competition and pulled out victories in clutch moments. The question now is whether or not he can take the leap from more of a game manager who makes plays occasionally to a consistent big time QB. Manuel has the personal tools as well as the talent around him, so from here it’s about applying it on the big stage. If Manuel minimizes mistakes, Florida State stands a chance for the upset.
Florida State S Lamarcus Joyner – The former five-star sophomore is one of the biggest differences for an improved Seminole defense. At just 5’8 but weighing in at 205 lbs, Joyner packs a vicious punch that makes him exciting to watch. Aside from the hard hits, he has the speed and hips to cover ground in all directions and as a former corner, the ability to cover in one on one situations.
Oklahoma QB Landry Jones – Obviously a Heisman candidate who shredded the Noles defense for 380 yards, four touchdowns on 20-30 passing is going to be a key player in this game. If he has time to get comfortable, things could get ugly for the Seminoles yet again and that is the last thing they want to let happen. Jones struggles on the road in his career, but being a veteran leader on a loaded offense could help him to shake that monkey off his back.
Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles – Broyles is one of the most dynamic playmakers in all of college football. He’s the type of receiver that does everything well on top of being physically gifted in a way that most aren’t. Broyles is technically savvy, running crisp routes and exploiting the tendencies of opposing corners routinely. He also has excellent hands and body control when going up for a passes. How well will Florida State’s famous trio of corners and motivated safeties be able to contain Broyles?
Oklahoma DE Ronnell Lewis – One of the more versatile players on the OU defense, Lewis is going to be seen in a variety of roles on Saturday night. Standing up as a linebacker, rushing from the end or dropping back into zone coverage, he is the type of player that can and will impact the game in a number of ways. Lewis has the ability to cover lots of ground and typically packs a hell of a punch when he meets his target. The Seminoles will need to identify where he is pre-snap.
Scheme differences to watch for
Florida State Defense – The FSU defense hasn’t shown much at all in the way of blitzes and stunts in the first two weeks, which are surely to be incorporated on Saturday. The Seminoles did give a glimpse at a 4-2-5 package, in which the defensive backs on the field would include Xavier Rhodes, Greg Reid, Mike Harris, Terrence Brooks and Lamarcus Joyner Essentially putting five guys capable of consistently solid 1-on-1 coverage with Brooks and Joyner being versatile safeties that have made the switch from corner and carry the weight and tackling prowess to help out in run support. In this scenario, the pressure would be on the front six to generate enough pressure in the pass game and effectively stop the run. Again, this is just one look that the Sooners could get from Florida State Saturday. FSU has done a solid job of accumulating talent that is versatile enough to switch in and out of different schemes smoothly.
Florida State Offense – The legs of EJ Manuel will be relied upon heavily on Saturday. The comparisons between Manuel and Cam Newton may bother some, but it is only natural when you take a look at a 6’5, 240+ pounder who has serious running ability. In the option game, EJ Manuel has proven to be quite effective whether keeping the ball himself or knowing when to pitch. The added threat of QB rushes will help free other things up, or so that is the plan.
Game Location: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee Florida. Capacity, 83k.
Kickoff Time: 8:00 p.m
Folks, the time is near! Share your thoughts, concerns and insights on the game, we would love to hear your score predictions!
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