The Daily Nole

FSU’s Biggest Questions for Miami

Phil Kelly/FSU athletics

The Miami Hurricanes are substantial favorites heading in to Saturday’s contest against Florida State. It’s pretty obvious why. The Seminoles are 3-2 overall but they haven’t looked impressive in any of their victories, and they looked downright pitiful in their losses. Miami has dominated in its four victories and only has one loss against a top-10 team to indicate its weaknesses.

Every game brings a new story for Florida State. Sometimes it appears to have made quality adjustments. Other times, the exact opposite. For the first four weeks it was the defense that gave the team hope. But after the Louisville showing, there’s questions about that too. What does Florida State need to answer against Miami on Saturday?

We list four of the most pressing questions below.

Will the Safeties Get Exploited?

Defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett’s variant of Cover 4 means that the safeties have a lot of responsibility. Depending on what receivers do, the safeties have to make snap decisions on whether or not they stay back and help cover outside receivers, or to man up on inside receivers, or to come up and help the run. All of this has been known since Barnett was hired from Michigan State.

Most expected the defense to struggle for the first few games of the season. It’s a completely new system that requires a lot of experience to run to perfection. Yet besides a few drives against Virginia Tech and Samford, the secondary has played very well. They’ll get mixed up every once in a while but overall they looked on their way to a stellar year.

That clearly changed against Louisville. The safeties were either losing 1-on-1 battles with their receivers or suffering from miscommunication far too often. There was a stretch of game time where Louisville quarterback Jawon Pass missed three straight open receivers downfield, safeties nowhere to be found. Give credit to the Cardinals for finding mismatches all over the field, but it’s hard to deny that FSU was helping them out.

Now the Seminoles have to face a Miami offense with a super talented receiving corps. That includes more than a couple of deep threats who will absolutely run at a safety like Cyrus Fagan and Hamsah Nasirildeen and force them in coverage.

Will N’Kosi Perry Shake Up the Approach?

We mentioned in our preview earlier this week that Mark Richt finally made the decision to bench Malik Rosier. That’s probably the right decision, as Rosier’s weaknesses were well known and hadn’t been corrected in due time. Redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry is more of a home run threat on the ground and he wields a better arm than Rosier.

This also forces FSU to prepare for a quarterback with much less tape. Perry’s first start was against North Carolina, and the Hurricanes went up by multiple scores very quickly thanks to turnovers by North Carolina. They didn’t have to unveil much heading in to the big rivalry game, and it looked like Perry was more or less just getting used to the experience.

One would assume that Miami will try to threaten with the option more than it did last week, and FSU needs to be prepared for Perry pulling it. But like everything else, that’s a guess as to what Miami will be focusing on.

Can Francois Start Hot?

FSU head coach Willie Taggart and offensive coordinator Walt Bell seem intent on establishing the inside run to try and open up the passing game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Ideally they would try and get quarterback Deondre Francois in a rhythm earlier than the fourth quarter of a close game, but we’re not the ones paid thousands of dollars to coach.

It’s still a legitimate question about what they can do to help out Francois. He was all over the place in the first half of the Louisville game. It was arguably his worst half of the season, considering that the offensive line was blocking decently and he had open receivers. Add in the misreads on the zone plays, and it’s no wonder that the James Blackman talk began to resurface.

That’s not going to work against Miami. If the FSU offense wants any chance of exploiting Miami’s safeties, it will need Francois to be accurate. But his biggest contribution could be in the run game. The Hurricanes’ defensive line is susceptible to power concepts and even got punished for being too aggressive against LSU and North Carolina. Francois successfully executing option plays and making the correct reads on sweeps might be enough to get a run game going.

Is There More Left in the Playbook?

It’s a bit of a running joke in college football fanbases that “secret playbooks” exist. While teams certainly hold back some looks and certain plays in preparation for tougher opponents, the assumption is that an offense will look radically different against a rival or ranked opponent. Not surprisingly, it turns out to be wishful thinking.

FSU fans hoping that the Seminoles unveil a reworked offense will likely be disappointed. However, there is some evidence that the team has been slowly working in new concepts. One obvious wrinkle is the screen game that hadn’t been working prior to Northern Illinois. It looked very efficient against Louisville, but FSU didn’t run it as much. We expect that to change against Miami.

Another is a quads receiver formation that it ran a couple times against Northern Illinois, which has a lot of versatility if the quarterback can make the right call with a numbers advantage. If the inside run goes as well as everyone expects it to, Taggart will likely attempt to space out the offense and get the ball to the outside. There’s no guarantee it works, but it’s probably the best shot that FSU has.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply