Q&A with Tomahawk Nation: Talking Orange Bowl

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We're talking the Orange Bowl with Florida State blogger DKfromVA from the amazing Florida State blog Tomahawk Nation.

Joining us today is Florida State blogger DKfromVA from Tomahawk Nation. You can read our side of the interview over up on TN. Here is what the enemy had to say:

1. I understand that there has been a lot of coaching turnover for FSU as well. What has changed and how has this affected the team, if at all?

Tomahawk Nation: Florida State has lost several coaches since the ACC Championship Game. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops accepted the head coaching job at Kentucky and hired FSU defensive ends coach DJ Eliot as his defensive coordinator in Lexington. Eliot will stay on for the Orange Bowl and will call plays, but Stoops has already departed. Florida State running backs coach and special teams coordinator Eddie Gran accepted the offensive coordinator position under Tommy Tuberville at Cincinnati but will coach against NIU. The Seminoles will also probably be looking for a new linebackers coach at the end of the season after it moves current LB's coach Greg Hudson to a football operations job, but he too will coach against the Huskies. So, while significant coaching turnover is pending, only one FSU coach from the 2012 staff will not be coaching on Tuesday night.

The effects of these departures on this matchup are anyone's guess. The ‘Noles will have a new defensive play-caller in Eliot, but he's very similar to Stoops from all indications and we don't really expect to see many changes to the defensive philosophy. They players have said all the right things about being happy for the coaches and their new opportunities and wanting to send them off with a victory. While these are nice things to hear, I don't know that they mean much. Hopefully the fact that most of the staff will still be coaching can minimize any disruptions in the team's preparation for and performance against Northern Illinois.

2. What does the Florida State offense have to do to achieve success against NIU's defense and avoid an upset? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the offense?

TN: The FSU offense has been a bit of an enigma in 2012. They've thrashed really bad opponents while looking completely lost against competent defenses on several occasions this season. NIU checks in as the 3rd best defense the ‘Noles will face this year by F/+, and Bill C wrote a great article on the matchup that I know you've read (http://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2012/12/13/3755112/orange-bowl-2013-northern-illinois-florida-state-ej-manuel). To have success and avoid the upset, FSU needs to take as much of a burden off of EJ Manuel's shoulders as possible. As Bill points out, the Seminoles like to throw on standard downs to stay out of obvious passing downs for EJ when possible. While we may see some of this against NIU in an attempt to abate the Huskies' blitzing, which is pretty good, as well as to exploit the favorable matchup of the FSU receiving corps against the Northern Illinois secondary, I'd prefer to see a run-heavy attack. This is a small NIU front seven against a big FSU o-line that run blocks pretty well, especially on outside zone stretch plays. The ‘Noles also have two quality backs in Devonta Freeman and James Wilder, even after losing their best offensive player to an ACL against Miami in Chris Thompson.

Running early and often can have success and open things up for EJ Manuel, who often struggles to make the necessary pre-snap adjustments and correctly read the middle of the field on passing plays. The simpler the better for Manuel, who has an excellent arm and can make plenty of throws to his talented receivers. I wouldn't be surprised to see FSU go to a faster pace at times in this game, something with which they've experimented later in the year that has had beneficial results for EJ. The wild card is how much EJ Manuel will run. He's an excellent runner with a great feel for the option (as long as it isn't a zone read), but has not run nearly as much this season as in years past. We ‘Noles fans don't know if the blame for this falls on him for refusing to or on Jimbo Fisher for not calling enough run plays for #3. Either way, Manuel's legs and the threat thereof has been an important part of the Seminole offense that has been absent for the most part in 2012. I'd love to see him run often against Northern Illinois and bring this element to the attack, but I'm not sure we'll see much of it.

3. What makes the Florida State defense so special and what can NIU do on offense do to penetrate it?

TN: The FSU defense has elite talent and depth. It starts up front with a very good defensive line, though this group is certainly banged up. At the start of the year, Florida State had three defensive ends that could legitimately have been first-round picks in April's NFL draft. Brandon Jenkins was lost for the season with a lisfranc injury sustained during the first game of the season, and Tank Carradine went down to an ACL against Florida. Bjoern Werner remains and is an absolute beast, but he's played a lot of snaps this year. I imagine he'll draw most of the attention from the NIU offensive line. This will force true freshman phenom Mario Edwards Jr. and redshirt freshman Giorgio Newberry to play well and provide a threat from the edge. The defensive tackle position is loaded, but the play here has been underwhelming at times this season. This group will need to have a solid game against the inside running game, particularly the threat presented by Jordan Lynch. The linebackers are probably the weakest link, and I'd expect to see a lot of the nickel package against NIU's spread personnel. Xavier Rhodes is the top corner, Tyler Hunter is a playmaker at nickelback, and Lamarcus Joyner is a terror at safety. The scheme is a bit vanilla in that it seeks to keep everything in front of the defense and force offenses to methodically drive the field. FSU doesn't blitz much and isn't particularly good at it.

I think that NIU has to present several different threats and maintain balance on offense to have success against Florida State. If the Huskies can make the ‘Noles respect the inside running game from Lynch along with his ability to get the ball outside to his receivers in their spread formations, they should be able to open some holes for key playmaker Akeem Daniels. I agree with Bill C that he's the guy to watch for the Northern Illinois offense here. FSU has been successful against mobile quarterbacks this year, and I'm not as concerned with Lynch as I am with the threat Daniels presents if the ‘Noles have to take away Lynch on the inside while simultaneously committing the DB's to stopping the spread passing game on the edges. The Huskies would then be able to isolate Daniels against Edwards/Newberry and the linebackers without much help. The ‘Noles need to have quality performances from their defensive tackles and good tackling on the quick passes to the wide receivers to allow themselves to keep Akeem Daniels in check.

4. Is FSU going to be up for this game? Are Jordan Lynch's comments really going to make a difference?

TN: That's the million-dollar question, really. I don't expect Lynch's comments to have any tangible effect on the game. They weren't really out of the ordinary and I'm not one to buy into "bulletin board material" anyway. Florida State's motivation has certainly been a concern this season, though. We have sort of taken to referring to being favorites of 10-17 points as the "danger zone" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vuZ8jSVNUI) because the ‘Noles lose those games at a disproportionate rate under Fisher. On the one hand, this is FSU's first BCS game since 2005. It's a prime-time matchup in Miami in front of a crowd that will make it feel like a home game. They've had a month to prepare and have said all these things about wanting to send their departing coaches and seniors off with an Orange Bowl win. On the other, probably four coaches are going to be gone from the staff at the end of the year. Has their commitment to preparation remained strong? Will the current players respond the same to coaches they know will be gone the next year? How will this team handle being a 12.5 point favorite against an unheralded team like Northern Illinois? I just don't know. Florida State is the better team, but a lackluster effort could absolutely result in a loss against the Huskies.

5. Predictions for this one?

TN: I think this is a tough one to predict. There's no way to know which FSU team will show up, and bad FSU is more than capable of losing to a solid Northern Illinois team. I do think that the ‘Noles can have success running against NIU, and I think that the location of the game helps. I'll predict that Florida State gets it done against an overmatched Huskies team, but I have a hunch that it won't be pretty. Give me 27-18 Seminoles in a hard-fought and uncomfortable Orange Bowl game.

Thanks to DKfromVA for taking the time to answer these questions!!

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