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Bulls Recon: Talking FSU With Tomahawk Nation’s Dylan Kidd

We get the lowdown on the low-feeling Seminoles after last week’s woodshedding at Louisville.

Florida State v Mississippi Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Tomahawk Nation is the largest college team site on the SB Nation network, and Bud Elliott and his staff over there overwhelms with coverage of their Noles. If USF had enough fans where we could do this full-time, they’d be our model for how to cover a college program. We can’t recommend enough heading over there before this game.

I did a podcast with Bud that’ll be up later today (I called in on the Louisiana Hot Sauce Hotline... look kids, sponsors!!), but also did a question exchange with their everyday beat writer Dylan Kidd. My answers to his questions are here, and his responses to us are below.

Thanks to Dylan for the time, you’ll learn a lot here.

Injury update: how hurt is Dalvin? Sweat? Which one hurts the worst?

I’ll start with Josh Sweat. He suffered a minor injury to his knee in practice last Thursday, missed the team flight for an evaluation, and then was flown to Louisville on Friday, ultimately participating in the game. According to the team doctors featured on Showtime’s “A Season With,” Sweat’s injury is of the variety that is usually treated by a scope and cartilage cleanout, as opposed to Derwin James’s meniscus reconstruction. It seems to be a pain tolerance and range of motion thing, so we’ll see how it goes. Florida State is not particularly deep at defensive end, although they’re deeper at Sweat’s weak side position than they are at DeMarcus Walker’s strong side spot.

Dalvin Cook’s health picture is much less clear. He had what we were told was a labrum tear in his shoulder during spring ball, which was subsequently repaired. Cook was said to be 100% and taking contact in July and early August. I doubt the veracity of that claim for several reasons. Regardless, it does appear that he’s nowhere close to the back he was a year ago, even though he was playing through hamstring injuries for a majority of the season. I can’t tell you if it’s the shoulder, lingering hamstring issues, having one foot out the door for the NFL draft, or something else, but it’s plain to see that he’s not the same guy right now.

Cook’s health is much more impactful than Josh Sweat’s. The whole idea of FSU being primed for a playoff run was based on having one of the best running games in the nation. Without Dalvin matching his level of 2015, and in addition to some early offensive line struggles, Florida State is not a playoff contender. Deondre Francois and this group of receivers are not taking the ‘Noles to their ultimate goals; saying nothing of what the defense has been so far. Dalvin Cook’s play has to improve for the Seminoles to even approach pre-season expectations, and he may not even be the best option in FSU’s backfield if this level of production continues.

Do you think FSU will struggle with mobile QB's all year, or is Lamar Jackson just such a freak it's impossible to tell?

I’m leaning towards the latter, at least relatively speaking. FSU has actually been really good against mobile quarterbacks in recent history, especially compared to how other defenses have fared against them. They even contained Chad Kelly as a runner very well just two weeks ago. The fact is everyone struggles against mobile quarterbacks in college football to some degree. There’s a reason that even Alabama has gone to the running quarterback offense full of run-pass options. I don’t think anything’s structurally wrong with the way Florida State schemes for and handles mobile quarterbacks, at least to date.

What Jackson exposed were several weaknesses in the FSU defense that need to be corrected, and quickly. The alignment and communication problems will spell doom against anyone. There are certainly reasons to call for Charles Kelly to simplify the defense for his talented athletes as well, as there simply have been too many busted coverages and run fits so far this year. We’ve heard that this has been a goal for the defensive staff this week, but we’ll see how well they’ve accomplished it. USF’s offense is not exactly the one you want to see after you’ve just put that performance on tape the week prior.

Three games into the Deondre Francois Era, what are his strengths and weaknesses as the QB?

His strengths are his mobility, both in extending plays and running downfield, and his arm strength. I think his accuracy and hand talent/touch are both okay at this point. He’s still a redshirt freshman, so his command of the offense and decision-making are still at that level, which would fall into a relative weakness category. I got a little concerned when I saw him bailing from the pocket as frequently as he did against Louisville. I certainly understand it, given self-preservation, but it does worry me for the future. Once a quarterback starts bailing from a clean pocket due to seeing ghosts, it can be pretty hard to undo that damage. I hope that was just due to the circumstances of that particular day, as the Ole Miss game showed he wasn’t afraid to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball under pressure. It’s another thing to watch, though.

The thing everyone always notes about FSU's defense is speed. What's the best unit of that defense? Where are they vulnerable? And how much did the loss of Derwin James hurt?

The defensive back group was billed as the best on the team entering the season. With Derwin out and some other issues, I’m not sure that’s as clear cut now. But the group is still full of talent, length, and speed. Tarvarus McFadden is an excellent boundary corner, and Marquez White is also very good at field corner. Marcus Lewis has not been what we hoped at the star position (nickel corner/SAM linebacker hybrid) so far. Nor has Trey Marshall played to the level we expected at safety. Derwin is sorely missed at the other safety spot, as his backup A.J. Westbrook was bad last week. They’ve explored several options to fill the void, none of which have me feeling particularly confident.

The vulnerable position group so far has certainly been linebacker play. We expected big things from former five-star Matthew Thomas, who is finally on the field this year after ineligibility issues for several years. He’s been disappointing, particularly in coverage. The other starter in FSU’s 4-2-5 base is Ro’Derrick Hoskins, who has always been solid, if unspectacular. His play has also been uninspiring. If you see a linebacker named Nick Patti on the field for Florida State, I promise you the next play is going right at him. He’s a walk-on, and I cannot explain why he has played so many minutes for FSU so far this year. I can almost assure you that you’ll see him at some point on Saturday, though.

Even if USF joins a power conference, do you think this game will ever happen again?

I wouldn’t advise it, but I wouldn’t have advised scheduling a home-and-home with Boise State later this decade, so the higher-ups don’t have a great track record of heeding my wisdom. FSU, like Florida and Miami, still enjoys an inherent recruiting advantage over USF due to perception. Giving the Bulls opportunities to beat you and thereby change that perception is not wise. This season’s match-up is a great example. The spread on this game is still less than a touchdown. USF has a very solid chance of winning this game, which outweighs any positive benefit FSU would get from playing in front of Tampa recruits if it happens. If it ever got to the point where the perception was that the programs were equal, and if USF was recruiting on FSU’s level, then maybe it would make sense in the new playoff era, where strength of schedule is more important. But for the foreseeable future, it just doesn’t make sense from FSU’s perspective. So expect a new deal to be announced within the next year or so.

Our FSU fan friends haven't been too happy with the line play. What's been the problem there?

Our Bud Elliott actually did an excellent article today explaining that the blocking issues we saw against Louisville were due to more than just offensive line woes. I don’t think anyone would claim that the line play has been great so far, but it hasn’t been as bad as it’s seemed. We talk a lot about how everyone blames their o-line for pretty much everything, as their mistakes are always in your field of vision watching the play. Most fans hate their offensive lines.

That said, the right side of FSU’s offensive line, in particular, has seen its share of struggles. They’ve started true freshman Landon Dickerson at right guard the last two weeks, and he’s predictably had his share of mistakes. At right tackle, Rick Leonard just moved over from being DeMarcus Walker’s backup at the beginning of spring ball, so as you might expect, there has been a learning curve taking place, particularly in pass protection. Center Alec Eberle has been pretty solid, overall, as has left tackle Rod Johnson. Left guard Kareem Are didn’t start until last week due to injury, and FSU fans are glad to have him back. We may see the presumed starter at right guard, Wilson Bell, back in action this week. The coaches even said they may rotate at right guard, which, /shrug.

Prediction? Will FSU bounce back after last week?

I felt like that was a lot of doom and gloom from me up there ^^^. I guess it’s hard not to feel that way coming off of such a beating last week. Truth be told, I don’t really know what to expect from this team on Saturday. They showed a lot of talent, as well as resiliency, in defeating a pretty good Ole Miss team on opening night after falling behind. They’ve also shown some repeated glaring defensive mistakes, despite all the talent that should be able to mitigate these royal screw-ups. I’m not sure how they’ll respond to the ass-whipping from last Saturday that most likely put their playoff hopes to bed. I’ll go with some blind hope and faith in talent to predict a 34-30 FSU victory, but I would not bet real money on the outcome of this game for just about anything on Earth.