Behind Enemy Lines: Seminoles

In Part II of our Behind Enemy Lines series prior to Oklahoma vs. Florida State, Joey Helmer of Sooners Illustrated asks John Crist of Nole Digest for some insider scoop on No. 5 Florida State.

Joey Helmer: Former Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder has moved on to the NFL, where he was drafted 12th overall by the Minnesota Vikings, paving the way for E.J. Manuel to step in as the starter. What skills or threat does he possess for the OU defense that Ponder did not?

John Crist: One of the positives Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has been selling since Ponder's departure is that Manuel is similar from a skill-set perspective, as both are athletic and capable of making plays -- whether in the pocket or on the perimeter -- with their arm and their legs. While Manuel hasn't proven to be as accurate with the football when compared to Ponder, at least not yet, he's much bigger at 6-5 and 245 pounds and shouldn't subject himself to so many injuries since he has a better feel for avoiding hits. I expect to see a fair amount of designed quarterback runs against the Sooners because Manuel is the size of a lean defensive end yet still runs in the 4.5 range, and that's something we haven't seen through two games with the play-calling being fairly vanilla against ULM and Charleston Southern.

Also, while a fair amount of Manuel's supporting cast at the running back, tight end and receiver positions is relatively young, it's much deeper and more gifted than Ponder's arsenal ever was.

JH: FSU players have said they've been waiting a year since last season's 47-17 shellacking in Norman for another attempt at the Sooners. What kind of facet to this game do you think circling the opponent for an entire season brings, and will it benefit FSU or backfire on them by lending extra motivation to OU?

JC: The Seminoles have been fielding questions about the Oklahoma game since the first day of preseason camp, as everybody knew they would roll through Cupcakeville the first two weeks of the year before their long-awaited rematch with the likely No. 1 team in the country. Frankly, I think Fisher and his players deserve a lot of credit for staying as focused as they have and not allowing themselves to get too worked up for OU ahead of time, even if we all know deep down nobody was lying awake at night worrying about ULM or Charleston Southern -- replays of that 47-17 nightmare were still dancing in their collective head. Another thing: I haven't heard the word "revenge" muttered by anyone in garnet and gold leading up to this contest, and the utter lack of bulletin-board material from either side was somewhat surprising to me.

A defeat Saturday would indeed be a tough pill to swallow for Florida State, but if the program picks itself back up, rolls through the ACC and still earns a bid to a BCS bowl game, I think that would go a long way toward cementing the idea that the 'Noles are nationally relevant once again.

JH: Cornerback and punt returner Greg Reid said he hopes OU quarterback Landry Jones comes out and throws to Ryan Broyles, saying the secondary is up to the challenge. How do you see that matchup going, since OU tore FSU's secondary up so much last year?

JC: Reid has a little Deion Sanders and Terrell Buckley in him, both in terms of his game on the field and his mouth off the field, but the comment he made about Jones and Broyles didn't have an ounce of disrespect to it. As a proud playmaker, he simply wants another chance to prove he is worthy of the Jim Thorpe Award-caliber praise thrown his way and wants to erase the memories he has of playing so terribly in Norman a year ago. Don't look for FSU to change a bunch schematically, meaning defensive coordinator Mark Stoops isn't going to all of a sudden eradicate his zone approach and play nothing but man-to-man coverage all night, but Reid and fellow corners Xavier Rhodes and Mike Harris are considered perhaps the best trio in the nation at that position for a reason.

If the Seminoles want to be more effective in the secondary than they were against this team in 2010, then they need to do two things: be better prepared for the blistering pace at which Jones calls plays, and avoid those cut blocks at the line of scrimmage on the bubble screen.

JH: There have been some question marks about the Seminoles' offensive line. Can you shed some light on that, and what are the issues there?

JC: The three senior starters along the offensive line -- left tackle Andrew Datko, right guard David Spurlock and right tackle Zebrie Sanders -- all missed a fair amount of time during preseason camp nursing various injuries, so there wasn't much of an opportunity to work together as a unit and get that cohesiveness every team desires in the trenches. Additionally, the other positions up front are in the middle of a flip-flop. Junior-college transfer Jacob Fahrenkrug apparently didn't get the job done at center and will head back to his more natural spot at left guard, with sophomore Bryan Stork now moving to his right and taking over the snapping duties.

For the most part the pass protection has been simply sensational through the first two victories, although there haven't been enough lanes for the ball carriers to run through on the ground.

JH: One of the most important storylines of this game will be the OU offensive line against FSU's quick, physical defensive line. Are there any weaknesses in that group, and how does OU keep them out of the backfield?

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JC: Granted, it's been against inferior competition coming from a pair of non-BCS schools, and Charleston Southern isn't even an FBS program, but you have to understand just how dominant this Florida State defensive line appears to be at this juncture. There are four ends that are going to be in the NFL one day, led by All-American candidate Brandon Jenkins, and all four do more than just pin their ears back and chase the passer -- their discipline playing the run is noticeable. And then at the two tackle positions, the 'Noles can throw fresh bodies at the enemy from series to series, plus the level of unselfishness we've seen so far from the entire unit is really commendable.

If the Sooners are looking for a weakness to exploit, I recommend a lot of hurry-up and a bunch of quick passes, as that might mess with FSU's substitution packages and frustrate the pass rushers if the ball is gone before they get there.

To go back and read Part I of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Joey answered five questions from John, Click Here.


John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com. Joey Helmer is the publisher of SoonersIllustrated.com.


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