John Crist: It's always a concern when a team's starting quarterback isn't able to give it a go because of injury, especially one like Manuel since he's a fourth-year junior and has been brought along slowly by coach Jimbo Fisher to prepare him for this exact moment. An unknown quantity before the beginning of the season since he had zero experience, Trickett quickly won over the Florida State faithful because he has thrown the ball reasonably well in three relief appearances, plus he fired a 56-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman Rashad Greene -- on third and 28, no less -- to unexpectedly tie the Oklahoma game 13-13 in the fourth quarter this past Saturday. Nevertheless, no fan base is going to feel very comfortable when a young QB's first career start comes at one of the more hostile environments in college football, Death Valley.
From a game-planning perspective, while Trickett has proven to be more accurate with the football than Manuel and slings it pretty well for a 180-pounder, the Seminoles will have to eliminate the option and zone-read pages of the playbook entirely.
RP: What's wrong with Florida State's running game?
JC: The primary excuse has been a lack of cohesion along the offensive line since the five starters didn't have much of a chance to practice together due to various injuries during preseason camp, but I'm not necessarily buying that since the quintet features three seniors, a supposed stud junior-college transfer and a somewhat-experienced sophomore. Fisher has bragged about having five scholarship tailbacks on the roster, every one of them capable of being "the guy" at some point, although it's tough for any of them to get into a rhythm when seeing no more than half a dozen carries per game. While the lack of a running game wasn't that big of a deal against ULM and Charleston Southern with the aerial attack needing more work anyway, a one-dimensional offense faces an uphill battle when playing No. 1 Oklahoma.
Senior tailback Ty Jones is a hard worker and helps protect the passer because he knows how to pick up a blitz, but it's time for freshman ball carrier Devonta Freeman to get more touches and do what he can to make FSU more balanced.
RP: Defensively, this team looks light years better on film in Mark Stoops' second year as the defensive coordinator. Has there been a serious upgrade in talent over that time, or is it just his scheme that has helped complete this transformation?
JC: Last year's freshmen are now sophomores, just like last year's sophomores are now juniors, and yet the 'Noles are still rather young on the defensive side of the ball since linebacker Nigel Bradham, cornerback Mike Harris and safety Terrance Parks are the only seniors of consequence -- there isn't one senior on the entire defensive line, as a matter of fact. The upgrade in talent has been supplied by the likes of tackle Timmy Jernigan, a beast of a true freshman, and end Cornellius Carradine, a prized junior-college recruit, so Stoops has more bodies to throw at the opponent than he did a season ago. And then schematically, Stoops has opened things up a bit because his players are now capable of doing more, like moving Jernigan right over the enemy center from time to time for a zero-technique look and, therefore, freeing up another in-the-box defender.
The name you want to remember for Saturday is sophomore left end Bjoern Werner, whose brute strength off the edge is an ideal complement to the pass-rushing ability of All-American candidate Brandon Jenkins on the right side.
RP: Florida State wins Saturday if...
JC: On offense, one of the ball carriers has to step up and be noticed, as Trickett can't be asked to throw for 300 yards without a heavy dose of support from the backfield. Defensively, if FSU can play as well as it did for the overwhelming majority of the Oklahoma contest, then Clemson isn't going to run away and hide on the scoreboard. And then on special teams, the 'Noles have to exploit their assumed advantage in the kicking game and continue to be strong on their coverage units -- a return touchdown from someone like Sammy Watkins would be back-breaking.
Fisher also needs to do a better job calling plays with Trickett in the huddle as opposed to Manuel, as a few simple draws and screens would have helped slow down all that extra pressure the Sooners brought once the switch was made.
RP: On the outside looking in, it seems as if Fisher has changed the culture in Tallahassee fairly quickly. What was the No. 1 aspect to the Seminoles' program that he needed to address after taking over for Bobby Bowden to do just that?
JC: Let's face it, the last few years of the Bowden regime saw a fat-and-happy team put it on cruise control and simply hope the momentum of the '80s and '90s would keep Florida State on top. The first thing Fisher did was get the program into the 21st century, including a better strength and conditioning program headed up by the incredibly energetic Vic Viloria -- he also put together a tremendous staff of assistants, as opposed to, say, hiring his incompetent son to be offensive coordinator. Fisher then started recruiting bigger and stronger athletes, so the days of relying on the speed and quickness of 265-pound defensive tackles are long gone.
Yes, Bowden is a legend and single-handedly put the Seminoles on the map during his three-and-a-half-decade stretch patrolling the sideline in Tallahassee, but realistic fans acknowledge a change was long overdue and believe Fisher is the guy that can bring them back to national prominence.
To go back and read Part I of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Roy answered five questions from John, Click Here.
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com. Roy Philpott is the publisher of CUTigers.com.
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