A QB controversy could destroy this team
While there were a lot of Seminole fans that quickly grew to like freshman quarterback Clint Trickett based on what he did in three relief appearances to open the season, not a lot of them believed he was capable of a performance like this in his first start. Getting the nod over injured junior E.J. Manuel, Trickett completed 24 of 38 passes for 336 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, plus he did it on the road in one of the toughest environments college football has to offer: Death Valley. The fact that he was able to be that productive without a running game, without veteran receivers Bert Reed and Willie Haulstead and without any help from his defense is all the more impressive, so we now know that the 6-2, 180-pounder can get the job done when called upon no matter the circumstances.
That being said, Manuel needs to heal up and get back in the starting lineup following the bye week because the entire offense was built around him and his athletic ability, plus once you try to begin playing the hot hand at the game's most important position -- everyone remembers the Drew Weatherford vs. Xavier Lee disaster -- you divide the team and lose the locker room.
There is little to no leadership on defense
Throughout these back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Clemson, on both occasions the Seminoles were unable to come up with a big play on defense when they needed it and kept getting whistled for penalties in crucial situations. This points to a lack of overall leadership on a defensive unit with only three seniors that make any sort of contribution whatsoever: linebacker Nigel Bradham, cornerback Mike Harris and safety Terrance Parks. Bradham has been the exact opposite of a leader, evidenced most clearly by the two personal fouls he was called for against the Sooners, Harris isn't leadership material since he's so quiet and Parks might not even be worthy of playing time, let alone a leadership role.
As far as the non-seniors are concerned, junior defensive end Brandon Jenkins will choose to lead by example and isn't the type of player to grab a teammate by the facemask in the huddle, and sophomore safety Lamarcus Joyner is too much of a wild card -- he's a personal foul waiting to happen with his reckless style -- and can't be counted to think with a cool head just yet.
Young receivers will grow into playmakers
Reed tried to give it a go but was still hobbling on his injured ankle, Haulstead could be headed for a redshirt due to post-concussion issues and sophomore Jarred Haggins is currently sporting a cast to protect a broken hand, and yet Trickett put together a monster afternoon when everyone at Memorial Stadium knew he was simply going to drop back in the pocket time and time again. Freshman receivers Christian Green and Rashad Greene combined to catch 15 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown, with Greene now scoring a total of five TDs in four games directly out of high school. It took a while for sophomore Kenny Shaw to work his way into the game plan, although he did manage to reel in two balls for 20 yards, one of them a 9-yard score -- it's hard to blame him for that drop in the fourth quarter considering he was nearly decapitated the week before on an eerily similar play.
Junior Rodney Smith racked up 118 yards on four receptions, highlighted by a 57-yard touchdown, but he is a limited player best used downfield on flies and posts, and while it will be nice to see Reed in the mix again, Green, Greene and Shaw are only going to get better.
Linebackers and safeties lost in coverage
The game of football is constantly evolving, with the passing game now more important than ever based on how quickly these QB-friendly spread offenses are sweeping the country, and yet Florida State still features a handful of back-seven defenders that don't play well at all in space. Two thirds of the linebacking corps, the aforementioned Bradham and junior Vince Williams, are reliable when attacking the line of scrimmage on running plays but always seem to be a step or so late when backpedaling into their respective zones -- Williams in particular was repeatedly picked on by Clemson signal caller Tajh Boyd. And then at safety, with junior Nick Moody apparently still slowed by a quadriceps injury, Parks got the majority of the snaps and let what could have been a game-changing interception bounce right off his shoulder pads.
At the middle and weak-side linebacker positions, respectively, sophomores Jeff Luc and Telvin Smith both have more upside than either Williams or Braham and might be just as good today, plus look for Williams' brother, freshman safety Karlos Williams, to get extra reps during bye-week practices.
Even Fisher knows FSU cannot run the ball
It was an interesting wrinkle to see Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher go to a Wildcat-like look on the first drive of the game and run right up the gut with junior tailback Chris Thompson, but going back to that same well in the second half made little sense -- Clemson knew Thompson was no threat to throw the ball and crashed the line of scrimmage. Seniors Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas didn't get a single carry, suggesting Fisher has turned the page on both of them, but neither did either of the stud freshmen, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. While Freeman has the skills to be special and Wilder offers a big body to bang between the tackles, Fisher relegated the pair to the sideline because he knew his offensive line wasn't opening any holes, so he kept Thompson in there to help with blitz pickup.
It's nothing short of mind-boggling that Fisher didn't call even one draw play or screen pass all day long, as they can be substitutes for the running game and help slow down those defensive linemen making a straight beeline for Trickett, plus a home-run hitter like Thompson might make something happen if given a little daylight.
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
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