The New Defense
If you watched the Alabama defense against Virginia Tech, you saw a preview of Florida State's new defensive approach—only the 'Noles are faster in the secondary, a little better on the defensive line, and still learning how to play fast in this new scheme. Look for lots of different fronts and an emphasis on keeping a lot of size on the field against Pitt's more traditional personnel.
Strength on Strength, Part 1
Second-year head coach Paul Chryst ran one of the most successful run-based offenses at Wisconsin and always manages to have his teams ready to play on the line of scrimmage. This game will be a streetfight; Pitt beat Virginia Tech
and Notre Dame last year and will not be intimidated in this matchup. They were able to run with success against both the Hokies (254 yards, 4.6 ypc) and the Irish (144 yards, 4.4 ypc) last year and should be better on the offensive line this year.
Florida State, on the other hand, was not as good stopping the run against power personnel as their reputation last year, as teams were able to find running room most of the year. (It's just that FSU usually had a lead so quickly it didn't matter.) Keep an eye on the matchup between Pitt's interior three offensive linemen and Florida State's acclaimed defensive tackles to see whether Timmy Jernigan and company are able to limit the Panthers' running game better than the Hokies (against whom even Alabama struggled to run the ball yesterday) and Irish of 2012.
Strength on Strength, Part 2FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher will want to protect his young quarterback by running the football with success, but Pitt's defensive line is big, athletic, and experienced and will challenge Florida State's veteran offensive line. There have been some rumblings that starting FSU center Bryan Stork is still battling a foot ailment. Keep an eye on whether the 'Noles are able to run for three or four yards on first down to avoid long-yardage situations.
The New Quarterback
Celebrated prospect Jameis Winston will make his first start at quarterback on the road in an NFL stadium against one of the better defensive fronts in the country. The nation will get a good sense of just how warranted the hype surrounding Winston has been, as Pitt will likely be able to limit the Seminoles' running game and force Winston to make plays.
Expect Fisher to go play action on neutral downs (1st and 10, 2nd and medium/short) early in the game to establish Winston's ability to throw downfield and loosen up Pitt's defensive front. Also look for Winston to pull down the ball and run when he sees man coverage. Much like a young Christian Ponder in 2008, I expect to see FSU make use of Winston's feet to limit the coverages and blitzes defenses can safely use against him. The interesting question will be how many of those instances will be called QB runs versus quick scrambles.
Another question is whether we will see an appearance from Jacob Coker, who nearly won the starting quarterback job in preseason camp.
The Return of the Jet Sweep
Jimbo Fisher made ample use of the jet sweep out of the shotgun in 2008 and 2009, featuring the speed of former walk-on Louis Givens to stretch the defense horizontally and open up the running game inside. That play has been seen very little action since Givens' graduation (though Rashad Greene scored on it against USF in 2012). Look to see a lot more of it in 2013 with freshman speedsters Kermit Whitfield and Jesus Wilson ideally suited for the role formerly manned by Givens.
More Rashad Greene
Fans have been clamoring all offseason for more touches for the Seminoles' best receiver. Contrary to popular perception, Greene was indeed on the field the vast majority of FSU's snaps in 2012 but simply was not targeted as often as his skill level would seem to entail. Much of this was due to defenses paying extra attention to him, but the fact that his targets always went up the last two years whenever Clint Trickett was at quarterback suggests other factors as well. Look for Winston to target Greene more downfield, something that should make Seminole fans quite happy.
Welcome Back, Christian Green
Former five-star recruit Christian Green had a solid season two years ago but was buried on the depth chart in 2012. With the departure or injury of three receivers ahead of him on the depth chart, Green is now a key cog in the Seminoles' passing attack. Green may be the most physically talented receiver on the roster but has struggled to master the nuances of the receiver position.
Reports from preseason camp suggest that the light bulb has come on for the talented receiver, who could offer Florida State another gamebreaker on the outside and in the slot if that is indeed true.