During his tenure as linebacker coach/executive head coach at Florida State, it is widely considered that the effort Kevin Steele put into his job was one of the lone saving graces that kept the Noles from complete breakdown. He was so well respected from the university, the players and the fans that, despite his poor record at Baylor University, he was described as the man to replace Bobby Bowden when the legendary coach decided to retire. As we now know, that is not going to happen with Bobby Bowden replacing his staff for one last run, while Kevin Steele decided to take the job as Defensive Coordinator at Alabama.
One of the coaches that was hired by Florida State, and a guy who too has several ties to the opposition, is offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher. During the off-season Nole fans experienced the rollercoaster ride that was Jimbo's hiring. Among the numerous schools pursuing Fisher was Alabama. Some thought his previous relationship to Nick Saban was the deal-breaker for FSU, but in the end he became a Nole. These close relationships is an interesting factor going into this game, and NoleDigest takes a look at what may be expected in this non-conference match-up.
Much is going to be made about the several relationships between the coaches in this game. Like we mentioned earlier this week in our Alabama versus FSU piece, these two coaches are not the only two with tie-ins to these schools. But, these two may hold the key to how the game plays out. Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden's addition of former Baylor head coach Kevin Steele to his coaching staff in January 2003 drew immediate praise from college football experts coast-to-coast, and the results of his effort both on the field and on the recruiting trail has been dramatic. Steele earned a reputation as an outstanding recruiter. He was named the National Recruiter of the Year by other recruiting services for his work in helping Florida State land a 2005 signing class ranked No. 1 nationally by some. It has long been stated that Steele was the reason FSU was able to secure the commitment of Ernie Sims, and out of state guys like Lawrence Timmons and Jamie Robinson.
What does this all mean? The guy was primarily responsible for the majority of the stars we see on the team today. His hard work and knowledge of the team is the primary concern going into this game. Steele is a guy who loves to blitz, especially with the focus on his athletic linebackers. During his tenure at FSU we saw this with guys like Timmons, Sims and Buster Davis often times stopping plays in the backfield. Watching the Alabama/Georgia game Kevin Steele's defense showed that the focal point of his basic packages is putting the quarterback in pressure situations, causing him to rush and make errors. Against Georgia, Steele was able to get pressure on the quarterback, but did not get a sack. The constant pressure did force two poor throws that turned into interceptions. Maybe the biggest thing that stood out was the fact that, even though Alabama was able to get pressure, Georgia was able to hit the short stuff and run to where the defense wasn't.
For Florida State it is vital that whatever quarterback is behind center, whether it be Drew Weatherford or Xavier Lee, have the ability to get the ball off and make the quick decisions. This is a primary concern for fans, and a reason why some feel there is no shot to pull the victory. Both Arkansas (Casey Dick) and Georgia (Matthew Stafford) quarterbacks were able to do that, thus pretty much canceling out any impact the pressure causes. The fact that Kevin Steele knows the capabilities and tendencies of the two quarterbacks is concerning, but it comes down to the ability for Weatherford and Lee to execute the game plan. Teams have shown that they can pass the ball against a relatively weak secondary for Alabama, as BCS teams have been able to amass 185 yards per game. If FSU is able to get the ball off, the trend should continue. Vanderbilt and Arkansas do not have the talent and depth that FSU has at receiver. Georgia is right there with the Noles talent-wise, and they were able to produce 230 yards through the air.
Also, teams have been able to run against a front line that has little depth for the Tide, and for a team that likes to blitz, it has burned them a bit. Aside from USC, there is no team that has the stable of backs that Arkansas has with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, as they gained over 300 yards on the ground. Pinpointing Georgia again, FSU almost matches them with the fact that they start three freshmen on the offensive line, and have a two deep rotation that they can trot on the field at the running back position. It has been argued that FSU needs to be able to move the ball on the ground to open the passing game up; the fact that Alabama is giving up over 170 yards a game shows that Steele's defense is not as potent as some like to think. He does now the tendencies of FSU's signal callers and the offense, but it's been shown that a team that executes can move the ball on Alabama's defense.
This is where Jimbo Fisher comes in. Any astute college fan knows that Saban and Fisher had a great run together while they coached together, culminating in a National Title in 2003. The excitement and buzz the hire of Jimbo Fisher created is still there, albeit it is with some doubt. FSU came out in the Clemson game mis-firing left and right. The UAB saw some improvement, but still was marred with inconsistent quarterback play. The Colorado game was a big-time disappointment, as the Noles should have hung 40 on the Buffaloes had it not been for all of the unforced errors.
Jimbo recently said this week, "They are playing with the confidence of a 2-9 team. They've been told they were no good for so long. We had a 50-yard pass dropped and a 50-yard run called back. That's 100 yards right there. We had first-and-goal at the 5 and a receiver jumped [before the snap]." This statement has been a perfect description of the Nole offense the first three games, and it frankly is the key to the game. Just like Steele is familiar with FSU, Fisher is familiar with the way Saban and his staff game plan. We have heard rumors all week about Weatherford and Lee playing, as well as packages for more athletic players like D'Vontrey Richardson. To think that Fisher has not planned an attack to counteract Alabama is a bit silly.
Fisher has shown the ability to successfully plan and play call, but for the Noles it has been all about confidence and execution, which is what the quote from Fisher hit on. It is pertinent that the Nole offense comes out with confidence in their abilities to run the called plays, and to be able to control their emotions, prevent penalties, and make the easy plays. The athletes are there to get it done against the Crimson defense. Hopefully as fans we will see renewed excitement from the players and better game management from the quarterback spot. Whether it is Weatherford or Lee or both it is time to get it done, and this is key to the game.