What was not anticipated coming into this week was the threat of inclement weather from Hurricane Noel. As a fast traveling storm, it looks as though it is going to bring heavy rain and winds to the northeast to go along with the cooler temperatures that come when November roles around. The cold, wind and rain are going to play a part in this game, and it has changes some people's outlook on how this game is going to turn out. Both Florida State and Boston College have been offenses that have relied more on the passing game more than the rushing attack. For FSU, they have been looking for consistency at that spot, coming in as the 44th ranked passing offense in the nation, whereas Matt Ryan has led the Eagles to a top 10 ranking and a strong, steady leader that is so important in the college game.
Both teams bring tenacious defenses into the game, as both are top 20 in terms of total defense. Where Boston College has excelled has been in stopping the run, while Florida State has been a tad more consistent in both facets of the game on the defensive side of the ball.
The Eagles are clumped into a cloudy title picture with Ohio State, Oregon, Arizona State, LSU and several others. It is not debatable as to why they are in contention this year: Matt Ryan. Against a hard-hitting Virginia Tech squad, the senior standout led Boston College to two touchdown drives in the last 2 minutes and 50 seconds to shock the Hokies and remain the favorite to come out of the ACC. Also, Ryan may have had his Heisman moment leading the charge, making the comeback after being dominated after 58 minutes.
While the Eagles don't lack the top playmakers the other title contenders possess, they have remained steady and persistent moving the ball through the air. Brandon Robinson is the leading receiver for the Eagles, hauling in 35 catches for 488 yards and 4 scores. Ryan has done a marvelous job spreading the ball around, as 6 other players have double-digit catches on the year.
While the Eagle passing game has been tough to stop, their rushing game has been very inconsistent. In a game where severe storms and high winds are going to make an impact, it is vital that the Eagles find a rushing game against a fast and aggressive Seminole defense. While Andre Callender has been somewhat productive with 660 yards and 8 touchdowns, teams have been able to hold this team to 131 yards a game. In the game versus Virginia Tech, the Eagles were exposed in that against fast defenses they have trouble moving the ball on the ground, gaining 32 yards on 18 attempts. This is a facet of the game where it looks as though the Seminoles may have an advantage, especially when both teams may be relegated to winning this game with their rushing attacks.
Florida State's rushing defense comes in allowing 94 yards rushing per game, which is good for 13th in the nation. In the games against Wake Forest and Miami, the Seminole defense battled injuries to key players like defensive tackles Budd Thacker and Andre Fluellen and linebacker Marcus Ball. While these standouts were injured, FSU allowed there two highest rushing totals of the year, allowing Wake to gain 180 yards on the ground and Miami 153. With Thacker back last week and Fluellen getting better as the weeks progress, the Seminole defense held Duke to a season low 6 points and 9 yards rushing. Colorado, Alabama and N.C. State were also teams that were dominated by FSU's quick defense.
Florida State's defense is loaded with talented playmakers and guys who can fly. Teams have been able to use that speed against the defense, especially in the passing game. While the Seminole defense is giving up 213 yards a game through the air, they have been very susceptible to the untimely big plays. Colorado, Wake and Miami riddled the FSU defense with the big play, costing them two of their three conference losses. If the game wasn't going to be hampered with bad weather, Matt Ryan could potentially be able to pick and choose his spots down the field. In the game against the Hokies, the Eagles showed that they will pass in the rain, so it is important that the Seminoles play disciplined defense and not blow their assignments. Against a Heisman-caliber talent like Ryan, it could spell doom for the Noles, especially if the Eagles use play-action passing.
Simply put, the Seminole defense has the capability to mimic the game plan the Hokies had against Boston College. When they let up on them and stopped blitzing, Ryan was able to get time and lead them to a win. FSU's front seven is just as good as any in the ACC, and the linebackers have shown they can be monsters in stopping the run and blowing up ball carriers when they meet their target. It is a telling statistic that against UMass the Eagles produced 24 points, as well as struggling to score 27 against a 1-7 Notre Dame squad. Can FSU play the same game on national television that we saw against the Alabama Crimson Tide?
FSU's offense has been a story in and of itself this year. Whether it has been poor quarterback play or an inconsistent rushing attack, the Noles are far from what fans expect the offense to be. While the new coaches continue to turn the offense around, the same woes and lack of productivity has hurt this team. Drew Weatherford is making his second start since coming off of the bench to replace Xavier Lee as the starter for the Duke game. He is 4-1 as a starter this year and played one of his best games as a Nole against the Blue Devils last week. Also, he led the Seminoles to a 28-17 win against the Eagles in 2005, which was their last home loss before their current 16 game home winning streak. He spent the 4 weeks he had as the back-up learning and studying Jimbo Fisher's offense in case he was called upon again this season.
FSU's passing attack has been decent in that they are producing 244 yards a game through the air. Preston Parker has emerged as this team's top playmaker on offense, catching 37 passes for 516 yards and 2 scores. He has also been a threat in the rushing attack, coming in as the team's third leading rusher. Greg Carr is coming back this week after sitting out last week's game with a wrist injury. Before injuring his wrist in the Miami game, Carr had three straight 100 yards receiving games. The Noles hope he can come back and pick that trend back up, especially with the loss of starter Richard Goodman to a fractured ankle. With Drew under center, the Noles look to play a controlled passing game, hardly looking deep for the big play. With the weather, can Drew keep this going? The receiver must be reliable in holding onto the ball and making the catch, something they have shown they cannot do on a consistent basis.
Against Miami and Duke, FSU's rushing attack looked as though it was coming around. The offensive line looked as though they were doing a better job finishing off their blocks. But, what has continued to kill the offense's flow has been the penalties from the offensive line. Countless long gains have been called back due to holding calls, even though some have been debatable if they were in fact penalties. This cannot happen against a Boston College team that ranks 2nd nationally in rushing defense. Another key factor for the Seminole offense is the health off Antone Smith, the team's leading ball carrier. He tweaked his ankle last week, but was able to practice and looks as though he'll be ready for the game. Can he continue to battle through injuries and put this team on his back like it may be needed this weekend? With Xavier Lee suspended, Smith is the only Seminole ball carrier that has been dependable in moving the ball this year.
Boston College's rushing defense is fantastic this year, even with the season-ending injury to Brian Toal. Jamie Silva has stepped in as a leader for this defense as he is leading the team in tackles and the conference with 5 interceptions. While the Eagle defense lacks the speed teams like Virginia Tech and FSU have, this defense is tenacious and doesn't stop fighting. Those traits are what have allowed them to be as successful as they've been this year in stopping the run, and is why there is some concern if the FSU offense can move the ball on the ground against these guys.
The inclimate weather may be a blessing for the Boston College secondary, as they have allowed 261 yards through the air this year (which ranks 100th nationally). The defense has forced 18 interceptions, but against fast and athletic players they have shown they can be beat rather easily, as seen with the 401 yards given up to Bowling Green, the 366 yards to Wake and the 350 to N.C. State. Against a team like FSU that has some of the fastest players in the ACC, the weather may be an equalizer for BC's passing defense in helping to contain guys like Parker, Carr and DeCody Fagg.
Once again, this game comes down to FSU moving the ball on the ground. I hate to beat a dead horse, but with the expected rain and heavy winds, it is going to be hard to move the ball through the air for either team. For FSU to come out on top Smith may have to eclipse the 140 yard mark as he did last week. If they can pass the ball with the intermediate routes, they could potentially hurt the Eagle defense and keep them on their heels.
There may be few people in the country who thinks FSU can pull this game out. Boston College is a team that has ridden the senior leadership of Matt Ryan to a top 2 ranking. FSU is a team that has had problems finishing drives and putting points on the board. If the weather wasn't a factor, there's a good chance that this game would be a back and forth contest, favoring the Eagles.
This game is going to come down to defense and special teams, where Gary Cismesia has been the team's MVP. The kicker for Boston College, Steve Aponavicius, has been a steady performer as well. In a monsoon, this game may come down to field goals and stiff defense. Can FSU prove the naysayers wrong and end the national title hopes of the Eagles, or will Matt Ryan continue his Heisman push and lead his team ever closer to an undefeated season? The Noles must have a semblance of a running game, as well as provide constant pressure on the Boston College offense. The Eagles, in order to earn its 9th straight win this season, must do a better job protecting Ryan than they did against the Hokies last week, and they too must be able to rush the ball against a stingy and capable Nole defense.