FSU needs to come into this game focused on the task at hand. Sitting at 6-4 and coming off a split of two tough road games, the Noles need to secure a win to ensure a winning record. After upsetting then 2nd ranked Boston College two weeks ago, the Seminoles are coming off of the loss to Virginia Tech that saw them hold the lead coming into the fourth quarter. Rebounding from the dreadful forth quarter in pertinent to the success of the game this weekend.
Part of the reason FSU folded in the forth quarter last week was due to the injuries sustained to starting quarterback Drew Weatherford and tailback Antone Smith. Christian Ponder came off the bench and played valiantly, showing that there is some promise for the future at quarterback. The lack of experience showed in the forth, and it didn't help that he didn't have the support of a running game. Not only was Smith injured, but back-up tailbacks Jamal Edwards and Russell Ball sustained injuries that may keep them out of action this week. Getting back Weatherford and Smith was vital for this game.
While FSU is coming off of a tough loss, Maryland is coming into the game with renewed confidence after a blowout win over 8th ranked Boston College. Maryland came into that game losing 3 tough conference games to Virginia, Clemson and North Carolina. It is no coincidence that during that 3 game stretch Maryland was fighting the injury bug. At times over the past month they have had games where they've had only 5 healthy linemen, only a few available playmakers, and so on. While many players are still out, including top playmakers Danny Oquendo and LaQuan Williams, the Terrapins are looking at getting Keon Lattimore and Jordan Steffy (even though Chris Turner will be the starter) back from injuries.
Even though Maryland sits at 5-5, the Seminoles cannot underestimate the ability this team has. This tough has close losses to West Virginia, Wake Forest and Clemson. They were also able to go into Rutgers and pull of the upset. This team is 11 points from sitting at 8-2 instead of 5-5. Let's not forget that Ralph Friedgen has had success against the Noles, winning 2 out of the last three games.
Coming into this game Maryland has not been the efficient offense that Friedgen has been accustomed to. Part of it is the injuries, the other the lack of execution that has impacted this team. The Terrapins are 94th in total offense due in large part to their inability to find a steady passing attack. Many Maryland fans expected Jordan Steffy to have a stellar season, but he was replaced by Chris Turner in the win at Rutgers. He has played steady at best leading into his career game against the Eagles last week, and he needs to build on that to have success this weekend.
Maryland's receiver depth has been gashed by the injury bug, but they still have one of the fastest players in the ACC in Darius Heyward-Bey. He is the team's leading receiver and one of the top deep threats in the conference. Against a team like FSU that has fallen prey to the deep pass, Heyward-Bey may in for a huge day. Isaiah Williams and Jason Goode are two other players to look out for. Goode is a mobile tight end and has the ability to expose the Noles in the middle of the field.
Maryland has been a much better rushing team this season, but that isn't saying too much. Getting the team's leading scorer in Lattimore will help the 73rd ranked rushing attack. Lattimore comes in as the ACC's 3rd leading rusher with 709 yards and 13 total touchdowns. Lance Ball, who has killed FSU in recent years, is the 8th ranked rusher in the conference and provides an excellent back-up to Lattimore, making this tandem one of the top rushing duos the Noles will face this year.
Florida State's defense has not been what fans have come to expect from this team. While they continue to be one of the top rush defenses in the country, they have been beaten through the air and have had trouble given up the big play. Against Wake, Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech, the Noles have given up 8 touchdowns through the air. Fans have argued that it's the players, while other have called for a change in schemes. Whatever it is, the Noles must figure out what needs to be done to correct the mistakes.
Coming in as the 70th ranked passing defense, the Noles need to get better as a unit. Through a more consistent pass rush, better coverage on the underneath stuff and better play by the defensive backs, improvement should show. One advantage FSU may have is that Maryland comes in ranked 103rd in the nation in terms of giving up sacks. This could potentially be a game where the Nole pass rush could get healthy. Turner isn't the most mobile quarterback and he has shown that with a sustained pass rush he can be rattled. A combination of an unhealthy offensive line and the potential for a good pass rush could pay off well for the Noles in terms of helping the struggling defensive backs in pass coverage.
Potentially the biggest key for FSU's defense is getting off of the field. While FSU has been strong in stopping teams on 3rd down, ranking 16th in the nation, we've seen the propensity to give up huge plays to sustain drives. From Kyle Wright's long pass to Darrell Jenkins, to Wake driving up and down the field in the second half, to Boston College and to Tyrod Taylor's 3rd and 31, the Noles have shown they can't stop teams when needed. Stopping the big play potential of Heyward-Bey, Lattimore and Ball will dictate the success the defense has throughout the day.
Against Duke and Boston College the Seminole offense looked like it was turning the corner. With the rash of injuries sustained last week, it fell apart. FSU needs to get back on track in this game and cannot look forward to next week. Throughout practice this week guys like Preston Parker and D'Vontrey Richardson have seen time at running back in order to provide depth at a position that has seen everyone player hurt sometime this year. Antone Smith has bounced back well off of the shoulder injury and looks as though they'll give it a go. Can this team find a spark in the rushing attack? Ranking 94th in rushing offense, the Noles have worked all year in finding an established rushing attack. As the season has progressed, Antone has been able to make some things happen, but once again will be battling the injury bug. Getting back Daron Rose this week should help shore up and offensive line that is not as deep as it needs to be.
As fans we all have seen that FSU has been most successful in the passing attack. One thing that Drew Weatherford has been is stable. When he's played the game has been managed well with little to no turnovers and good time of possession. Against Boston College Drew played his best game as a Nole, showing poise and the ability to throw down the field. He must become more consistent though in that because it is quite possible that he'll get little help this week from the rushing game.
Preston Parker continues to be one of the top up-and-coming playmakers. Against Virginia Tech he wasn't able to get anything going, but look for him to step up this week as an all-around performer. DeCody Fagg and Greg Carr must step up in this game. Maryland comes in a respectable 51st in pass defense, thus FSU's top playmakers must be ready to play. DeCody has played very well lately, and being that it is senior day he should respond well to the challenge. After a great start to the season, Carr has battled injuries and has disappeared. With Parker possibly seeing time at running back he has to become the force that he's expected to become.
Maryland's total defense comes in 49th in the nation, giving up 366 yards per game. They feature one of the best linebackers in Erin Henderson, who is the top tackler in the ACC. While the team doesn't have the playmakers in the defensive backfield that they've had before, they have been steady in forcing 11 interceptions this year. When looking at the statistics of their previous games, this unit hasn't been stellar, but it hasn't been poor either. They have been consistent, but against teams like West Virginia, Wake Forest and Clemson that have mixed the run and pass, they have been susceptible to being scored upon. That is why it is vital that the Seminole offense be able to run the ball effectively. If they make FSU one dimensional, it could be a very tough day for the Seminole offense.
This game sets up as a trap game for the Seminoles. Maryland is a better team than their 5-5 record indicates. The Noles have had two tough road games that saw the team's spirits high with the win against Boston College, and a low with the injury plagued loss to the Hokies. Winning this weekend against a hobbled Maryland squad is key to a better bowl and will renew some confidence going into next week. The ability is there to pull this game out, but is the team there mentally. Going out with a bang on Senior Day would close out this year's home schedule with a bang and leave a lasting memory to those players moving on from the program.