Throughout the season Andre Woodson has been one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. The strong armed quarterback is expected to be a top NFL draft pick in April after having a dominating senior season. After the win over LSU, Woodson became the Heisman favorite but saw that honor fall to the wayside after his team's poor finish. Woodson finished the season with 3,351 passing yards, 36 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. His favorite target, Steve Johnson, is close to eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark and has 11 touchdowns on the season.
For Florida State, the defense has been susceptible to the long pass play all year long. While they are allowing 236 yards per game, fans have seen the Noles give up big plays to Wake, Miami, Virginia Tech and Florida. Against a pass happy offense like Kentucky's, FSU looks to be in trouble. Add to that the fact that FSU is down starting corner Patrick Robinson and top back-up J.R. Bryant. FSU will be coming into the game with three corners that have seen quality time this year in Tony Carter, Michael Ray Garvin and Jamie Robinson. With the substitution heavy defense Mickey Andrew likes to run, players like Korey Mangum and Ochuku Jeniji must step up.
What to look for: Kentucky is a pretty balanced offense that likes to use the run to set-up the pass. Derrick Locke, the top back-up tailback, is doubtful for the game, so Rafael Little will get most of the carries. When Woodson goes into shotgun formation, he has been stellar in picking defenses apart. While Keenan Burton, the Wildcats second leading wide out, is out for the game, Woodson will look to pick apart a secondary that is thin at both corner and safety. At full strength the Noles have struggled to stop the pass, so a depleted secondary will allow the NFL caliber Woodson to have a good day.
Kentucky's offensive line coach is former Seminole coach Jimmy Heggins, a guy who's long been lambasted for the way he left the program several years ago. At Kentucky he has done a better job than at FSU, as his line has anchored an offense that is in the top 50 in both running and passing. One glaring weakness the line has is that they rank 104th in sacks allowed, giving up 3 per game.
For Florida State this area has been hit hard with the suspensions. Justin Mincey, Budd Thacker, Letroy Guion, Neefy Moffett and Paul Griffin are guys who have seen major minutes this year but will be sitting out this game. Linebackers Marcus Ball, Dekoda Watson and Rodney Gallon are out. Toddrick Verdell is traveling to the game, but he has been battling an ankle injury since the Miami game. On the defensive line, starters Andre Fluellen and Everett Brown look to play nearly the entire game. Along with the usual run support and pass coverage, linebackers Geno Hayes, Derek Nicholson and Kendall Smith will be relied on to apply pressure off the edge to Woodson.
What to look for: There is very little depth on the defensive line for FSU, so look to see players like Kendrick Stewart and Emmanuel Dunbar play heavy minutes. With a line that can be dominated in Kentucky, the Noles must get huge games by Brown and Fluellen up front. It would not be surprising to see Hayes coming off the edge, as he has been better in run support and blitz packages. The Noles have the capability to dominate Kentucky's offensive line, but the question is going to be can they hold up the energy and enthusiasm throughout the contest.
FSU's offense has been a perfect example of inconsistency, but the passing game has been what the Noles have depended on throughout the year. Drew Weatherford comes into the game making his 6th start after being benched midway through the season. While the offense hasn't been the big play offense we saw with Xavier Lee, Drew has managed the game well. The biggest knock is that with him under center the offense has not been able to finish off drives and put points on the board. With the Noles top play-makers in Preston Parker, De'Cody Fagg and Greg Carr available for the game, the Noles hope they can mirror the performance from Drew that he had in last year's bowl game versus UCLA. With a depleted offensive line, this looks as though it'll be the best opportunity the Noles have to run the ball.
Kentucky comes into the game as a top 25 team in terms of pass defense. Towards the end of the year Florida and Tennessee were able to dominate the Wildcats secondary. The trend has shown that teams that can pass the ball with success are able to move the ball on this unit. It doesn't help that Paul Warford, the top corner on the team, will not be playing for the Wildcats. As a unit, they've forced 11 interceptions, which is one of the worse numbers in the nation.
What to look for: This is going to be the best chance for the Noles to win this game. As we'll discuss shortly, the depleted FSU offensive line will play a part in what the offense is able to do. Teams that can pass and have play-makers can dominate this unit. If given time, Drew has shown he can get the ball to his play-makers. For FSU it is imperative they take advantage of mismatches and score touchdowns, not field goals. If they can do that, the Seminole offense will be successful.
The way the offensive line has played this year has dictated the way the offense plays this year. While they've been moderately successful in the passing game, they haven't generated much in the rushing attack. All year the Noles ground game has produced at or around 120 yards a game. It doesn't help that they come into this game down 2 starters on a unit that isn't deep in the first place. Offensive tackle Daron Rose and guard Jacky Claude are sitting out this game. Add to that starting tight end Caz Piurowski and the top back-up Charlie Graham are out. As it looks right now, the Noles will be playing with 6 healthy linemen and a tight end who hasn't played much all year. This unit must be a cohesive unit in the ground game. The Noles are going to need to run effectively not only aid the passing game, but to give a depleted defensive unit rest throughout the game.
The front seven for the Wildcats have played up and down all year. They don't get many tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and they don't get a lot of sacks. Teams that are running teams have had success late against this unit. The fact that the Noles are short on depth will help the Wildcats. Wesley Woodward, one of the top linebackers in the SEC, leads this unit and is the player who looks to wreak the most havoc on the Noles. Along with him are fellow linebackers Micah Johnson and Braxton Kelly. These three make this unit what it is and helps cover for a defensive line that is relatively weak as a unit.
What to look for: The Wildcats have given up a lot of yards on the ground because they've played against some of the best running backs in the nation, as well as being a unit that is not strong overall. For FSU they've struggled all year running the ball, and if 100% they could probably produce against this unit. If the line can get off of their blocks and contain the linebackers, they should compete in this game. Remember, this is not a great overall defense and the Noles must score in a game that looks as though it could turn into a track meet. If they've protect Drew and run effectively, look for the front seven of Kentucky to have a huge day.