MMQB: Step off the Ledge, Seminole Fans

Saturday night's near-loss to Jacksonville State has prompted a sense of angst among many Seminole fans who fear that the program may not be as far along as many thought they were after the close loss to Miami. As dreadful as Saturday's performance was, there's good reason to think that this game should not be regarded as an accurate indicator of where this team is or is headed

Step Away from the Ledge, Seminole Fans

First of all, it's important to understand what the priorities going into this game were for the players and coaches, as well as the way practices generally run in a given week. Normally, the team finishes a game on Saturday then gets what amounts to a day off on Sunday, when the players simply report to the training of room to get postgame treatment, etc. (That rest day is critically important for both the physical and mental fatigue of the players.) Monday practices are mainly spent in the film room, where the mistakes of the prior week are corrected and the team gets their first look at the next week's opponent. Monday also serves as a conditioning day where players run—with players receiving extra running for any penalty yards or "loafs," etc.

Tuesday and Wednesday are usually harder practice days in which the game plan for the week is implemented, with first and second teams going against scout teams that provide as good a look as possible of what the opposing team for the week will be doing. Thursdays are essentially walkthrough days, again with the scout teams providing looks and the first and second teams going through various scenarios expected to play out in the game. Then on Fridays, the team travels to the team hotel, goes through the last bits of pregame preparation, eats a meal, and goes to bed.

This is a far cry from what the Seminoles were able to do this week, thanks to the Monday night game, which ran over into the early hours of Tuesday morning. This week, the players were lucky to get out of the locker room at 3:30 AM following a devastating last-second loss to a hated rival and then had to get up for class on Tuesday morning. Sunday's training room visits happened on Tuesday. There was no standard Monday or Tuesday practice, there was no time to focus on this week's opponent, nor—and this is an especially important part—did this week focus on Jacksonville State (but more on this later). In fact, the Seminoles barely had time to correct mistakes from the Miami game let alone implement a game plan for this week.

So a sloppy first half at the very least is exactly what should've been expected against Jacksonville State. I at least was very unsurprised by the way that the Seminoles looked in the first half, though I was definitely disappointed by the way that they did not bounce back in the second half the way that they should have. But more of my observations later.

To top that off, this team was far more concerned about BYU than Jacksonville State. Essentially, in this kind of game, the coaching staff assumes (and in this case it was proved to be true—barely) that we could win the Jacksonville State game simply on talent, that we could walk through a slow first half, make the adjustments necessary at the half, and come out and do whatever was necessary to get the win move on to next week's game (which will be much more difficult and frankly matters quite a bit more).

Related to this, the second thing to understand is one of the dirty little secrets about football preparation at the Division I level: that is, those dreaded "look-ahead" games are often closer at least in part because teams are actually already preparing for the more difficult game a week ahead of time. That is, Florida State was already implementing aspects of their BYU game plan this week rather than exclusively preparing for the looks and problems that Jacksonville State would present. It's a risk, but it's a risk that most coaches are willing to take against teams that they very well should beat simply based on talent. Ohio State's near-loss at home against Navy is a good example of this—I can guarantee that much of OSU's week one preparation was geared towards USC. And OSU looked much better against USC than they did against Navy (probably better than they would have had they not spent the extra time preparing for USC the week prior).

So the fact that we looked unprepared is exactly what should have been expected after a short week—note that Miami wasn't foolish enough to try to play a game right after playing us on Monday night—and given the fact that we were preparing more for BYU than for Jacksonville State in that short week. This is not an excuse so much as it's the way college football works.

That said, the concerning thing in this game was not so much the way that the Seminoles looked sloppy and unprepared—that should've been expected. Rather, it was the way that Jacksonville State very often pushed Florida State around on both the offensive and defensive lines. I'm not especially worried about the offensive line—Trickett will take care of them just fine. The defensive line, however, is a concern. We very clearly do not have the talent level there that we've had in the past and the few talented players we do have are very young and are showing their age at this point in the season. Put simply, we cannot have a performance in which we allow ourselves to get pushed around like that against BYU and not get blown out.

But, as far as this game is concerned, I will say here the same thing that I was saying to my friends who are calling me on the phone throughout the game panicking that we were losing to an inferior opponent: "This game only matters if we're losing at the end of the game. As long as we win, the BYU game will be what defines the early part of our season, not a close win against Jacksonville State." And that's the truth. If we beat BYU, we are right back on the national radar. Even if we lose a close game to BYU, the Jacksonville State game will be looked at as simply a standard close trap game. But if we get blown out, then all the questions about the direction of the program will be warranted, and in terms of national reputation we will be no further along than we were last year.

Either way, step away from the ledge, Seminole fans, the Miami game was more representative of where we are is a program for better or for worse than a Jacksonville State game that we neither have time nor the inclination to prepare for. This week's game will be the defining game of our early season, so watch with interest on Saturday.

Observations:

1) Our defensive line is simply bad. Jacobbi McDaniel has lots of talent, but he is not the savior for our defensive line's struggles. We aren't very big up front, and we let JSU push us around for a while. That's concerning, because that's not so much a preparation issue as a talent, motivation, and technique concern. There has been zero pass rush from our defensive ends so far this year. Frankly, I'm not sure if we wouldn't be better off running more odd front looks with Dakota or Nigel Bradham coming off one end instead of having two DEs out there.

2) Nigel Carr needs to play more in the middle. He's green, but he covers more ground than Smith, and he is a bit more imposing a presence in there. I'd at least like to see him play more on pass situations or against passing teams, because Smith is a liability in coverage (as Whipple showed last Monday night with good scheming).

3) I'm not as down on Chuko Jenije as many people are. He actually still has a chance to be a decent player as the year goes forward, but he really needs to stop biting on the double moves, which is where he gets himself beaten. He's actually doing a better job of staying in position on outside coverage than Reid is at this point in the year. I like Reid staying as the starter in the slot corner position, where he can move around and freelance a bit more and make some plays.

4) That said, Dionte Allen has been a positive surprise so far this year. He should get more looks as things move forward.

5) We are still in trouble at the Rover position against the pass, though Moody looks good against the run. I'm not sure if we shouldn't just put a bigger corner there in passing downs, however. That's a place where I would have hoped Parks could make a contribution, but he can't seem to stay healthy.

6) I know this is heresy, but this is two games in a row where I really felt like Richard Goodman flashed just a little Peter Warrick out there. He's gotten so much bigger in the upper body and has such a similar build to Warrick (and a good bit of shiftiness) that there have been a few plays where he's brought back some positive memories. Let's hope he can continue to emerge as a consistent playmaker through the rest of the year. Either way, he's been very impressive in every facet of the game from the wideout position the last two weeks.

7) Ty Jones has clearly been our best back the last two weeks, but we need Thomas to get healthy. It would also help to have Pressley's size/speed combo once he gets healthy. I'd like to see Jones get more first and third quarter carries and Thomas more in the second and fourth quarter as defenses get tired and he can flash his speed a little more.

8) Jarmon Fortson is going to be very special. That guy is a horse and is just now learning how to put it together. It will be exciting to see how good he looks by the end of this year.

9) Ponder, quite frankly, has looked an awful lot like Chris Weinke so far this year, though he can run a good bit better than Wink could. I put this into my column for last week, but somehow wires got crossed and the article couldn't be posted. What a difference having an outstanding quarterback coach makes for a team and quarterback development! It is that fact alone that makes me excited about the rest of the year and convinces me that we are, as a program, headed in the right direction. There is nothing to panic about; we just need to play well this week against BYU.


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