Hello again! Garrett and I broke down a lot of things in this piece yesterday, and now we’re back for another round. Today’s topics: why we shouldn’t be worried about Florida State’s athletes, a battle between two very different quarterbacks, and some very popular Charles Kelly bashing.
Nick: I think, also, getting back to this ‘experience and athleticism’ issue, Michigan’s defense plays a lot more sound than Florida State does. FSU fans have been pretty upset with Charles Kelly, their defensive coordinator, and I can see why. It kind of feels like everybody just runs for the ball, without being a coherent unit. This was a group that was hyping themselves up as being “one of the best ever,” and yet they’re 42nd in the country in scoring defense.
I’m not really worried about Florida State’s guys. To be honest, I think they are a little more athletic than us, but that’s far from the only thing that wins football games. On offense and on special teams, the Seminoles fumble the ball a lot, and on defense, they don’t play tight in the pass game and they’re too soft in the run game. They also shoot themselves in the foot with penalties pretty consistently.
Garrett: That’s exactly right. Michigan has 11 turnovers on the year to Florida State’s 18. I think the talent difference isn’t even a worthy talking point, to be honest, when trying to compare the teams. If you check out the two teams’ respective recruiting of blue chip athletes, they’re nearly even. Florida State barely edges Michigan by 1/100th of a point, and FSU have been significantly more stable in coaching and administration. But you look at who’s better prepared week-in and week-out, and it’s Michigan. And it’s not even close.
Nick: I wanted to talk a little bit about the quarterback matchup, because both starters are in interesting situations. On Michigan’s side, there’s Wilton Speight, who seemed to feel everything click and then sort of lost it against Iowa and then got injured. On Florida State’s side, you’ve got a redshirt freshman with a lot of positives but also some negatives, a guy who reminds me a lot of Jalen Hurts to be honest, in Deondre Francois.
Garrett: Francois fits that mold of the quarterback with latent Heisman traits but that also plays like a freshman more often than not, so it’s hard to get a handle on what he truly is. Francois’ numbers are great. On paper. He just hasn’t reached that point yet where he can take over a game and be the difference between victory and defeat. Will he get there? Probably. Is it going to be before December 30th? Probably not.
Nick: I’m - total change of subject here - but I’m annoyed that dual-threat quarterbacks get such an easy path to the Heisman these days that, you’re right, you could say that Francois has “latent Heisman traits” just because of the position he plays. Putting that aside, though, I think Francois is a really solid player, a guy who I respect at that position even though I think he’ll struggle against this defense.
In terms of his positives, he’s got a rocket arm, for one. He’s mobile in the pocket, though he’s not really likely to break off big gains unless it’s in scramble mode. (With sacks, he’s averaging 1.9 yards a carry this year, and that’s because of his O-line’s size and their tendency to allow pressure.) He’s also a tough, physical guy who steadily got better as the year went on, and I have to respect that.
On the other hand, he still tends to short-circuit when a defense doesn’t give him time to survey the field. This includes becoming really inaccurate in a hurry on even simple passes, and sometimes not thinking things through. He is a dangerous down-field thrower, but Florida State’s veteran receivers make it easy on him as well. (A familiar story for Florida State fans.)
And unfortunately for Francois, Florida State’s offensive line has given up a lot of pressure this year. Sure, they’re big and athletic, but they’re not good with their hands and don’t communicate well against the blitz. Sometimes, FSU’s OL can be perfectly in sync as long as a defense remains static, but Don Brown will make them very, very uncomfortable. Their tackles in particular are good areas to exploit, and I doubt they’ve seen a duo like Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton so far this year.
- Tale of the season: Florida State started the year ranked #4 in the country, with a juicy matchup right off the bat: #11 Ole Miss. They went on to win, 45-34, behind 43 minutes of ball possession, 4 Ole Miss turnovers and a career-high 419 passing yards from Francois. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
- A couple weeks later, though, the Noles were in for a rude surprise: getting crushed by the #10 Louisville Cardinals and their young quarterback Lamar Jackson. LJ threw for 216 yards, but ran for 146 more and totaled 5 touchdowns. Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
- After a stabilizing win against Willie Taggart and USF, adversity came calling again: a 37-35 loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels in Week 5. The FSU defense allowed 450 or more yards for the third straight week, and UNC’s Mitch Trubinsky went 31/38 for 405 yards, 3 touchdowns and no picks. Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
- The Noles started to turn things around with a win over Miami. From Weeks 6-10, they would face four straight ACC opponents that finished the year 6-6 or better. They won three of those by narrow margins, with only a close loss to Clemson in the mix. Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
- The last three weeks of the year, things really started to click: three straight blowout wins, one of them over #15 Florida and another over a Boston College team that would wind up 6-6. The Noles have now won four straight over their in-state rival, a point of pride for this Noles team. Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
- Now, Jimbo Fisher will face the Michigan Wolverines with a brand-new contract in hand: an extension through 2024, including a $44.4 million buyout. Fisher has gone 77-17 at FSU, and a win over Michigan would give him five straight seasons of 10 wins or more. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Garrett: That’s what distills any fears I have about Michigan struggling in this game. I think Michigan can line up and play fundamental defense and control the game. Throw in a few creative stunts and blitzes from Don Brown’s playbook and I don’t think the Seminoles have a chance. Taco and Wormley will get theirs. Lewis will close down so much of the Francois’ passing options he’ll be limited to throwing against Stribling or Peppers or Thomas -- who have all proven to be effective DBs when called upon (Stribling is so underrated, but only because he plays in the shadows of Lewis and Peppers).
Florida State will break some big plays. That’s almost inevitable when you have someone like Dalvin Cook who will always be around for an outlet pass, and Francois has the athleticism to escape at least a couple of heavy pressure situations. But after 60 minutes, I don’t think Florida State’s box score is going to be too full.
Nick: And, a comment about those Florida State wide receivers - their best wideout is Travis Rudolph, a very athletic guy and a solid 6’1”, 192. But Rudolph isn’t the most polished route-runner or the fastest change-of-direction guy, so mainly we need to press him, be physical and not let him get loose without a defender. I think Stribling might get that assignment more often than Lewis, while Jourdan might draw some of the Noles’ faster, smaller guys. But we’ll see.
And, you’re right - big plays are Florida State’s specialty. Dalvin Cook is definitely at the heart of that, but they have a lot of athletic guys and love reverse options to punish over-aggressive defenses. They’re also #1 in the nation in the red zone, I should point out, so they have ways of scoring all over the place. They’re an athletic, well-coached team and, just like us, they had higher aspirations than playing in the Orange Bowl this year. It’s just that their playoff hopes fell apart in September and October, whereas ours were alive until the final weekend of play.
Garrett: No comment.
Nick: Haha. At any rate, I certainly don’t want to take this team lightly, because whether you’re playing the Florida State Seminoles or the North Dakota State Bison, that’s never going to end well. And, as I said, this team has some great athletes, and they’re also peaking at just the right time.
But there is a paper tiger aspect to them, from their bigs who don’t produce at an elite level in the run game (and advanced stats, like power success rate or adjusted line yards, back that up) or their pass defense that’s 68th in the nation. (In fairness, they’ve been ravaged with injuries in the secondary, so it’d be a very different story with Derwin James and Nate Andrews back there. But, again, Michigan is 1st.)
And Michigan has just the right players to exploit the Noles’ various weaknesses: physical DBs with speed and length, veteran defensive linemen with great technique, crafty wide receivers who can manipulate tendencies, and a quarterback who knows how to play while protecting the football. (I’m assuming he’s learned that lesson during his time off. He’d better.)
So either we come out and punch them right in the mouth, or fight them deep into the fourth quarter, but I think we’ll be able to pull out the win. But hey, what do we know. We’re just experienced.
Garrett: Well said. Remember in week 3 when Colorado came into Michigan stadium and put us in a 21-7 hole after the first quarter? It was pandemonium. People were calling Michigan overrated before halftime. Then we turned it around and stomped on the Buffaloes, ultimately winning by 17 and most everybody was okay with that. It was a the gut-punch wake up call the team needed to have a chance at late season success.
Then we learned about a month later that Colorado was actually really good and maybe that meant Michigan was really really good? Harbaugh and co. had the team prepared for that game, and they knew what they were up against. We will be ready.