Here we are. It’s gameday. The anticipation has built, Christmas has come and gone, and as I type millions around the globe are shaking the cobwebs off and getting themselves going after ringing in the new year last night. Before wiping our hands of last year and moving right into 2015, I want to take just a minute to think about 2014. What a strange, crazy, mixed bag 2014 was as a Florida State fan.
It began in Pasadena, California in one of the most beautiful and unique settings I have ever been in for a football game as the Seminole finally reascended the mountain and took claim as the best team in the land winning the National Championship. It was the culmination of a dominating year that was extra sweet after the years of medicority that Nole fans endured through most of the decade prior. From that point it spiraled into a never ceasing day time soap opera of crab legs, scooters, obscenities, and court tv all led by a national media that never seemed to care too much about the details and facts, but just wanted a story, wanted a villain.
Through all of that Florida State became the most hated team this side of the 80s Miami Hurricanes. Embrace the Hate became a popular mantra. Popular radio host Jeff Cameron of ESPN Tallahassee maybe was the first to openly talk about it and as he would say there was nothing we could do to change the perception of this team, these players, these people so just don the black hat and try to enjoy it. Well, that’s all well and good but I, like others out there, have trouble doing that. I want to be liked for the most part and while I don’t need to you like my teams, I have this nagging inside me that wants them to be respected. So, unfortunately for me, much of 2014 was spent defending players, defending the decisions of Jimbo Fisher, and trying to be a small voice of, if not the ultimate truth, at least the full story that most people weren’t hearing. It was exhausting and zapped a lot of the fun and euphoria I have during the football season.
A crazy thing happened through all of the mess and the distractions, all the “clutter”, Florida State just kept winning. It was nowhere near the efficient domination and beautiful game that we witnessed throughout 2013. This was ugly and head scratching and frustrating and tiring, but it was winning. So, through all the off field stories, opinions, half truths, and hate, through all the on field criticism, close calls, ugly wins, and questioning of this team here we are. It’s the first day of 2015 and we again find ourselves in Pasadena, California among the beautiful setting and the pageantry. Florida State is set to face Oregon, most of the nation rooting against the Noles, and all we can do is to just keep winning.
Oregon Offense vs FSU Defense
|Oregon||National Rank||Florida State||National Rank|
|Yards Per Play||7.35||2nd||5.31||47th|
|Yards Per Carry||5.45||13th||3.94||44th|
|Yards Per Attempt||10.0||1st||7.1||69th|
*** S&P+ rankings can be found and explained at www.footballoutsiders.com ***
Without a doubt, Oregon and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Marcus Mariota have the advantage here. Oregon has a dynamic, uptempo offense that can beat you in multiple ways. They have a playmaker at running back in freshman Royce Freeman (230 carries 1,299 yards 16 TDs) and several threats on the outside, led by junior Byron Marshall (61 catches 814 yards 5 TDs). The Ducks also feature 3 other wide receivers, freshman Devon Allen, sophomore Dwayne Stanford, and freshman Darren Carrington that have 30+ catches and 500+ yards each.
The key to this game, like all games really, will be in the trenches. Oregon has a good offensive line, you don’t have the kind of offense they do without it. The interesting and unknown part of the game for me will be the health of the FSU defense. The Noles defense was never going to be great this year, they lost too much and were too thin and experienced at a couple positions to be great. However, injuries did them no favor and they have played the majority of the year with players less than 100% at defensive tackle (Nile Lawrence-Stample has missed the last 10 games), linebacker (Terrance Smith has been slowed by a knee injury and Matthew Thomas has battled shoulder and knee injuries), and cornerback (Ronald Darby and PJ Williams have been slowed by undisclosed leg ailments). Reports out of practice this past week is that this defense is the healthiest it’s been all season.
Does a healthy defense mean that Florida State has a shot to shut this Oregon offense down? No, absolutely not. While I truly believe this defense when healthy is much better than the numbers above suggest, they are not elite and have deficiencies that will allow Oregon to get their yards and points. That said, the Noles have the talent and speed combined with some excellent players on the defensive line in Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman to slow the Oregon offense some and get a few stops.
FSU Offense vs Oregon Defense
|Florida State||National Rank||Oregon||National Rank|
|Yards Per Play||6.42||24th||5.40||56th|
|Yards Per Carry||4.25||70th||4.12||55th|
|Yards Per Attempt||8.3||18th||6.6||34th|
*** S&P+ rankings can be found and explained at www.footballoutsiders.com ***
I am big stats guy, I love statistics. I also have two quotes that I love about statistics. ”There lies, damn lies, and statistics.” and “Statistics are like a girl in a bikini, they show a lot, but not everything.” There are major factors sometimes left out of pure statistical analysis. In this case, I think there are two major ones for Florida State – the shuffling at offense line from the Miami game on that has seen Cameron Erving move to center and Rod Johnson at left tackle. Everything about this offense has looked better since that move. The other is the emergence of Dalvin Cook (155 carries 905 yards 8 TDs) behind that offensive line. Since the OL switch, Cook has averaged 6.39 yards per carry and totaled 76 carries for 489 yards in 4 games. That is a huge factor heading into this game.
Despite all that said, the Florida State offense starts and stops with one man and that’s Jameis Winston. While numerically not as potent this year and with some head scratching decisions at times, both quarterback coach Randy Sanders and head coach Jimbo Fisher have said that Winston is actually better this year. He had issues with protection early on in the year and hasn’t had the weapons on the outside from last season either. Those issues combined with some drops and unlucky bounces and you can at least understand where those coaches are coming from. Winston does, however, have at least two outstanding weapons in wide receiver Rashad Greene (93 catches 1,306 yards 7 TDs) and Mackey Award winning TE Nick O’Leary (47 catches 614 yards 6 TDs). Freshman Travis Rudolph has become a weapon on the outside recently and Winston also has success finding Karlos Williams and Dalvin Cook out of the backfield.
Oregon has a good defense that is better than some of the raw numbers suggest. Like on the other side of the ball, however, the defense will most likely struggle to shut down the offense in this matchup. An interesting factor will be what the impact is on the Oregon defense of the loss of cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to an ACL injury during bowl practice. While his numbers haven’t been great and Oregon fans will tell you he hasn’t lived up to expectations, it’s hard to lose an NFL caliber, All-American on defense and not miss a beat.
Between some injuries, some guys getting healthy, transition throughout the year, and the odd season of ups and downs for both teams, it’s hard to get an exact feel for this game. Both offenses are clearly better than both defenses and this should be a fairly high scoring game. The bottom line is which defense has the ability to get more stops and can slow the opposing offense enough to win the game. Sounds simple and it really is. I like the Noles today because I feel their defense matches up a little better against the Oregon offense than the Oregon defense matches up with the Noles offense. Florida State has proven they can win in close games, step up at the right times, and have experience in a big game atmosphere like this.
FSU 41 Oregon 35