With the 2015 Peach Bowl looming we're excited to have an Underdog playing in a New Year's Eve bowl game. The Houston Cougars have had an incredibly fun season under first-year head coach Tom Herman and they'll seek to place the proverbial cherry on top of 2015 by facing a strong Florida State team in the Peach Bowl. Thanks to Dylan Kidd from Tomahawk Nation for helping us get to know the mindset of the Florida State fan base heading into their match up with the Cougars. You can find our side of the Q&A exchange here.
Florida State lost an all-time great Seminole in Jameis Winston last year. How has the offense changed in his departure?
DK: We had some significant questions about whether Jimbo Fisher would adapt his system to FSU’s 2015 personnel in the wake of Winston’s departure. The former signal-caller himself has always run his offense through the quarterback, and we had not seen him institute a true run-first attack in his time at FSU. To our relief, he did just that in 2015. Florida State’s personnel this season has been best-suited to rely on Dalvin Cook and its maturing offensive line in the running game. Its passing game is much better now that Sean Maguire has taken the reins from Everett Golson, but the rushing attack is still its bread and butter.
While less often utilized, the passing game with Maguire is still of the same character as the 2014 passing game with Winston. This was not true while Golson was under center for the Seminoles, as he ran a significantly watered-down version of Fisher’s passing game, conceptually. The ‘Noles have fared better through the air since returning to their more traditional pass attack, and while the offensive line is still inconsistent, the offense as a whole has its bouts of explosiveness.
Is the Peach Bowl a disappointment for FSU fans after competing in the inaugural college football playoffs last season or was a slight decline expected due to the loss of Winston?
DK: The Peach Bowl itself isn’t a disappointment for sane FSU fans as a 2015 bowl destination. Expectations entering the season for our staff were split between 9-3 and 10-2. Coming out of the season on the high end of that range with wins over Miami and Florida, while also making a New Year’s Six game, is a huge success for what absolutely was going to be a rebuilding season after FSU lost everything it did. Now, there may be some disappointment from fans with the match-up against a good team that isn’t a big brand name, or more likely that the bowl game will be played at noon on a Thursday, but the Peach Bowl itself is an excellent outcome. This game presents a great opportunity for a launch pad into a 2016 season in which the Seminoles should be a legitimate playoff contender.
The Seminoles can really hang their hat on their defense this season as they rank near the top of every major statistical category. What makes the Seminoles so hard to score on in 2015?
DK: To many, the improvement on defense from a season ago is probably surprising. The Seminoles lost a bunch of excellent defenders to the NFL, including Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby, Mario Edwards Jr., etc. However, there certainly seems to be some truth to the notion that many of those guys were playing with one foot out the door last season following the national title in 2013, and injuries/weakness in the middle of the defense in 2014 made for some particularly frustrating outings for that group.
This year’s defense has fared much better in Charles Kelly’s second season as defensive coordinator. It’s a young group, but it is very talented and features great depth, particularly up front. The ‘Noles have gotten great seasons from its tackle duo of Nile Lawrence-Stample and Derrick Nnadi, and end DeMarcus Walker has been nothing short of outstanding in 2015. Corners Marquez White and Jalen Ramsey have been excellent, and freshmen phenoms Josh Sweat and Derwin James have given the 2015 defense even more than could’ve reasonably been expected. Overall, it’s been a group that has been consistently strong up front and difficult to beat on the outside, with some explosive playmakers sprinkled in. That’s a recipe for a very solid defensive unit.
Quarterback Everett Golson will not be participating in the Peach Bowl as he addresses personal issues away from the field. Who is the anticipated starter at quarterback for the Seminoles and how do his strengths and weaknesses align with those of Golson?
DK: Florida State’s quarterback is redshirt junior Sean Maguire. After losing the pre-season quarterback battle to Golson, Maguire took the reins against Syracuse and hasn’t looked back. As I mentioned, with Golson the ‘Noles were running a much simpler version of their offense that emphasized his strengths. They threw short, safe passes with simple half-field, and sometimes even single-route reads. People liked to tout Golson’s athletic ability as reason for him to play behind FSU’s young offensive line, but he never really deployed it in meaningful fashion for the Seminoles in 2015. Golson could extend some plays by scrambling, but he often left a clean pocket to do so, and he proved unwilling or unable to use his running ability in FSU’s option plays.
Maguire simply runs FSU’s base offense more effectively. The ‘Noles are able to utilize a wider array of concepts with him under center, and I think he’s actually better at avoiding the rush than Golson because of his pocket presence and understanding of the offense. He climbs the pocket and gets the ball to the correct receiver at a much higher rate. Now, he’s by no means a running threat, and has certainly made his share of subpar throws over the course of the season. But I think he’s played very well for the ‘Noles since emerging as the guy, and we’ll see if he can continue to improve and hold off the other competitors for the 2016 starting job.
What's one thing that Houston does well enough to give you a feeling of concern for FSU in the Peach Bowl?
DK: After watching some Houston games, the obvious first reaction is to marvel at the athletic ability of Greg Ward Jr. He reminds me a bit of Nick Marshall at times, and the Seminoles are faced with the unenviable task of containing him rather than pinning their ears back and getting upfield. I think Houston may very well hit a couple of long plays on run-pass-option and pop pass stuff, as FSU just hasn’t seen much of that this season. Coach Herman has had about a month to come up with some creative stuff, and I expect to see the Cougars hit a shot or two. The key for me is for the ‘Noles to consistently win up front and push the pocket rather than collapse it. They’ve had to do this before in recent years, so I’m confident they can, but if they lose contain repeatedly and allow Ward to make his scrambling plays, it could be a frustrating afternoon for fans in garnet and gold.
On defense, I’d be worried that a very aggressive UH group that is very active on the back end can get the ‘Noles behind schedule and force a couple of turnovers. Step one is really the key though, because the Seminoles really haven’t turned the ball over on standard downs when they’re in front of the chains this season. I certainly expect to see the Cougars load up against Dalvin Cook, which may very well mean that we see the classic Jimbo Fisher counter of throwing a lot on early downs. Regardless, I think your hope if you’re a Houston fan is for several explosive plays of your own on defense, because FSU’s offense has been very explosive on the ground this season and Dalvin Cook will be as healthy as he’s been since week four on Thursday.
How do you predict the game wrapping up? Anything in particular you're excited to watch on the field?
DK: I think that Houston has a very good team, but I don’t think this is a great match-up for the Cougars. I expect FSU to give the Houston offense serious problems up front, and I think the physical Seminole corners are going to take away a lot of the quick stuff to the outside that the Cougars will use to try to minimize the issues on the line of scrimmage. I’m confident that FSU will again hit a couple of long plays in the running game, as Houston will be very aggressive in trying to stop Dalvin Cook and won’t have much room for error for something like a single missed run fit. There’s been some talk about whether the Seminoles will be up for this game, but Jimbo Fisher has prepared his teams very well for every bowl game he’s coached at FSU, and I’m just not prepared to predict something outside of that track record as far as effort level. I like the Seminoles pretty comfortably in this one, and I’ll call it 31-13.
As far as what I’m excited to watch, for Houston it’s Greg Ward and how creative Tom Herman can get over a month of preparation. For the Seminoles, I’m excited to watch Jalen Ramsey’s last game for the ‘Noles, as he’s been a tremendous player for FSU for three seasons. Same goes for outstanding kicker Roberto Aguayo, who I expect to turn pro. I’m also excited about watching a nearly healthy Dalvin Cook, as well as more playing time for the young guys. Keep an eye on Derwin James, who is an absolute freak at safety. Last but not least, FSU is wearing its all garnet uniforms, which is VERY IMPORTANT and we undoubtedly haven’t talked about it enough, since that post has done like three times the traffic of any other post on Tomahawk Nation this week.
Thanks again to Dylan and the rest of Tomahawk Nation for their help in covering this year's Peach Bowl. Be sure to head their way for some terrific coverage of the upcoming game.