With the return of college football season comes the return of our weekly Inside the Enemy series from Jackson Pugh. This week, Jackson takes us inside Florida State ahead of Virginia Tech's Labor Day night showdown with the Seminoles.
1. The Running Back Dynasty Continues
Fantasy football fanatics are certainly familiar with the names Davonta Freeman and Dalvin Cook. Freeman has twice eclipsed the 1,000 yard in 4 NFL seasons, while Cook ran for 354 yards and 2 TD's in 4 games last season. What in the world do those two have to with Monday's matchup? The awnser is, that both running backs attended Florida State this decade.
The Seminoles also have another NFL ready back waiting in line.
Cam Akers is one of the most electrifying players in college football. Coming out of Clinton, MS, Akers was rated as the best tailback in the class of 2016 by ESPN
. Despite the lofty expectations set by the work of Freeman, Cook, and the ESPN 300 rankings, Akers did not disappoint. He ran for 1,024 yards, averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored 7 touchdowns in his freshman season.
But like a Billy Mays infomercial, wait, there's more. The 'Noles feature another running-back that would start on many other FBS teams. Jacques Patrick, a sizable back at 234 pounds, put together an impressive junior campaign. In 2017, Patrick ran for 748 yards, averaged 5.6 yards per carry, and scored 7 touchdowns. Also keep a lookout for four-star freshman Khalan Laborn and Zaquandre White, who could also make an impact in 2018.
This is arguably the Seminoles strongest position, as it was one of the only units that shined in FSU's 7-6 campaign last season. It will be crucial for DT Ricky Walker to plug up running lanes and take away the between-the-tackles running game, which he is certainly capable of doing.
The bigger what-if rests with the linebacking core. Talented but inexperienced, both Rayshard Ashby and Dylan Rivers cannot afford to miss assignments or get in the wrong gap. If that happens, Cam Akers might be sending some Labor Day highlights to NFL scouts.
2. A New Era Begins
Although 2017 was a disappointment, what a run it was for Jimbo Fisher in Talahassee. Fisher, who took over for the legendary Bobby Bowden in 2010, finished 83-23 in eight seasons, won 3 ACC titles and a national championship. But in the offseason, a 75-million dollar deal and some Southwestern barbecue were calling Fisher's name, which led him to take the job at Texas A&M. As a result, Florida State decided to take the Oregon trail to find their new head coach, and they were able to land Willie Taggart from Eugene.
Taggart has done formidably as a head coach, as he helped turn Western Kentucky and South Florida into respectable programs. At Oregon, Taggart inherited a 4-8 squad and turned the Ducks around with a 7-5 campaign last year. Florida State fans will expect him to work that same magic with the Seminoles in 2018.
Taggart's offense will be a little different from Fisher's, as another new offensive mind also comes in. New offensive coordinator Walt Bell will install the hurry-up shotgun spread that he ran at Maryland, as opposed to the more heavy-I sets the 'Noles ran last season. The pace of play will be fast, and Virginia Tech's young defense will have to be ready.
Bud Foster will haven to emphasize communication and alignment, for the Hokies will have to line up fast and correctly.
3. The Comeback of Deondre Francois
This time last year, the Seminoles looked like they were ready to compete for a championship. FSU just came fresh off an exciting Orange Bowl win over Michigan. The man who threw the winning touchdown in that game was only a true freshman, and finished the season with 10 wins, 20 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. Deondre Francois looked poised for a run at the Heisman, and what better opportunity to do so than a season opening clash against top-ranked Alabama.
Unfortunately for the folks of Tallahassee, everything that could've gone wrong went wrong. In the season opener against Alabama, Francois sustained a knee injury, which forced him to miss the rest of the season. FSU lost the next week to North Carolina State, and the 'Noles would say good-bye to the top 25 for the rest of the season.
Now the polls will welcome the 'Noles back to the party, and it's for the same reason FSU was invited there to start 2017: Deondre Francois. Taggart named Francois the starter last week with the junior making a remarkable comeback to reclaim the job.
However, Francois was not able to start practicing until August, so he has gone almost a whole calendar year without playing football. If he is not truly 100%, Taggart may have to look towards experienced backup James Blackman. Blackman played in 12 games last season, throwing for 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
4. The Offensive Line
It's also important to remember why Francois got injured last season. His lack of protection, both in 2016 and against Alabama, was glaring. Francois has started 13 games in his 'Noles career, and he has taken a total of 34 sacks. Last season, the 'Noles allowed the most sacks in the ACC, much of those hits transferred on to James Blackmon. This season, question marks still remain for the big men up front.
The 'Noles lost five linemen from the 2017 squad, and also suffered a significant number of injuries this offseason. As a result, Taggart was unable to field two teams for the spring game. Alec Eberle, who is the most experienced of the FSU offensive lineman, was one of the injured Seminoles. He is expected to be ready to go, but missing time is not ideal especially when a new offense is being installed.
With Florida State switching their offensive scheme to Taggart's spread, it is tough to say whether this move will help Florida State's offensive line improve. If not, expect Ricky Walker and Trevon Hill to spend some quality time in the backfield, especially if they get the one-on-one matchups the spread usually entails.
5. The Excellent Mr. Burns
If there's one man Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen have been circling on their clipboards, it would be defensive end Brian Burns. Burns, the junior out of Ft. Lauderdale, was a terror for offenses last season. He finished 2017 with 48 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two blocked punts. He was even better late in the season; in his last five games, Burns recorded 9.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks.
He was even better his freshman year, in which he accumulated 9.5 sacks, which was 25th in the nation
Burns also put on 18 pounds from last season, so look for him to generate some more push from a defensive standpoint.
Virginia Tech is expected to start true freshman Silas Dzansi on Monday. Indeed, he will be fed to the wolves, as he will likely be lined up against Burns. This will likely be one of the key matchups
in this game and could have a big impact on the Hokies' offensive gameplan if Dzansi struggles against him.
Photo Credit: Jake Roth
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