In part two of our Behind Enemy Lines series we spoke to Bud Elliott, editor of TomahawkNation.com to break down the matchup between Florida and Florida State this weekend. In part two we talk about Nick O’Leary, Florida State’s defensive line, Jameis Winston and Jeremy Pruitt.
Is Nick O’Leary just a pass catcher?
Bud: I would say his first two years, yeah. In his first two years he didn’t always give great effort in blocking and now he’s doing a better job with that. He’s really noticeably improved how well he blocks. He’s never going to be a great blocker, he’s not the biggest guy he’s more of an H-back type of guy at 240-ish. The effort and the technique and just knowing whom to block have really improved quite a bit and really helped the run game. I wouldn’t say he’s just a pass catcher but he’s a pass-catching tight end who blocks a lot better than he used to block.
Is this D-Line better or worse than it was a year ago?
Tim Jernigan is playing better. The interior this year is better. You have Dawkins and McCloud last year who were experienced veterans but they weren’t dominant guys, they weren’t difference makers. This year with Jernigan and Goldman and several other 300-pounders they have the ability to put in there I think they are better against the run tackle to tackle.
The ends are not as good. You have two guys who are picked in the top 45 picks of the draft, that’s really hard to replace. They really steadily improved over the season. I know everybody says that, but they’ve really steadily improved over the course of the season as they’ve adapted to the scheme.
What kind of impact has Jeremy Pruitt had in his first season?
Bud: Just think about, Georgia got Todd Grantham, who’s supposed to run something pretty similar to Saban, and they still don’t seem to have their defense together. Pruitt goes to FSU and they transition in one year.
I think that’s one of the three main keys as to why this team has exceeded expectations to the extent that they have.
One is Winston.
Two is very specific places on the offense that have very little depth are staying healthy; the offensive line and the receivers, which are two pretty major areas where they didn’t have great depth at all and they’ve just had great health.
Three is the speed at which they adjusted to a really complicated pattern-matching defensive scheme in the secondary.
I didn’t think any of those three things would happen to the level that they have. And the fact that all three have come together to the level that they have is really the key difference in what we thought would happen with this team and what has happened.
At this point of his career (11 games) is Jameis Winston already better than E.J. Manuel was?
I think Jameis Winston is the best quarterback Florida State’s ever had. I know that other people have had somewhat statistically better seasons; he’s pretty close to breaking Chris Leak’s single season quarterback record. I don’t want to say he’s had the best career of any quarterback because Weinke and Ward have rings and Jameis does not.
I don’t think they’ve ever had anybody play quarterback as well as Jameis is playing quarterback right now.
How have these two teams separated so much from the two teams we saw last season?
Bud: I think one team has stayed very healthy on offense and that’s Florida State. They’ve had the same three receivers play almost every game together. Nick O’Leary has played all 11 games. I would say there has been very little missed time for all the offensive linemen; you’ve had the quarterback stay healthy, the running backs (for the most part) have stayed healthy.
Also, this is the fourth year in Jimbo Fisher’s program. Some of those guys that Muschamp had there like a Sharrif Floyd or Matt Elam or some of those guys, they weren’t guys that Muschamp recruited. They were Urban Meyer guys. Not that the guys that Muschamp’s brought in are any less talented or tough but certainly some of the younger guys at Florida have been pressed into action a little bit earlier than anticipated just because all of their injuries. I think that matters a lot.
I also think, if you look at last years team, I think Florida played with a little more of an edge and I think they were more physical. But I don’t think that’s all that happened. I think the game plan by Mark Stoops was really poor. He did not have Florida State’s defense ready to make adjustments when Florida went in motion and went unbalanced and heavy sets. Not only was Florida playing with more of an edge and more physically but they had great angles for their blocks as well. And that only served to magnify the physical difference.
I think this year that’s something that FSU certainly has spent a lot of time on; the shifts and motions and going against heavy sets and things like that, with an eye on a team like Miami that does a lot of things like that.
This is a very tight group for Florida State too. They did a lot of work on their own over the summer when the coaches can’t be with them and it’s a group with really good leadership. They put in the time in the weight room and 7-on-7, things like that, to really have the chemistry that they do. It’s noticeably different.