NoleGameday

Florida State vs Houston- Bowl Preview

Houston (12-1, 7-1 in AAC) Bio Flash:

 

Head Coach: Tom Herman (First Year, 12-1 record)

Key Players: QB Greg Ward Jr., RB Kenneth Farrow, LB Elandon Roberts, CB William Jackson III

Last Year’s Record: 8-5, 5-3 in AAC

Analysis:

Tom Herman has found instant success in his first year at Houston. His spread offense led by do-it-all quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is ranked 16th in the country in total yards and 11th in points per game. The numbers don’t lie either because when you turn on the tape this Cougars offense absolutely demoralizes opponents. Ward Jr. may very well be the best read option quarterback in the country. Herman loves to use Ward Jr.’s legs, whether its through read options, QB draws, or roll-outs. While DeShaun Watson is best quarterback FSU has faced this year, Ward Jr. is the fastest and most elusive. Just look at a couple of these runs:

He is going to pose a major problem for the FSU defense. While they have done better this year at containing running quarterbacks, they haven’t faced a Greg Ward Jr.. The key for the ‘Noles to slow down Ward Jr. will be the defensive ends. If they can get containment and force Ward to run in between the tackles, Florida State has a much better chance of winning this game. DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat are going to have a very busy day containing Ward Jr.. If his legs weren’t enough of a threat, Ward Jr. is a very efficient passer completing 68.1% of his passes on the year. His quarterback rating is 80.2, good for 12th in the country. Ward Jr. also protects the ball well, only throwing 5 interceptions this year. If FSU wants to win this game, it starts by slowing down number 1.

Defensively, the Cougars are aggressive in their 3-4 scheme. They are a veteran group with a lot of experience. They have been more solid against the run then they have against the pass this year, as they boast the 12th ranked run defense in the nation. This will be a big test for Dalvin Cook and the Seminole offensive line, although Cook found great success against a similarly ranked run defense in Florida. Sean Maguire must be efficient through the air and especially off play action. I think the athleticism of FSU’s offense will be a huge factor in the game. Kermit Whitfield has been a huge asset in the slot this year, and he should have a big day. Look for Florida State to hit Whitfield on crossing routes off of play action after running Cook heavily.

4 Things 2 Watch:

1) Ermon Lane’s Replacement

While Lane’s contributions to the passing game were minimal this year, he is a terrific blocker and will be sorely missed by FSU in that aspect. One of the other wide receivers must step up to fill his shoes, and my guess is George Campbell. He played sparingly early in the season, but has not been seen since. He had an awesome touchdown catch and run in the spring game as an early enrolled true freshman, and his high school highlight reel is impressive. Other options to fill Lane’s shoes are Ja’Vonn Harrison, Nyqwan Murray, and Da’Vante Phillips. Should be interesting to see what Coach Fisher does come Thursday.

2) Greg Ward Jr. Extending Plays

This is what he Ward Jr. is exceptionally good at, using his feet to extend time in the pocket on passing plays. If coverage is good, he’s very quick to tuck the ball and run. Florida State has a bad track record with dual threat quarterbacks, but have done a much better job this year. Tulsa found success in containing Ward Jr. by moving the pocket to one side, and using a delayed blitz on the opposite side like so:

If rushing four men isn’t working, this is a great way to slow down Ward Jr. and the Houston offense.

3) Players Leaving Early

There’s a few players who might rep the Garnett and Gold one last time in Atlanta as Juniors. They are Jalen Ramsey, Roberto Aguayo, and DeMarcus Walker. While I think Ramsey and Aguayo will forgo their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft, there’s a good chance Walker will stay. As the best player on the ‘Noles defensive line, it would be huge if Walker returned for his senior season as a leader on defense. If not, he had a great last season and is the first ‘Nole to reach double digit sacks since 2012. All three of those guys have bright futures ahead of them, so enjoy watching them one last time for FSU if they do declare for the draft.

4) Setting up 2016

It was well documented that Florida State’s 2015 season was a “rebuilding” year. Well, that rebuilding year saw the ‘Noles go 10-2 with wins over rivals Florida and Miami along with a New Year’s six bowl invitation. A win in the Peach Bowl will give FSU a huge boost in momentum going into next year’s title run. Expect Coach Fisher to maybe play more young guys and open up the playbook a lot. A loss wouldn’t necessarily hurt Florida State but a win would be the icing on a great 2015 season.

Forecast:

I think this ones going to be a shootout. While Florida State’s defense hasn’t given up more than 25 points in a game this year, they haven’t faced an offense quite like Houston’s. Greg Ward Jr. and Dalvin Cook will both have big days, and there’s going to be a lot of scoring. The athleticism of FSU will eventually prevail, and the Houston defense will be worn out. Houston’s defense also likes to arm tackle, so expect Cook to have a couple long touchdown runs. I’ll take the ‘Noles 48-38 in a close one. This game should be fun and in front of a very FSU friendly crowd. It was a great 2015 season, and as soon as this game ends the road to the 2016 College Football Playoffs begins for the ‘Noles.

Ben Brewton
Writer at Nole Gameday covering football and basketball. FSU alum. Follow me on twitter (@Ben_Brewton) and we can talk sports. On the 8th day, God created college football.

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