USF opponent preview: Despite new face under center, FSU shows no sign of slowing down

Sophomore quarterback Quinton Flowers and the Bulls made strides on offense in their opener against Florida A&M, but will face a much stiffer challenge in 11th-ranked Florida State on Saturday. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

Before USF's highly-anticipated matchup at No. 11 Florida State on Saturday, Oracle sports editor Jeff Odom caught up with FSU beat reporter Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel to break down the 'Noles.

Jeff Odom: What was your biggest takeaway from FSU's opener against Texas State?

Brendan Sonnone: "It is tough to glean too much from a contest where one opponent is physically superior to the other, just as I’m sure you’re having the same problem reading too much into USF’s win over FAMU.

"With that being said, I think the defense was aesthetically better than last year. By that, I mean there were bigger hits, less assignment errors and it appeared to be a total team effort. In 2014, FSU’s defense took a huge step back because it lacked driven upperclassmen. It’s early, but the defense just looked noticeably more cohesive last Saturday."

JO: How has Florida State's offense changed with Everett Golson now under center instead of Jameis Winston?

BS: "Jimbo Fisher has always liked to run a little bit of everything, from pro-style passing concepts to zone read. That puts a heavy burden on his offensive players, but it also makes transitioning from one philosophy to another pretty easy. For example, we saw some option attacks with Jameis Winston at the helm, maybe a couple a game. The offense was basically a pro-style attack, however.

"In one game with Everett Golson – who is more mobile than Winston – there was much more of an emphasis on read-option. On top of that, it appears that FSU is going to lean heavily on running backs Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender this season, hoping that the one-two punch can lighten Golson’s workload and set up a lot of play-action passes and misdirection-type plays."

JO: Dalvin Cook, who just racked up his fourth straight 100-yard game, is an obvious focal point for USF's defense to hone in on during Saturday's game. USF's defense held Florida A&M to 12 rushing yards in its opener, but is there any way to slow Cook down?

BS: "Sure. Cook is emerging as an elite runner, but he isn’t without his flaws. Cook missed a few cuts against Texas State and out-ran a few blocks – I’m obviously being nitpicky given that the sophomore had 156 rushing yards and two scores. USF is much bigger up front than Texas State, so FSU’s young offensive line (four players made their first career start last week) may not be as dominant.

"Like in any contest, winning the trenches is key for both teams. Slowing down Dalvin Cook starts with slowing down his offensive line. Cook does most of his damage on breakaway runs, so forcing him to take 3-5 yards at a time and preventing the home run is big for the Bulls."

JO: A lot of attention has been on FSU's offense this week, but what about the 'Noles' defense? What are its biggest strength and weaknesses?

BS: "FSU is deep up front, the deepest I’ve seen in my three years on the beat. The Seminoles have stout run stoppers in Nile Lawrence-Stample and Derrick Nnadi, but can replace them on passing downs with quicker guys like Giorgio Newberry and defensive end DeMarcus Walker. The linebackers are solid when healthy (which they currently are) and the secondary is guided by All-American Jalen Ramsey.

"It will be interesting to see how cornerback Marquez White – Ramsey’s counterpart – does down the road when he’s tested by pass-heavy offenses. For right now FSU has some unproven areas, but no known weaknesses that have been exposed."

JO: In 2009, USF kind of did the unthinkable and dominated a ranked Florida State team in Tallahassee. Do you see any way that happens again, or does Jimbo Fisher have his guys pretty locked in?

BS: "Those were two very different programs. FSU was at the trail end of the Lost Decade under Bobby Bowden and USF was in full swing under Jim Leavitt.  Man, how things change. I don’t see this USF team as proficient as the one that upset FSU in 2009, and I certainly do not think FSU resembles that 2009 squad (which finished 7-6 overall, 4-4 in the ACC – so, USF ended up beating a mediocre group).

"Long answer short, no. It would take a lot of odd things to occur for USF to have a chance."