Throughout the 2015 season, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher has had to be patient with his young offense. With the departure of quarterback Everett Golson, FSU will not feature any seniors on offense during the Chic-Fila Peach Bowl on Thursday.
However, the Seminoles have improved throughout the season on both the offensive line and at wide receiver. Quarterback Sean Maguire also has garnered more confidence after winning at Florida. Most importantly, star running back Dalvin Cook has had time to rest and should be more explosive in the Peach Bowl.
On offense, the Seminoles are far more confident then they were earlier in season, but Coach Fisher, wide receiver’s coach Lawrence Dawsey, and quarterback’s coach Randy Sanders, have the challenge of coming up with a game plan against Houston defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s aggressive scheme.
On the defensive line, Houston features Tomme Mark and Cameron Malveaux at defensive end, and B.J. Singleton at nose tackle. Malveaux has great length at 6’6 and is a constant threat to swat away passes. The defensive line focuses on stopping the run, not amassing too many sacks, but they do make a decent amount of tackles for loss. The Seminoles’ offensive line does however out-weigh Houston’s front four by 40 pounds.
Arguably the strongest unit on the defense, the linebacker core is what cause problems for Florida State. Inside strongside backer Elandon Roberts has 132 total tackles, 17 for loss, and also gained six sacks. Strongside outside backer Steven Taylor has 86 tackles, 16 for loss, and earned nine sacks. Weakside linebackers Matthew Adams and Tyus Bower also contribute. The linebackers bring most of the pressure so FSU’s young offensive line of Roderick Johnson, Kareem Are, Alec Eberle, Wilson Bell, and Brock Ruble (Chad Mavety is out with an injury), must handle the linebacker blitzes. Tight end Ryan Izzo and running backs Dalvin Cook and Jacques Patrick must be ready to stay in and pass protect on throwing downs.
The secondary for Houston is also very aggressive. Cornerback William Jackson III has been tested all season, but has performed quite well, having 24 passes defended on the season along with three interceptions. Brandon Wilson returns to his corner spot after playing running back the past two games. Safety Trevon Stewart plays close to the line-of-scrimmage, as he has 72 tackles, 9.5 for loss, and he has six sacks. The other safety, Adrian McDonald, leads the team with four interceptions and he stays deep in coverage.
Look for Houston to commit to stopping Dalvin Cook and the FSU running game. The Cougars will send run blitzes and try to use their speed to get past the blocks of the offensive line. Despite this, FSU does have a size advantage and should be able to capitalize. No team in America can stop a healthy Dalvin Cook. The commitment to stopping the run should allow receivers Jesus Bobo Wilson, Kermit Whitfield, and Travis Rudolph to receiver single coverage. The wideouts must get open against tight man-to-man coverage and comeback to the ball as Houston’s corners are aggressive.
The key to the game is FSU quarterback Sean Maguire. He must correctly identify the proper blitz protections and also know where his hot routes are. If Maguire can manage the pressure and accurately deliver passes, then the passing game should succeed, as receivers would then be able to gain yards after the catch. If FSU’s running game is successful, then Maguire should be able to throw the all deep off of play-action, particularly on first down.
When it comes to special teams, Houston’s kicker Ty Cummings is 7 for 7 on the season, but he rarely attempts kicks longer than 40 yards. Punter Logan Piper averages 40.2 yards per punt, a respectable margin. FSU specialists Roberto Aguayo and Cason Beatty appear to be the superior duo. The All-American, Aguayo, is 20 for 24 this season. After a much-maligned career, Beatty has averaged 44.5 yards per punt this season.
Two x-factors are return-men Demarcus Ayers and Kermit Whitfield for Houston and Florida State respectively are both dangerous in the return game. Look for both kickers to attempt to pin the opposing returners deep and force touchbacks or fair catches.
If Florida State protects the ball, and avoids costly procedure penalties, then they should have no problem with moving the ball. Having a talent like Dalvin Cook at tailback is too much for any team to stop. Cook has 211 carries for 1658 yards and 18 touchdowns. He along with the rest of the offense should showcase their speed and prowess on the fast turf of the Georgia Dome on Thursday.