Previewing 2019 Football: vs. Florida State

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Florida State is spiraling out of control. The Seminoles have lost three of their last four games and are a week removed from their worst offensive performances of the season—a 10-point, 203-yard effort against Miami—one that forced Director of Athletics David Coburn to pull the cord on head coach Willie Taggart after just 21 games. Taggart’s firing comes with an $18 million buyout and one year after FSU missed out on a bowl game for the first time in 37 years.

Now, for the second time in the past three years, defensive line coach Odell Haggins will serve as the Seminoles’ interim head coach. Back in 2017, Jimbo Fisher stepped down after eight years at the helm. That season, FSU really fell off the tracks in Chestnut Hill when the Seminoles suffered a 35-3 blowout loss—by far their largest defeat of the year—during Boston College football’s fourth annual Red Bandana Game. Once again, FSU will be in town for the honorary event, and it only has more questions surrounding the program than the last time.

Who is BC playing?
Florida State

When is BC playing?
Saturday, Nov. 9, 12 p.m.

Where is BC playing?
Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

How to Watch:
The game will be aired on the ACC Network.

Series History:

BC has lost eight of its last nine meetings with FSU and trails the all-time series, 11-5. As mentioned above, the Eagles’ lone win over the Seminoles this decade came at the expense of Fisher and Co. two years ago

BC held FSU to just 213 total yards of offense and three points, forcing a trio of turnovers and allowing just 10 first downs all game. On the other side of the ball, AJ Dillon rumbled for 149 yards and a score, while Anthony Brown tossed a touchdown and ran for another. It was a magical night that all started with a Jeff Smith trick play touchdown pass to Kobay White. The Eagles’ 35 points were the most they’ve ever scored against FSU. And the win marked BC’s first three-game ACC winning streak since 2013.

Last year’s game versus the Seminoles was just as significant for the Eagles—but for other reasons. With a 21-16 lead in hand and just 2:52 to play in Tallahassee, head coach Steve Addazio called a timeout on a 4th-and-1 from the FSU 40. Despite having attempted to convert from that same position twice earlier in the game, Addazio had Brown try to get the Seminoles to jump offsides with a hard count. Ultimately, BC took the delay of game penalty and punted the game away. All it took was three plays for Deondre Francois to hook up with Tamorrion Terry over the top for a game-winning 74-yard touchdown, knocking off the then-No. 20 Eagles and preventing BC from picking up its elusive eighth win.

What to expect from FSU:

boston college football

Offense:

All year, the Seminoles have been going back and forth between quarterbacks James Blackman and Alex Hornibrook. Blackman, who started practically the entire 2017 season as a freshman following Francois’ Week 1 patella tendon injury, entered the year as the starter. Now a redshirt sophomore, Blackman recorded nine touchdowns to just two interceptions in the first three games of the season, though FSU went 1-2. Then, the South Bay, Fla., native suffered a knee injury against Louisville, opening the gates for Hornibrook.

Hornibrook, a graduate transfer that posted a 26-6 record as a starter at Wisconsin, made the most of the opportunity. He came off the bench against the Cardinals to throw for 255 yards and two touchdowns, leading FSU to its first ACC win of the year. He went on to make his first start of the season against North Carolina State and turned in a 316-yard, three-touchdown performance amid a 31-13 victory. The quarterbacks split time at Clemson, before Blackman was named the starter for the Seminoles’ Week 8 loss to Wake Forest. Hornibrook has started the last two games, though, defeating Syracuse but losing to Miami.

The seesaw that is the quarterback position hasn’t tilted either way this week, with Haggins telling reporters that “We’ll talk about it at the end of the week,” and that offensive coordinator Kendal Briles will pick the starter. Regardless of who is behind center on Saturday afternoon, the Seminoles’ offense will probably run through Cam Akers. 

The junior is currently third in the ACC in rushing yards (983) and second in rushing touchdowns (12), one spot behind Dillon (13). He’s averaging 5.0 yards per carry and has cleared the century mark on five separate occasions this year. He’s also already logged a career-high 24 receptions this season, and heck, he’s even completed four passes in 2019. All in all, though, FSU is a middle-of-the-pack offensive team that has allowed the fifth-most sacks (35) this season and turned the ball over 13 times.

Defense:

boston college football

FSU enters the weekend ranked 11th in the ACC and 101st nationally in total defense. The Seminoles are giving up 434.1 yards per game and 5.37 yards per play. Defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett’s unit will be up against the third-best offense in the conference on Saturday, and, to make matters worse, the Seminoles will be without defensive tackle Marvin Wilson. News broke on Thursday that the junior—who ranked third on the team in tackles (44), second in tackles for loss (8.5), and first in sacks (5.0)—will be out for the year after undergoing hand surgery.

Whether or not FSU’s defensive line can slow BC’s rushing offense, which clocks in at fifth in the country, will likely determine Saturday’s contest. The Seminoles have held their own against the run this year, conceding just 154.7 yards per game on the ground, good for 60th nationally. Of the four top-50 rushing offenses that they’ve faced this season, only one—Clemson’s—has piled up more than 180 rushing yards. FSU even bottled up Louisville, which now ranks 23rd in rushing, limiting the Cardinals to a mere 124 rushing yards on 2.6 yards per carry in Week 4. 

Even without Wilson, the Seminoles have a handful of players that can apply pressure. Defensive end Janarius Robinson has tallied 39 tackles this year, a team-leading nine of which have been behind the line of scrimmage. Throw in a trio of sacks, and the redshirt junior is a threat off the edge. As far as interior penetration is concerned, the Seminoles have a pair of defensive tackles—Robert Cooper and Cory Durden—that can wreak havoc in the backfield. Cooper and Durden have notched 4.0 and 4.5 tackles for loss, respectively, and Durden is second on the team in sacks.

It’s never a good sign when two of a team’s top-four tacklers are defensive backs. The Seminoles have struggled all year against the pass, allowing 279.4 yards per game through the air—the 13th-most in the country. Luckily for FSU, BC quarterback and former preferred walk-on Dennis Grosel enters the weekend with just a 41.4 percent completion percentage. But he was very accurate last week at Syracuse, going 8-of-10 for 195 yards and three scores, and he has all the tools to exploit a weak secondary.

Outlook:

BC (5-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) is only a 2.5-point favorite, and, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Eagles have just a 46.4 percent chance to beat the Seminoles (4-5, 3-4). The Eagles have a lot of things going their way, though. 

They’re playing at home in the sixth annual Red Bandana Game, commemorating Welles Crowther, a former BC men’s lacrosse player and graduate who saved more than a dozen people in the South Tower of the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11 attacks. Donning paisley on their helmets, gloves, and cleats, players have traditionally upped the ante for the honorary event. Couple that atmosphere with the 43-degree high, and you have the perfect kind of home-field advantage for BC.

That’s not to say that Saturday will be a walk in the park for the Eagles. BC’s defense has been historically bad this season—by program standards—and, once again, Addazio’s team has lost games that it probably shouldn’t have. But a victory would give the Eagles bowl eligibility and guarantee BC at least four ACC wins for the fifth time in Addazio’s seven-year tenure.

Images by Mark Wallheiser and Mark Cannon / AP Photo

Andy Backstrom
About Andy Backstrom 432 Articles
Andy is the managing editor of The Heights. He is from the suburbs of Philly, but has been an Arizona Cardinals enthusiast since the first grade. Every so often, he'll replay Super Bowl XLIII on Madden to exact revenge on his father's beloved Steelers. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyHeights.