This post begins our series of previews for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Today we look at the Seminoles' offense. New head coach Jimbo Fisher has long been regarded as one of the game's better offensive minds, and, although not exactly great, his team has been fairly prolific offensively this year. The following are a few points / questions to keep in mind going into this game.
3. Which FSU Shows Up?
FSU's offense has at times been dominant, at other times listless and mistake-prone. Take, for example, the Noles' games against N. C. State and Miami. The difference between these games shows the range of possible performances you can get from FSU. Against N. C. State, FSU's offense played extremely well early on, scoring three TDs in the second quarter alone, but in the end it gained only 373 yards and committed two costly turnovers, the second a late fumble on the Wolfpack's goal line. That fumble cost FSU the game. When FSU played Miami earlier in the season, on the other hand, it showed what it can do when it plays a full game. In that one, the Noles rolled up nearly 500 yards and over 40 points. This is a team that has been a little unpredictable at times.
How can the Gamecocks force FSU into an off-game? One way is to pressure the QB. N. C. State sacked Christian Ponder three times and pressured him at other times. The Canes only produced two sacks and much less pressure. Ponder is an athletic QB who can make plays on his feet, but he's no Cameron Newton. A good rush can force him out of his game. FSU's protection has been known to buckle at time at times, so hopefully our front seven can help out the secondary by putting Ponder on his back early and often.
2. The Progress of Carolina's Secondary
After playing somewhat better against Florida and Clemson to close out the season, Carolina's secondary reverted to it's earlier-season futility against Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. A lot of the credit there goes to Auburn, who clearly has one of the nation's best offenses, but it's not like we were exactly making it hard for the Tigers. A lot of the old problems resurfaced--DBs getting juked out of their shoes, getting confused in exchange situations, and generally looking like they didn't know what they were doing. FSU is no Auburn, but it does have a QB and passing game that's capable of burning us if we don't play better than we have throughout most of the season. FSU's pro-style offense is exactly the kind of offense that has given us the most trouble this year, and the Noles are probably the most effective practitioners of this approach that we'll face. Carolina fans need to hope that the progress that was apparent late in the regular season was real and that the Auburn game was just a bad day against a great team. If that's not the case, we could be in for a long evening of giving up big plays and lots of yards through the air.
1. What's Christian Ponder's Status?
Star FSU quarterback Ponder has been dealing with an injured elbow this season and had to sit out the critical ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech. His backup E.J. Manuel is talented and lent a hand in a victory over Clemson, but a couple of key INTs against VA Tech showed that he's not equivalent to Ponder. Whether Ponder plays and what level he's ready to play at is going to be really key for a Carolina secondary that could use every little bit of help it can get. Ponder is currently listed as probably.