On Saturday, the Florida State Seminoles will come riding into Norman with tomahawks waving to take on the Oklahoma Sooners in one of the biggest non-conference matchups in college football this season.
In Week One, the Sooners looked anything but invincible, getting pushed to the wire by an upstart Utah State team at home at Owen Field. Oklahoma escaped with a 31-24 victory, but in the process, raised a lot of questions from just about everyone in the country from die-hard fans to analysts to haters.
Florida State on the other hand looked extremely dominant in a 59-6 romp over Samford. The Seminoles raced out to a 42-0 in the second quarter before Samford was able to kick a field goal at the end of the half to end the shutout.
Both teams are hard to gauge coming into this game. Oklahoma obviously has more issues than people probably anticipated, but everyone and their mother knows that the Sooners will come out on Saturday with an entirely different attitude than the one that they played with last week. They must, or they are going to see the nation's longest home win streak end at 31 games.
Florida State didn't exactly face stellar competition in Samford, so the jury is still out on this team. Oklahoma will provide a huge test for this young, but athletic Seminole team under first year coach Jimbo Fisher.
Offensively, Florida State is led by Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder, a senior, missed the end of the 2009 season because of injuries, but is back and looking extremely good so far in 2010. Ponder is a very solid quarterback who makes good decisions and is an extremely accurate passer. OU must get pressure on Ponder in order to prevent him from getting into a rhythm and picking the Sooner secondary apart.
That will be hard to do however, because Florida State returns its entire offensive line for the second consecutive season, led by potential All-American left guard Rodney Hudson. The Sooners have their work cut out for them, especially since they were unable to consistently put pressure on Utah State quarterback Diondre Borel. The bright spot for Oklahoma is that defensive end Frank Alexander returns from a sprained ankle and will give the Sooners another fresh body to rotate up front.
The other skill positions on offense for Florida State contain no dynamic playmakers. Instead, the Seminoles have a plethora of athletes who can all make plays with their feet and hands. At running back, the group is made up of Jermaine Thomas, Chris Thompson, Lonnie Pryor, and Ty Jones. All four scored a touchdown last week, some rushing and some receiving, so this is a group that can really handle the ball well in space.
At receiver, Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling are the unquestioned leaders of the group, but still have a very athletic and young supporting cast behind them. Two sophomores, Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith, are players that Fisher has been raving about for some time and really feels that could make a significant impact this year. With Ponder being a very efficient passer, you can count on Florida State being able to make at least a couple plays through the air.
Defense is another story. Last season, the Seminoles were woefully awful on defense, ranking among the bottom of the NCAA in most every statistical category. To put some things in perspective, Samford accumulated 300 yards against Florida State last week. Last season, FSU gave up at least 300 yards of offense to every opponent they faced. Last week was the best defensive performance since 2008.
There are not a lot of proven playmakers on defense. The defensive line is very young and hasn't had anyone separate themselves as a leader up front, although the Seminoles did accumulate four sacks last week. Linebacker is a better unit, led by Nigel Bradham.
In the secondary, Fisher believes he has a lot of really solid players, led by Greg Reid. Reid, however, is known more for his prowess in the return game than as a cornerback. He is still an extremely good player and an incredible athlete with lots of speed.
The defense will certainly be tested by the Sooners offense, especially on the ground. The Seminoles' worst area on defense was their run defense in 2009. That area better improve quickly because they are facing a healthy DeMarco Murray who ran for 218 yards last week against the Aggies. If the defense takes some pressure off of Ponder by making stops, then the Seminoles have an excellent chance to win this game.
The first matchup between these teams since the 2000 national championship game, which the Sooners won 13-2, should be an absolute fantastic game. A 2:30 CST kickoff, a packed Owen Field, and a national television audience should make for an extremely exciting afternoon of college football.
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