Florida State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Savannah State

Paul Tierney@PTT91Correspondent ISeptember 7, 2012

Florida State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Savannah State

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    For the first time in almost a decade, the Florida State Seminoles are serious contenders for the BCS National Championship. Coming into the weekend ranked sixth in the nation is a feat in itself. However, for 2012 to be a success, the 'Noles must live up their preseason expectations. Although this weekend's matchup against FCS opponent Savannah State will not be competitive, there are still several things that all die-hard FSU fans should watch for.

    The spread on this game favors the Seminoles by 70.5 points. In fact, that's the biggest margin in college football history. Savannah State is coming off a 84-0 drubbing by Oklahoma State, so it's fair to expect a similar result this weekend.

    However, no matter the score, the 'Noles still have to play 60 minutes of football. With that, there are still several question marks on this roster that need to be answered before the team begins play against FBS opponents. 

    Let's take a look at five keys to Saturday's matchup and how they will affect the remainder of FSU's run at a BCS bowl game.

Pass Rush Must Remain Ferocious

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    The foundation of any good defense is a solid pass rush. In a conference that has seen an influx of teams running high-tempo, spread offenses, getting to the quarterback without blitzing is going to be a major factor in determining FSU's success in 2012.

    Last week against Murray State, the 'Noles put up six sacks, with four of them coming from junior Bjoern Werner. Although Savannah State will have serious issues accounting for FSU's overwhelming talent on its defensive line, it's important that the team does not let up.

    When it comes time for conference play, the Seminoles are going to rely heavily on their pass rush. Savannah State might not be able to block it, but Clemson and Miami will be. Saturday will be a good opportunity not only for FSU to work on some things and make sure everyone knows the core of their defensive scheme, but also to examine the depth on the defensive line and see what they have.

    Look for the Seminoles' defensive line to come up big against some weak competition. Ideally, seeing increased production from players not named Bjoern Werner would prove that this team has more than one guy capable of getting to the quarterback. With Brandon Jenkins out for the season, a big game from Anthony McCloud could put the ACC on notice.

Offensive Line Must Be Consistent

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    The biggest question mark on FSU's roster heading into this season was the offensive line. A year ago, this group ranked last in the ACC in protecting the quarterback and was 111th nationally. Needless to say, if FSU has serious BCS aspirations this season, the offensive line must improve drastically.

    Last week was a good start. The 'Noles rushed for seven touchdowns on the ground, while not giving up any sacks. Although they were playing an FCS opponent, seeing FSU dominate up front was a breath of fresh air considering just how awful the offensive line was a year ago.

    Youth will be the biggest inhibitor on the line this season. With two juniors starting along with three sophomores, there is not a lot of experience to go around. Again, we can't begin to measure the progress of this group before they play a FBS opponent. However, all eyes will continue to be on the offensive line as the team begins conference play next week.

EJ Manuel Must Improve

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    Fifth-year senior EJ Manuel has a lot to prove heading into his final year at FSU. While it's not at all fair to say he has been a failure as FSU's quarterback, the 'Noles need him to have a spectacular senior campaign if they want to make it to a national championship.

    Last week against an FCS opponent in Murray State, Manuel threw for 188 yards and a touchdown. However, there was also an interception mixed in, which can not happen often this season if FSU wants to remain nationally acclaimed. Last season's rebound performance went a long way in silencing his doubters, but this season Manuel must become the dominant, dual-threat quarterback that scouts thought he would be coming out of high school.

    This week will be a good opportunity for Manuel to perfect his craft before FSU begins to play a more competitive schedule. Don't look so much at the stat sheet to determine if Manuel plays well on Saturday. It's more important that he makes the correct reads, communicates with his wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and makes good decisions with the ball. 

    If we see all those things from EJ Manuel in 2012, he has the talent to be considered among the best quarterbacks in the nation. Saturday is just one step in a long journey for him.

Avoid Penalties

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    Since the 2000 season, Florida State is the most penalized team in all of college football. Needless to say, this is a serious issue for a program that wants to win a national championship this season. For the 'Noles to have any chance of reaching the heights that many expect them to attain, minimizing penalties will go a long way in reaching success.

    This Saturday's game will not be competitive. Savannah State was 1-10 a year ago, but when playing inferior competition, it's important not to develop any bad habits.

    If FSU gets three or four personal foul penalties on Saturday, the team will likely still win by a wide margin. However, if they do the same thing in conference play, it could possibly remove them from BCS contention. 

    FSU is as talented as almost any other team in the nation. However, the 'Noles are more than capable of beating themselves on any given day. This team needs to find a way to make the refs keep the flags in their pockets in order to have success this season. Saturday will be hopefully be good practice in doing so.

Game Must Not Be Closer Than Expected

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    Obviously, FSU does not need to cover the 70.5 point spread to consider this game a success. However, it's important that the 'Noles win this game with authority. If Savannah State breaks the opening kickoff for a touchdown or if EJ Manuel throws an early interception, this game could wind up closer than expected.

    To say Savannah State is not nearly as talented as FSU would be a huge understatement. FSU is head-and-shoulders better than them. However, after starting the season off with two FCS opponents, the 'Noles must not leave any doubt that they are for real this season.

    FSU does not have to lose this game in order to dash their BCS title hopes this year. If Savannah State miraculously plays the Seminoles to within a touchdown or two, this team is going to have a hard time making a serious case for a national championship appearance at the end of the season. It's important that this game is a laugher from the get-go.