When FSU runs the ball
NIU allows only 3.3 yards per carry, but subtract the sacks and it’s 4.05 yards per carry. Meanwhile, FSU gets 5.55 yards per carry, among the top 10 nationally. Everyone talks about the Seminoles’ expected speed advantage. But in a reversal of stereotypes, tackle-to-tackle, the Florida team’s offensive line averages 319 pounds and the meat-eating Midwesterners’ front four averages 272 pounds and that’s putting their only 300-pounder as a starter (ironically, Sunrise’s Ken Bishop). With big, thick backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. and needing to defuse NIU’s front-four pass rush, don’t be surprised if FSU works between the tackles to wear out NIU.
When FSU throws the ball
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So much here depends on when and how Florida State is throwing the ball. If it establishes the run or just comes out firing, it will get the play-action game going and get NIU on its heels. But if the Seminoles fall into predictability with the passing game, look for a mad Huskies mush toward EJ Manuel. They’re tied for 11th in sacks nationally, 2.92 per game. They’re not bad at coverage, either — 14th in pass efficiency defense — but it will be interesting to see how well NIU covers Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw or Kelvin Benjamin on short to medium routes across the field.
When Northern Illinois Runs
With running backs Leighton Settle and Keith Harris missing, the Huskies will have to rely on Jordan Lynch and Akeem Daniels. Lynch, who accounts for 46.6 percent of Northern’s rushes, is used to the workload. Daniels, who ran the ball 65 times this season, isn’t. The pounding on his 5-7, 184-pound body could have him creaking by the fourth quarter, but he could also slip under FSU tacklers. Expect the Huskies to run at freshman Mario Edwards and away from junior defensive end Bjoern Werner and junior linebacker Christian Jones. Florida State’s lateral mobility could discombobulate Northern early in the game, and Northern’s pace could throw off the Seminoles and pop open some surprise holes.
When Northern Illinois Passes
Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes, a Miami Norland High graduate and Thorpe Award finalist, against Huskies senior wide receiver Martel Moore could be one of the highlight matchups of this game. Moore and Perez Ashford will have to beat Rhodes or Nick Waisome early to gain some space. Not only will the Huskies suffer a confidence hit in the passing game, but also that will help unplug the running game. Just as Northern Illinois can sack and cover, the Seminoles do it even better — 26th in the nation, 2.54 sacks per game, and third in pass-efficiency defense).
Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins is the highest-scoring kicker in NCAA history. Hopkins went 5 for 5 from 50 yards and beyond, and four of those came in his current streak of 10 in a row. Northern Illinois’ Matthew Sims proved he could kick under pressure with a 40-yard field goal in overtime of the MAC Championship Game. FSU’s Rashad Greene ranks No. 2 nationally in punt returns and has two touchdowns, and the Seminoles are 16th in kickoff returns.
Both staffs know how to prepare teams for a bowl game. Both staffs have been donning different or additional hats as members have moved or prepare to move on to new jobs, more so for the Seminoles, however. Jimbo Fisher won his first two bowl games as Florida State coach. When it comes time to make adjustments in the game, expect Florida State to do it better not because of better coaching but because of greater depth of personnel.