Tom Zebold covers South Florida for the Lakeland Ledger, including practices, press conferences and interviews with players and coaches. Which is why he was our first choice for informed answers about what FSU can expect Saturday. Keep reading for Tom's personal game prediction.
Tom, what difference will there be, if any, with B. J. Daniels running the team?
TOM: This week we asked Mike Canales the Offensive Coordinator if they're going to make the offense more conservative with B.J. Daniels at quarterback. He said they're not going to tighten the reins at all on him. They're just going to stick to the game plan they'd been planning.
Describe USF's offense for us.
TOM: They run a spread attack. All three quarterbacks on the roster -- Grothe, Daniels, and Evan Landi, another redshirt freshman -- they're all kind of built the same way, they're all dual threats. So they'll take off with the ball about as often as they'll throw. Plus, they have an established running attack, three or four guys who can also move the ball. Last year it was running back by committee. This year they've found their guy in Mo Plancher, a senior. He had a 100 yards a couple of weeks ago. They also have a freshman back, a real speedy guy from Tampa named Lindsey Lamar. He's a small guy -- maybe 5-9, 165 -- but very quick. I compare him to Chris Rainey. Then there's Mike Ford, the biggest back they have. He's 6 - 1, 225 and the beast-type guy they go to on short yardage. He was suspended the first two games of the season but saw his first action last Saturday and scored a touchdown.
How do you expect USF to attack the Noles?
TOM: Number one, you've got to watch out for Daniels running the ball. He can hurt you more than Grothe could. Physically, he's a better quarterback than Grothe is. He's bigger and runs faster. And in the open field he almost looks like a defender, he's not afraid to really go after guys and get physical. And he has a really strong arm. He can drop back and throw it 50 yards.
I still question whether they'll play it conservatively or open it up to big plays. Because they have the ability to make big plays.
How experienced is the offensive line Daniels will play behind?
TOM: There's been a lot of shifting around. They have a lot of young guys who've been reserves who are stepping in. And they've done pretty well so far, but it's hard to tell what they really can do. They certainly haven't seen the level of play they're going to see Saturday.
Does Leavitt run many trick plays?
TOM: They're in his arsenal, but mostly they've been running a Wildcat formation using B.J. Daniels. They'd slip him in to replace Grothe before he was injured. That's how they scored a couple of touchdowns this year. Daniels would fake a throw, or not even fake, and just run up the middle. So that's something we might see on Saturday.
Who's the Go-To receiver for Daniels?
TOM: Carlton Mitchell. He's a junior (6-4, 212) who physically can stack up against cornerbacks at any level. This year he's playing up to his potential finally.
USF's secondary is one of the tops in the nation against the pass. How do they match up against FSU's receivers?
TOM: I don't think it'll be a shutdown game. They have a lot of experience at safety. They have one true freshman cornerback, Kayvon Webster (5-11, 184). But covering USF last year and this year, they really haven't faced anything like FSU. So they'll give up some yards, but still I think they'll play pretty tough. Tougher than people might expect.
How about USF's special teams?
TOM: One big factor is the kicking game. Maikon Bonani was the guy who kicked the winning field goal against Kansas last year. But he was injured before the season when he fell off a ride at Busch Gardens. So they switched to Delbert Alvarado, a senior who lost the job last year. And he's very inconsistent. Then last week they tried a walk-on named Eric Schwartz. He made a field goal, so I think they're going with him as the starting kicker. If it comes down to a field goal or two on Saturday, I don't know if I could trust him in a pressure situation like that.
Will it take time to get up to speed against FSU, since the best team they've played so far is Western Kentucky?
TOM: It's hard to say. Joe Tresey the Defensive Coordinator was saying FSU can make you miss, because they're a step faster than what we've been seeing and that's something you can't simulate in practice. Even on special teams, he said, you can't make as many mistakes as you would against one of those lower level schools.
How big is this game for the USF program?
TOM: For USF it's definitely not just another game. George Selvie (6-4, 250 DE), who's from up in the panhandle, has been talking about it ever since the season started -- how big of a game this is for the program. USF has had some big wins, but this would be important because it's one of Florida's big three. If they want it to be a big four, they're going to have to beat teams like FSU when they get the opportunity. And they already have Miami at the end of the season, and next year they play Florida.
Any predictions on the final score?
TOM: I'm predicting 31 - 17, FSU. There's not going to be an upset. I think they'll keep it close, but don't think they truly have enough to win up there -- not this year. Of course, with as many top 25 upsets as they've had over the years, they could prove me wrong.