We made it. It’s a resounding thought for the playoffs and now, that thought is all that matters. We made it. Nothing else matters but the team in front of you. The team standing between you and the Semifinals. The Poinsettia Bowl is the site for this matchup between two great warriors. The Florida State Seminoles, and the USC Trojans. Let’s break it down.
The Seminoles got in, and that was the easy part. Quarterback Adonis Jackson is going to have to elevate his game to an entirely different level and not just because this is the playoffs. He faces a team that is looking to get back to the National Championship game, and for Adonis, he’s going to have to be extremely careful through the air against this USC secondary. He can be helped by a heavy workload for halfback Vidar Lund, something that leads to success for Florida State more often than not.
Defensively, the method is simple. Frustrate Kingston Fox as much as possible and force mistakes out of him. The path to that revolves around defensive ends Zak Howard and Latrell Graves causing pressure, forcing Fox to throw into coverage against either Juan Cantu or Tom Pence. Cain Robinson hasn’t really been as utilized this season, and even if he were, Ikkuma Tulok is there to greet him.
The Trojans come in offensively looking very different at this point in the season than they did a season ago. Halfback Cain Robinson hasn’t seen the workload that he did at this time last season, nor has receiver Mason Winters for that matter. Rather, quarterback Kingston Fox and his connection with receiver Tim Cope and tight end Sawyer Stern has been the larger story for the season. And those connections have been spotty some weeks. There’s been games where Cope has been suffocated in coverage and doesn’t have a lot of catches. Tonight, USC needs to go back to the formula, and the players, who helped get them a National Championship berth in the first place.
As for the side responsible for preventing points, they’ve got a lot going for them. Linebackers Benjamin Kaye, Xavier Halle, and Maine Patterson should be able to slow Lund, but the question is their ability to contain the legs of Adonis Jackson. Look, USC’s secondary is extremely talented, but Johnathon Greene hasn’t recorded an interception since he snagged three against Ohio State. That said, they should be able to take away any hope of a deep ball, especially against a less talented group than what the secondary boasts. Meaning all the pressure is on the legs of a quarterback and his ability to find rhythm in the quick passing game.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The strongest facet of both teams – on paper – are their secondaries, making this a very rare matchup indeed. We might see a pretty low scoring affair, but the real difference will be not in the turnovers themselves, as I expect both defenses will be able to generate one or two. No, the real difference is: which defense will come up with a scoring turnover tonight, be it a scoop and score or a pick-six?
Tight end Monte Jones gets the distinct privilege of facing his former team tonight, in a playoff game no less. That alone should be enough of a reason to watch, but only if Jackson can figure out how to work Jones into the offense. Jones has one game, just one, where he scored. He caught two touchdown passes in week three, but otherwise hasn’t found the endzone since. That needs to change tonight.
Peyton Myles has been a welcome addition to the Trojans defense this season, but now he really needs to make noise. Sure, he has a handful of games with 10+ tackles this season and he’s generated a couple of fumbles which is great. But he hasn’t quite made his mark on the defense, not yet anyways. Has he been a massive contributor? Absolutely, and he always packs a big hit or five into his game. But tonight, he needs more. He needs to be a difference maker, and needs to do that consistently.
Tom Pence’s Predictions:
Florida State 38, USC 31
Both these teams have great secondaries and the game could be a defensive battle, but this is the playoffs and I look for both to come out firing. It’s the team with the best half time adjustment that will make the difference. The ‘Noles have been doing that as of late and that is why they will be moving on.
Houston Freeman’s Predictions:
FLORIDA STATE 24, USC 31
IT’S PLAYOFF TIME Y’ALL!! USC has looked phenomenal at certain points and downright dismal in others, but it’s the fear of when they look like the best team in the league that has me picking them for the win tonight. They’ve been here before, they know how to win playoff football. FSU on the other hand, they’ve quietly played well this season, and have put themselves in the dance and anything can happen once you’re here.
DAVID ROY’S PREDICTIONS:
FLORIDA STATE 10, usc 17
Look, I won’t sugarcoat it. If you look at it on paper, USC has the edge. On tape, USC still has the edge. I’ll admit that Florida State has been trending upwards and USC has struggled down the stretch, but their offensive talent outweighs that of Florida State’s. In a close game, one between two really good defenses, give me the team with the offense that has the talent to breakthrough, even if it’s just once. I like the Trojans to move on.