Behind Enemy Lines: Brendan Sonnone, Orlando Sentinel

Jameis Winston

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON — What you’ve seen and what you’ve heard about Florida State, can be attested for right here by one of the guys who’s covered this squad all season long.

Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel is in his first year covering the team (hey, just like the beat writer and self-proclaimed czar of THIS blog!), and he’s got some solid insight on No. 5 Florida State. He wastes no time putting into perspective just how dangerous the Seminoles are from the very first line.

Give Brendan a follow at @OS_BSonnone.

Aaron Brenner, Post and Courier: Exactly how similar is Jameis Winston’s skill set to EJ Manuel? It seems like the offense really hasn’t missed a beat, despite losing a first-round QB and NFL Opening Day starter.

Brendan Sonnone, Orlando Sentinel: I think it’s weird for a lot of people to grasp – and I’m still trying to full comprehend it myself – but Winston, right now as a freshman, is better than EJ Manuel was as a senior. And that’s no knock at all on EJ. Winston just has the indefinable aura about him that doesn’t come around that often. Obviously Winston’s sample size is small, but he’s given us every indication that he is a legitimate Heisman contender and an elite QB.

In terms of how the two compare and contrast, Manuel had the edge in overall athleticism. Winston can run when he has to, but is certainly more of a pocket passer. But in terms of pure passing, the edge goes to Winston.

Brenner: How prepared is the talented FSU offensive line to handle Vic Beasley, as well as the Tigers’ depth of pass-rushers along the defensive front?

Sonnone: I feel like FSU should certainly be leery of not just Beasley and the rest of the Clemson front. FSU has not seen a group that athletic or deep this year.

The Seminoles have held up fairly well against some aggressive defenses, but teams have had to send a lot of guys to get to Winston – and when they do get to him, they don’t always get him down. Clemson doesn’t need to routinely rely on blitzes to pressure the QB, the Tigers can do it with a lot of stunts. The FSU line is very good, but its strength is run blocking, not as much pass pro.

Brenner: Has Jeremy Pruitt’s defensive system been even more aggressive and attacking than what Mark Stoops guided last year?

Sonnone: Without a doubt. The Seminoles are still installing a lot of things and, but we’ve seen a much more complex system than in past years. Guys are moving around and generating pressure from different spots, not just defensive end, which was the case under Stoops. The results have been mixed this year, but it looks like Pruitt’s scheme is catered to defending spread teams like Clemson.

Brenner: OK, other than Jameis Winston and Lamarcus Joyner, give us a name or two who’s got to perform to the highest level to beat Clemson.

Sonnone: The first name that comes to mind is left tackle Cameron Erving. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound junior is a monster and is projected as a first-round draft pick. But how will he hold up when matched with Beasley? He’ll easily draw the toughest one-on-one matchup of any FSU player.

I’d also look at running back Devonta Freeman. I think he’s one of the more underrated backs in the nation because he doesn’t appear to be great at any one thing, but he reads defense particularly well and has no glaring weaknesses. I think Clemson can be susceptible to good running attacks if the Tigers don’t frequently get into the backfield. A guy like Freeman – or RBs James Wilder Jr. or Karlos Williams – will have to have a big day for FSU.

Brenner: Florida State’s the defending league champ, the favored squad in this game. Would they prefer to be the perceived underdog, or do they care either way?

Sonnone: I get the sense that they don’t care. This FSU team seems a little different in that the big game doesn’t bother them. In past years, guys freaked out a little bit. But this group is focused, so it likely wouldn’t bother them if they were a 3-point favorite or a 20-point underdog.

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