Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 12/31/12
Florida State planned to end the 2012 season in Miami at Sun Life Stadium. The Seminoles are just playing a week earlier then planned. While the goal was to be playing for the national title, Florida State fell short. But the Seminoles have won an ACC championship, and they have a chance to capture the programs first BCS bowl win since 1999 on Tuesday night if they defeat Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl. Its not the matchup that most Florida State fans wanted. Ticket sales have been lukewarm. Analysts have panned the matchup, and Vegas oddsmakers placed Florida State as a 13-point favorite. But the game has some interesting storylines beyond the obvious David vs. Goliath plotline. Theres a new coach at Northern Illinois in Rod Carey and a fill-in defensive coordinator at Florida State in D.J. Eliot. Theres Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, who has more offensive yards this year than anyone else in the nation, going up against a Florida State defense thats among the 10 best in the country. Theres a Seminoles offense that has at times been electric and at other times non-existent. Top players QB EJ Manuel has a 67.9 completion percentage, 3,101 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The senior is accurate but at times has made poor reads downfield. WR Rashad Greene has 52 catches for 696 yards and five touchdowns, leading the team in each category. Manuel likes to distribute the wealth, but Greene is Florida States playmaker. DE Bjoern Werner has 40 tackles and 13 sacks. The junior is one of the best in the nation at rushing the passer but is also an effective run-stopper and he will be busy trying to wrap up Lynch on Tuesday. DB Xavier Rhodes has 35 tackles and three interceptions. The junior corner will also get the coverage assignment of Northern Illinois 1,000-yard receiver, Martel Moore. Strengths Few defenses are as good against both the run and the pass as Florida States. The Seminoles are third vs. the pass (160 yards per game) and fifth vs. the run (allowing 93 yards per game). Florida State has also run the ball effectively, rushing for 180 or more yards in nine games this season (all of them wins). Weakness Florida State has had difficulties in the second-half of games, being shut out on the road in a loss at NC State and also going scoreless in the win over Georgia Tech. The Seminoles have shown they can put points on the board but often lack consistency. Three keys to a Florida State win Minimize Jordan Lynchs affect on the game: Lynch throws a pass or runs the ball on 75 percent of Northern Illinois plays. Its impressive that one player can have so much control over the game. Defenses know whats coming and still have struggled to stop Lynch. He has rushed for 100 or more yards in 12 of 13 games (he rushed for 60 in the Huskies' 35-7 win against UT Martin on Sept. 8). And Lynch has led a Huskies offense that has scored 30 or more points in 12 straight games. Florida State has had four weeks to prepare for Lynch. And the Seminoles have seen plenty of mobile quarterbacks, including Virginia Techs Logan Thomas and Floridas Jeff Driskel. Florida States linebackers will be busy tracking Lynch. But the Seminoles defensive backs will often be locked up in one-on-one battles with Northern Illinois receivers like Martel Moore (1,054 yards, 12 touchdowns). Florida State has to make sure that those completions dont become big plays. Florida State must run the ball: The game wont be won solely on the shoulders of quarterback EJ Manuel. He needs running backs like Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. to carry the load, too. Florida State is at its best when coach Jimbo Fisher is able to mix a blend of the powerful running game along with the short and intermediate passes from Manuel. The Seminoles are 9-0 when they have rushed for 180 or more yards. A poor performance on the ground has led to a Florida State loss or a close win the Seminoles were held to 125 yards in the loss at NC State and 112 yards in the home loss to Florida. Virginia Tech stuffed Florida States run, holding the Seminoles to -15 yards. Limit the turnovers: Its hard to believe that these two stats can be attributed to the Florida State offense: the Seminoles average 39.9 points per game yet have 26 turnovers this season. On any given night, Florida State can put up 40 points. But the Seminoles have struggled to protect the ball, ranking 91st in turnovers allowed. Florida State has 16 combined turnovers in the past five games alone. In many games, Florida State has been good enough to get away with it. But when the goal Tuesday night is to keep Lynch & Co. on the sideline, Florida State needs to make sure that it doesnt make silly mistakes.
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