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54 posts from September 2012

September 21, 2012

Devonta Freeman Mourning the Loss of his Brother

Sophomore running back Devonta Freeman will be shouldering more than just the Seminole ground game on Saturday night, he'll be shouldering grief over the loss of his younger brother this past week.

According to a report by Ira Schoffel of the Tallahassee Democrat, Freeman's brother Anthony Darling was shot and killed in an altercation this past week. Darling had moved up to Tallahassee with Freeman to stay with relatives and play football at Rickards High School. Darling was having a standout season at fullback until an altercation ended fatally with gun violence.

Per the Democrat, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said Freeman was devestated by the news but had been at practice this week and would suit up for Clemson.

I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Devonta Freeman several times for a feature that will be coming up in the paper soon, he's a good young man who's already seen more in his life than most will in a lifetime.

Freeman has dealt with the deaths of family members, close friends and just been in close proximity to it growing up in Liberty City in Miami. Unfortunately he has experienced this sort of loss before.

Freeman is a strong guy, he had to be to make it out of his circumstances and get to Florida State. He's going to need to be strong through this too. Hearts go out to the Seminoles' sophomore tailback tonight and the next few weeks.

September 20, 2012

Florida State Injury List: Week Four

OUT vs. Clemson

LB Ukeme Eligwe (hand)

OL Daniel Foose (back)

DT Moses McCray (head)

DT Jacobbi McDaniel (ankle)

DT Derrick Mitchell (back)

OL Garrett Faircloth (hip)

S Justin Bright (head)



TE Dan Hicks (knee)

DE Brandon Jenkins (Lisfranc)

RB Mario Pender (sports hernia)

September 18, 2012

Florida State Not the Only Team Facing the Pressure on Saturday

This week much is being made about Florida State's ability to handle the hype and atmosphere of a top ten matchup. But the Seminoles aren't the only team working on this sort of thing.

Clemson has a few issues of its own.

It's easy to point to losses to South Carolina and in the Orange Bowl to West Virginia last year as evidence of Clemson's struggles, but here's an interesting statistic to show just how dramatically different Clemson was at home in Death Valley (where they dealt FSU a 35-30 loss) versus on the road.

At home quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for 2,738 yards, 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions. On the road in 2011, he was a much different quarterback. Boyd completed 8 percent fewer passes (62.6-54.3) for about two yards less per attempt and had seven touchdowns and seven picks. 

That's a marked difference between playing at home and on the road. 

Andre Ellington, Clemson's talented senior tailback is another guy who thrived at home, rushing for 832 yards and 8 touchdowns, but on the road he managed just three scores and 346 yards.

Obviously that's not a complete picture, last year's team (as Jimbo likes to point out) is gone. Clemson also played more home games, so they had more chances to generate stats, a lot of Ellington's deficiencies can be explained by fewer carries because the team was behind, his average is still above five yards on the road (actually improved 5.2 to 5.6).

Regardless of the factors though, last year Clemson's offense as a whole averaged about 135 fewer yards per game on the road and ten fewer points. The Tigers hope an improved defense will mitigate some of those issues, but Florida State is not the only team with something to prove in this game, there's pressure on Clemson to prove they can win both on the road and in a national setting. 

Last season the Tigers dropped their final three road dates (that doesn't include the 77-30 neutral site beating they took in the Orange Bowl) and finished just 2-3 on the season in road games, their lone wins coming at Virginia Tech and at Maryland. 

Florida State has been preparing all week for the Clemson offense, Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker have been playing the role of Tajh Boyd on the scout team while Marvin Bracy plays Sammy Watkins. Clemson brings a potent attack, the Seminoles found out first hand how potent last season in Death Valley.

The key will be this season, at Doak Campbell, whether the same Tiger offense that dominates at home comes to play, or if the Clemson team that struggled to move the ball on the road is back.

I'll be interested to ask Dabo Swinney during the ACC Teleconference tomorrow how Clemson is preparing for the atmosphere themselves. Doak Campbell Stadium should be rocking Saturday night and that means Clemson will be in for a loud evening if the FSU student section brings the noise.

And I imagine they will.

Either way, the pressure is on Saturday, but not exclusively on Florida State. Clemson has just as many questions to answer.

September 17, 2012

Handling the Hype Will Be Key for Florida State this Week

If Florida State wants to look the part of a national championship contender this weekend, the Seminoles must block out the media circus and campus craze in their periphery and focus on the game.

"Eliminate the clutter," said Jimbo Fisher on Monday morning.

It's a point he's made many times, the Seminoles need to get their priorities straight. This week that will be tested as the fervor around campus grows and College Gameday rolls into town. 

"We’re going to need to play even better this week we’ve got a great opponent, we’ve got a great challenge ahead of us, you all get to have a circus, the national media and all that good stuff," said Fisher.

"I’ll be interested to see how we handle that." 

So will the rest of the country. 

You could hear it in the phone-in questions from national media in both pressers this morning. One reporter practically asked EJ Manuel why anyone should take this year seriously after hearing FSU's been 'back' for half a decade.

Last year, many around the country forgave the Seminoles 9-4 record under the impression that the national attention had come a year to early. This year there's no such leniency.

All week as they are sequestered for TV interviews, ESPN pieces and radio call-ins, players will be asked by reporters and commentators around the country why anyone should take them seriously? Why this year is different from the last...

If they win, everything is fine, but being drilled over and over with questions could put the fear of losing in the back of the Seminoles' minds.

It may seem silly, but the stakes are right there in plain view. When and you're a national contender. Lose and you're not going to want to go online Sunday morning.

That's why Fisher's preaching to eliminate the clutter even more this week, to prioritize.

“You’ve got to realize, why will you guys be here Saturday?" asked Fisher. "Why will ESPN be here Saturday? Why will everyone be watching on Saturday? What’s going on? A football game, hopefully we can do a good job of preparing for one.”

That was a theme with Manuel in the next press conference as well, that having had Gameday come to town, having played under the lights with the stadium packed and the country watching, that Florida State would be better suited to live up to the challenge this time around.

That's going to be vital, Fisher likes to say it's important not to play the game during the week. He means a team can get up for a game too early and then come out flat or lacking the same emotion come Saturday.

This is a veteran team, as Jim Grobe said Saturday afternoon, they're "crusty." Hopefully for Seminoles fans that will make the difference between this year and last.

The nation will be watching again on Saturday and this time if the Seminoles buckle under the pressure the criticism from the casual onlookers in the national media will be laid on thick.

This week may be won or lost on how Florida State can handle the hype.

A Little Levity: Rick Trickett Provides Florida State With a Good Laugh

Before we look forward to Clemson, another look back at a moment from last weekend's 52-0 win over Wake. You may remember on Chris Thompson's 80-yard run a flag was thrown and Florida State was assessed a penalty on the kickoff for a sideline violation.

What happened was a referee ran into Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett. Watch.

On Monday morning, Jimbo Fisher and EJ Manuel admitted the team had a good laugh after they saw it play out on film.

"At first I thought he called a hold on Kenny [Shaw], I didn’t see it," said Fisher. "The officials had just gotten on us about cleaning the sidelines. You know guys get in that white and we kept them back but when [Trickett] saw the run and he stepped up and looked at it."

"Like he said 'all last year he hadn’t seen a run that long so he was going to watch it.'"

Last year Florida State struggled to run the ball, as has been well documented. Chris Thompson's explosive afternoon on Saturday was the first time in probably a year that the run game has really popped. There have been moments, but on Saturday the Seminoles looked explosive running the football again.

A lot of that was the offensive line, so you can't really begrudge Trickett the enthusiasm. Just like you can't begrudge the Seminoles for laughing when he got drilled.

The whole thing first came up when a reporter asked Jimbo if he'd liked Trickett's block on the Thompson run.

"Getting run over is not a block," Fisher said dryly, then added. "You know the best thing about it though? It wasn't a long fall."

Neither Trickett nor Fisher tower over anyone.

Fisher said he really started to crack up about it when he went home that night though.

"I realized [what happened] but I never saw what happened. It was about six o’clock or whatever and I was grading film at the house, I was looking at it and I started laughing," said Fisher. "Candi’s in the other room with some friends and family and she heard me, she says 'what are you laughing at?' I said 'watch this,' she came in she took her phone and took the video then she started texting it to the [coaches'] wives. Everybody had a good laugh."

The players got a good kick out of it once they saw it on film too.

"What made it worse was the referee kind of gathered himself to give [Trickett] the push," said EJ Manuel. "He could have ran around him or something but that’s the referee’s zone, guess he should have gotten out of the way.

"He learned."

I'll have more later, but in the meantime I figured I'd pass along one of the lighter moments from this morning's press conference.

September 16, 2012

Florida State Moves Up to 4th in Latest AP Poll

The newest Associated Press poll is out this morning and the Florida State Seminoles are now ranked 4th in the nation. The 'Noles have moved up a spot each week this season, Alabama and LSU are currently 1-2 and Oregon sits third. Florida State jumped to fourth up after USC lost to Stanford last night. Georgia is fifth.

The Seminoles host Clemson this weekend in what could be their biggest game of the season. Clemson moved up to 10th in the nation, setting the stage for a top ten battle. ESPN College Gameday has already announced they will be in town for the pregame.

ACC-mate Virgina Tech was bounced from the poll after losing to a previously winless Pittsburgh team. There are now just two ACC programs ranked (FSU and Clemson). The Seminoles could make another jump this week with a strong win against the Tigers on Saturday. Last year Clemson beat FSU 35-30 in Death Valley.

Thompson's Emotional Afternoon Brings FSU RB Full Circle

It's been the topic all week, all season to some extent. Coming back from a broken back is compelling, any way you slice it, but the way Chris Thompson topped off his return on Saturday seemed lifted from a Hollywood script.

Almost a year to the day after breaking his C5 and C6 vertebrae in a 35-30 loss to Wake Forest, senior RB Chris Thompson tore the Demon Deacon defense to shreds in the first half of the Seminoles 52-0 win on Saturday, rushing for almost 200 yards and two scores in under a half.

To say Thompson has come full-circle is an almost criminal understatement.

"I was in the hospital bed [after last year's game] and so many thoughts were going through my mind, I didn’t know if I wanted to play football again, I didn’t know if I was going to [be able] to play again, I didn’t even know if I was going to be walking straight," said Thompson after the game on Saturday.

It was a visit from his head coach that snapped him out of it and put his mind to returning.

"Coach Fisher came and he came in worried about me and I’m breathing so I’m happy," joked Thompson.
"I was just like 'coach, man, get those boys right, make sure they do their jobs,' I was in the hospital Saturday I was trying to get to practice Monday. That’s how much this whole team means to me."

Thompson's rehab was anything but easy, over the past 11 months he made great strides to first get healthy, and then (perhaps more difficult) to return to elite physical form. What's so easy to forget when an athlete gets injured is that they aren't just rehabbing like an average person would, but they also have to return to the peak athletic conditioning that they were at before the injury.

Oftentimes that's where the hold-up is.

Thompson admitted he didn't even start feeling like himself until July, despite the fact he was running well before that. It was time spent over the summer, running with the freshmen sprinters like Ronald Darby and Marvin Bracy that helped him get his speed back. It was extra time spent lifting and conditioning that helped him get back to the level of conditioning necessary to carry the ball at Florida State.

By the time camp started, coaches and players alike admitted they'd never seen that kind of explosiveness from Thompson.

He just had to overcome the psychological trauma of his broken back.

It's All Mental

The mental edge was still a long ways off. In the preseason Thompson admitted he had trepidation about his return to contact. Then after the first scrimmage, Thompson said he thought things would clear up more after he got hit by someone else in a game.

This week, with Wake approaching, you could tell Thompson was still going through a lot.

"I think Lonnie probably saw it a little today," said Thompson after practice on Tuesday. "You know I wasn’t as hyper or talkative as I usually am. And that’s not me being down, that’s just me trying to be focused."

Thompson wrestled with memories of the hit all week, doubts lingered and even despite his best efforts, he admits that it took some helping hands and his faith to get his head right before the Wake game.

"As the week went on I was just trying to calm myself down, get focused," said Thompson. "I stopped and had a talk with [RB] coach [Eddie] Gran and he could tell that things were going on with me Thursday, he could just see that things were going on with me, he snatched me out of practice like ‘what’s going on?’ I told him I was going through a lot of emotions and everything, he told me just take some time off, go to the sidelines, take a knee and say a prayer.

"He was like just put everything in God’s hands and it will all go from there. When I got home I called my mom she told me the exact same thing."

Trust is Key

One of the key elements of Thompson's success Saturday, both on the field and mentally, was his newfound trust in the offense. Last year, it was lack of trust that lead to Thompson getting injured in the first place.

"It was simple, I should have taken it outside with Lonnie and Spurlock instead of cutting it up field," Thompson said earlier in the week. "Thinking back on it I should have trusted them and gone outside because they saw the same thing I saw but I decided to do something different."

All offseason, all summer and so far this season Thompson has worked on trusting his blockers to block, his coaches to make the right calls and himself to believe in what he sees.

Easier said than done.

"It came down to just being patient, just trusting my guys and trusting that they’re going to do their job. Last week I talked about how I didn’t trust those guys enough and it resulting in the injury so I just trusted them a whole lot," Thompson reiterated Saturday.

"I knew they were going to open the holes for me and they did."

That trust lead Thompson to rush for 197 yards on 9 carries, he had runs of 33, 74 and 80 yards, the last two of which scored. He was videogame good.

“I was telling you last year how big of a guy we were missing. Not only the plays he makes, but
the stability he brings – assignments, coaching, what he does ‘hey, you’ve got this, you’ve got
that.'" said Fisher on Sarturday. "He’s a brilliant guy too. That guy is rock solid and he’s a big time player.”

Afterwards, everything hit Thompson at once as he was presented with the game ball.

"It was crazy, it was emotional, when coach FIsher first started talking to me I almost burst out in tears," said Thompson. "It meant a lot to me and it meant a lot to all of my teammates, it probably meant more to them than it did to myself. I just wanted to do whatever I needed to for us to be successful, it was just a focus that I had from waking up this morning throughout the whole game."

"A lot of the guys were just looking at me like Chris can you ever stop smiling, I was like 'no I just can’t today, I’m just so happy.' It came from everything I’ve been through and just to have such a good game today that was as emotional as I’ve had in my career. 

"I’m still on the high right now."

Thoughts From the Morning After: FSU 52 Wake Forest 0

The last two times that Wake Forest has come to Tallahassee they have been shut out. In fact, counting Saturday's 52-0 win, the Demon Deacons haven't scored a touchdown in Tallahassee since 2006.

Amazingly, Wake still won in 2008 (without the use of touchdowns), but their last two trips have been lost by a combined score of 83-0. 

Yesterday Florida State destroyed Wake on the legs of Chris Thompson who didn't even break 10 carries but still managed to break Wake's back almost a full year after they broke his. (I'll have a lot more on him later)

“There was nothing like it, I have been pretty much waiting for this moment for a while," Thompson said afterwards. "To open up against an ACC team and for it to be the Wake game was such a big deal due to the fact of what happened last year.”

Even after watching the replay of the game last night, I have to admit Thompson had the kind of game I don't even think he could have imagined. It all pretty much came on three runs too. At the end of the first quarter Thompson's 33-yard run set up an EJ Manuel TD later in the drive, then he hit home runs from 74 and 80 yards in the second quarter.

But Thompson's first carries were actually rough, he was thrown for a loss his first carry of the ball game and struggled to find space on the next several, largely thanks to early blocking issues.

But something clicked around the 5:00 mark of the first quarter, maybe it was just the line settling in or maybe it was just the nerves fading, but Thompson's vision picked up, he flashed his speed and he broke the game wide open.

After the game, Lonnie Pryor joked that on Thompson's first gain he looked a little slow.

"I wanted to show him how fast I was," joked Thompson when asked aboyt Pryor's remark. "When I came to the sideline he came and told me that also so I was like, 'looks like i'm going to have to run a little faster.'"

All joking aside, that may have been Pryor alluding to Thompson's nerves. All week CT admitted that the game was in his head a little. On Monday he talked about how he wasn't feeling himself, by Thursday he was so worked up Eddie Gran (RB Coach) had to pull him aside at practice to settle him down.

Once he settled down on Saturday, he was unreal. As in, videogame good. You could play EA's NCAA Football ten times and not duplicate what Thompson did in real life on Saturday afternoon. 

Here are a few other thoughts from the morning after:

-There's still a few concerns about the pass-pro from the Seminoles' starting tackles. Menelik Watson missed Saturday's start for precautionary reasons. He saw time at the end of the game but after being held out of practice during the week the coaching staff opted to go with Daniel Glauser at right tackle.

Early on, both tackles struggled a little. Cam Erving got beat on a sack that would cause an EJ Manuel fumble to start the second quarter and Glauser seemed to have issues right at the start of the game.

Now, it's worth pointing out that on several of the plays in question there was help that never came from a tight end or back, it's not always on the shoulders of the linemen, but the Seminoles kind of lurched out the gate at first because of issues up front in their blocking scheme. Once those got ironed out, the offense started to roll, but that's a good reiteration of the fact that this offense is only as good as the men up front.

-You're going to hear all week about the Seminoles passing game and whether it's clicking. Last season it was the opposite, Florida State couldn't establish the run to save their lives and were forced to rely on chucking it, this year they can run but the pass game has been slow to develop.

At yesterday's news conference Jimbo Fisher bristled at the question that it might be his quarterback.

"He missed Pryor because he overthrew him but he missed the one on the other side because he quit running," said Fisher. "That's why you've got to look at why he missed, and then he makes throws coming back. He missed a sideline throw to Rodney, I can tell you exactly every one he missed... [But] we dropped [a bunch] too... All the sudden you catch two or three and get in a rhythm. So I mean it can go quarterback, but I've got it on the quarterback, on the protection and I got it on the receivers. I think all three phases can do a better job." 

Either way, Fisher admits his offense never found a tight rhythm, and through the coach speak you could tell he wants to hone his passing attack before Clemson shows up next weekend. And he's right, early on the pass-pro left Manuel little time to go through his progressions, his receivers weren't perfect, but neither was he. He admitted as much.

But he also said he doesn't think things are far off.

“Just the fact that we can have the running game carries us as an offense, once we get the passing game clicking then we will be dangerous to any team," said Manuel after the game. "I don’t think teams will know what to prepare for during the week (if we can get both sides going). Granted I want to have a better game passing but I know it is going to come.”

As for what needs to happen, Manuel mirrored his coach's sentiments. The team just needs to play better and be more detail-oriented. I'm sure that will be a focal point this week.

-Rashad Greene returned another punt for a touchdown. He isn't as fearless with the gunners bearing down on him as Greg Reid was, but he may be just as elusive in the open field. Greene housed a 60-yard punt return in the first quarter to put the Seminoles up by two scores. It was his second TD return of the season.

-Finally, you have to give credit to Kenny Shaw for one of the blocks of the game. With Chris Thompson racing down the sideline, Shaw delivered the block that sprung him.

"I'm looking forward [to seeing it on film]," said Shaw. "I just pride myself on being a team player, just getting other guys involved too and that doesn't even involve me scoring, me getting a catch, so that's why you [saw] me running cross the field getting Chris that touchdown."

Shaw added a TD catch of his own later, but his block was the kind of selfless play that makes good teams great. Kelvin Benjamin also deserves some credit for his downfield blocking too. That's the kind of effort coaches love out of receivers.

I'll have more later today including a piece on Chris Thompson talking summing up the last year.

Keep checking back.

September 15, 2012

Defense Dominates in Florida State Blowout of Wake

For a game that ended with a 52-0 score, I think you're going to hear a lot of criticisms (some merited, some not) this week. It was already evident in some of the questions Jimbo Fisher fielded after the game, but there are still a few things left unanswered about this Florida State team as they head into arguably their biggest game of the season. 

Nobody is looking for answers on the defensive side of the ball though. Well, maybe opposing offenses, but the Florida State defense was excellent once again on Saturday. 

Wake Forest had no answers, going 1-for-16 on third downs, mustering just 126 total yards and failing to score a single point. 75 of Wake's 126 yards came on two plays, without those, they averaged less than a yard per play.

“I think they’ve got great depth, obviously," said Wake head coach Jim Grobe. "They are primarily a junior, senior defense. I think they started one sophomore today. That’s typically what we have done to be successful – play older players. I think what Jimbo has done is they have been very, very patient and have been able to keep their players here. You are talking about not only a talented team but a veteran, crusty football team. This group of guys is hard-nosed guys and are not going to beat themselves."

I don't think I've ever heard this defense described as crusty, but whatever Grobe wants to term it, this defense owned the Deacon's side of the line of scrimmage today. Aside from a blown assignment on a 34-yard run early on, there were very few MA's and even less room for Wake to operate.

"They didn’t make a lot of mistakes today. I thought they played really physical football. I was really impressed with the schemes the coaches had for us today," said Grobe. "It was impressive watching them play today. This is a really, really special football team.”

Just how special remains to be seen, but Wake was not hapless offensively. Tanner Price is a pretty good junior QB and Michael Campanaro was leading the NCAA in receptions before today. Price didn't finish the game, but went just 8-22 for 82 yards and Campanaro caught just two balls for eight. Neither factored.

Instead it was Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine firing off the edge while the pocket collapsed in the middle and the Wake linemen held on (literally sometimes) for dear life. 

“We’re just playing football and playing disciplined football," said sophomore DT Tim Jernigan. "We’re just doing whatever the coaches say and I’m using my athletic ability playing within the scheme and that’s all. Wasn’t any secret or nothing to it.”

Jernigan lead the Seminoles in tackles on Saturday with six.

Next week will be the first real test for the Seminoles. Clemson can match Florida State's athleticism, it will be up to the Seminole defense to play smart football and maintain their responsibilities.

If they do, this could be one of the nation's top units. Of course that's what Florida State's expected all along.

“I got all the faith in the world in the team and the coaches," said Jernigan. "It doesn’t surprise me at all.”

Halftime: FSU 38 Wake Forest 0, Chris Thompson Running Wild

This one started a little slow, with both teams trading possessions at the start, but after the Seminoles found their rhythm about mid-way through the first quarter they haven't looked back.

Rashad Greene has a punt return touchdown, EJ Manuel has made a few first half plays but the star of the game so far has been Chris Thompson.

Thompson's career was almost ended by Wake in Winston-Salem last season. He broke two vertebrae and wondered if he would ever return to the field again after Wake's 35-30 upset over FSU last year. So far through two quarters against the team that broke his back Thompson has 9 carries for 201 yards and two touchdowns. 

He's also broken two big TD runs, one of which was keyed by a very impressive Kenny Shaw block down the sideline.

On the other side of the ball the Seminole defensive line is absolutely exerting itself. Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine have both registered sacks and the Wake offense has struggled to establish itself so far.

There's still a half left to play, but with the Seminole currently up 38-0, you can expect to see some reserves in the second half.

I'll have more after the game, including comments from Chris Thompson.

For now though, you just have to feel great for the senior tailback. Fisher said as he was heading into the tunnel that Thompson is one of the best people he's ever met, not just players. I can attest, he's a good kid with a good head on his shoulders who has fought back hard from his injury. You know this redemption game against the Wake team that threatened to end his career must feel pretty good for him right now.

Stay tuned, I'll be back with more after the game.



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