Sept. 14, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Call it the first true test. The first "real" game of No. 5/6 Florida State's 2012 season after wins agains overmatched FCS schools Murray State and Savannah State.
Call it whatever you want. Just make sure you also call it a must-win.
FSU (2-0) not only opens Atlantic Coast Conference play Saturday at noon against visiting Wake Forest (2-0), it also begins divisional play. If they want to be playing for the league crown against the eventual Coastal Division champion in Charlotte, N.C. this December, the Seminoles certainly don't want to begin their season with a loss in the Atlantic Division.
"We're going to have to bring our 'A' game, but we're anxious to get started in ACC play," said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, who is 1-1 in conference openers during his tenure. "It's a double whammy because not only do we have a conference game, but it's an interdivisional game, so it'll be -- should be a great ballgame here in Doak Campbell on Saturday. Looking forward to it."
Wake Forest represents the middle-of-the pack ACC squad that the pundits point to when discussing FSU's failure to meet expectations. Despite being yearly underdogs to the 'Noles, the Demon Deacons have won four of the last six in the series and are coming off a 35-30 win against an injury-ravaged FSU team last season in Winston-Salem, N.C.
For FSU's players all that doesn't matter, though. Not this year.
"Everybody's got in the back of their head that last year these boys came out and really played hard," junior linebacker Telvin Smith said. "But this is a new team and we've got a new attitude this year. Everybody is real focused to play. We are taking this one week at a time and Wake is in our way."
What's in the 'Noles' way is a Demon Deacons squad that didn't look very good in a close win against Liberty to start the year before knocking off conference foe North Carolina in dramatic fashion a week ago.
Quarterback Tanner Price and wide receiver Michael Campanaro looked like All-ACC performers in that victory and were rewarded with their own players-of-the-week nods in recognition. Price threw for a career-best 327 yards against the Tar Heels, including the game-winning touchdown pass at the end of a 97-yard drive.
Campanaro was his favorite target that day -- and surely will be against Florida State -- as the junior hauled in a career-best 13 receptions for 164 yards. Campanaro currently leads in the nation in catches per game from his slot receiver spot.
"I think he has tremendous quickness and ball skills, uses his hands very, very well and obviously very tough because he goes across the middle," Fisher said about Campanaro. "But what I see is a guy who understands football, knows how to set holds, knows how to set guys up on routes, has really good burst in his routes and just a heck of a football player ... he has been a huge problem for the teams he's played and will be for us, also."
While the 'Noles defense deals with its first test this season, FSU's inexperienced offensive line -- especially the tackles and guards -- will have to deal with its first true test ever.
Starters Cameron Erving, Josue Matias, Tre' Jackson and Menelik Watson have never seen Wake Forest's 3-4 defensive scene before. Center Bryan Stork is the only one of the five linemen that was in the starting lineup a season ago on the Demon Deacons' home field.
The key for the Seminoles will not only be getting its line acclimated to Wake Forest's defensive front but also hanging on to the football. FSU turned the ball over five times in last year's game and has committed at least four giveaways in each of the four losses to the Demon Deacons.
Helping the 'Noles' offensive efforts will be Thursday night's announcement that Wake Forest all-conference nose guard Nikita Whitlock will miss the game after sustaining an ankle sprain against the Tar Heels.
Still, Fisher is quick to caution that his team's opponent boasts talented players throughout the depth chart.
"[Wake Forest plays] good football. Sound football," Fisher said about a team that boasts 32 players on its roster returning to their home state Saturday. "Make plays and they're much more athletic than people think ... Wake's got good players. I said last year they had three players drafted [and] we had three. They're first three got drafted before our first one got drafted.
"I mean, they've got good players. Always have."
Fans are encouraged to enter the Doak Campbell Stadium gates early as there will be a special fly-over ceremony to commemorate Military Appreciation Day.
The game will air live on ESPN.