Oct. 14, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- As far as Florida State's football tradition goes, the number 17 is about as hallowed as they come.
Charlie Ward wore that number on his jersey and after a career that featured a Heisman Trophy, a national championship and enough highlight-reel plays to fill a VHS tape (remember, it was the early 1990s), nobody at FSU will ever don the one-seven again.
Well, that was then and this now. On Saturday the number 17 temporarily takes on a new secondary meaning as it becomas the intended series win-total that the Seminoles are aiming for at Duke (3-2, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference). The 'Noles are 16-0-0 all-time against the Blue Devils and -- after three consecutive losses this season -- simply can't afford to not increase that success rate by one this weekend.
To do that, FSU (2-3, 0-2) must first and foremost limit the number of defensive breakdowns and mistakes. In the loss to Wake Forest last weekend, FSU allowed just 157 yards on 67 plays but gave up 234 on the other seven.
"There's three or four plays that change a game," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said, "and we've got to fight and scratch and claw and find those inches on every play and not have just a couple mental lapses."
As strange as it may sound after the events of the last few weeks, the FSU defense is still ranked No. 10 in the nation despite back-to-back games allowing 35 points.
But the occasional big play and failure to get off the field on third down have been a real issue despite that ranking. Penalties have also played a role in the recent struggles; FSU ranks last in the entire nation with an average of 9.4 penalties per game.
Injuries have also been a serious factor -- particularly on offense.
While redshirt junior Nick Moody is back in action and will help spell Terrance Parks at safety against Duke, the offensive unit has been ravaged by the injury bug since early in the season and this week is no different.
EJ Manuel is healthy, Jarred Haggins is making his speedy return after breaking his hand against Oklahoma and Bert Reed is expected to be in the lineup after playing sparingly at Wake Forest but freshman star Rashad Greene has been listed as questionable with an ankle injury. Junior Willie Haulstead has still not played because of his fall-camp concussion and is likely to redshirt.
On the offensive line, seniors Andrew Datko (shoulder) and David Spurlock (knee) are both definitely out. Right tackle Zebrie Sanders will slide over to left tackle to replace Datko, who is likely out for the rest of the season, and 17-year old freshman Bobby Hart will man the right tackle spot. Redshirt sophomore Garrett Faircloth, who has been limited the last two weeks because of a concussion, will replace Spurlock at right guard.
"When it rains, it pours but in good and bad," Fisher said about the injuries. "You have to stay healthy and we still have a lot of good young players."
A roster full of youngsters will be asked to help end a nightmarish three-game skid by continuing what has been an impressive streak by the Florida State football program. The Seminoles have not lost four games in a row since 1975, or what is more famously known as the season before Bobby Bowden took over.
Ward was five at the time.
Seventeen years later, he was a 22-year old senior that lead the Seminoles to their first national championship.
Coincidence? Absolutely. But if the Seminoles can somehow summon the mystical power of No. 17 and stay undefeated against Duke, the 2011 season quickly has a chance to get back on track.
Saturday's game will air on regional networks. To find out where it will be televised in your area, click here.
Be sure to follow along throughout the contest here on Seminoles.com by joining the live chat that starts prior to kickoff. Also, follow the official Seminoles football Twitter feed @FSU_Football as well as my own, @BrandonMellor, for additional analysis.