Nov. 5, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - If the Florida State football team has a complete game in its cache, Saturday night at Clemson's Death Valley would be the right time to pull out it.
Fighting to stay alive in the ACC Atlantic Division race, the Seminoles could move into a share of second place by beating the Tigers for just the second time in the last five seasons. While the Tigers aren't invincible, a victory will require contributions from Florida State's offense, defense and special teams; something that has not yet happend after eight games.
The postseason opportunities provide enough incentive, but defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews' retirement announcement on Tuesday and providing quarterback Christian Ponder - sore ribs and all - ample time to operate against the Tigers' pass rush, should provide an additional boost.
Linebacker and defensive captain Dekoda Watson, who is also a South Carolina native, said his group is up for the challenge.
"We want to play for coach Andrews," said Watson. "I know he's going to want us to play for ourselves, but as defensive players we take that to heart. The move he made this past week is definitely going to have an effect on us.
"This season hasn't gone as we want it, but we can from here on out."
The defense should get a lift from the return of defensive tackle Budd Thacker to rotation from injury.
Offensively, FSU's line has played its best football over the past two weeks and must extend that string to three, especially with Ponder nursing sore ribs. Clemson's seasoned defense, which ranks second in the ACC behind North Carolina, provides challenges at every level - up front, at linebacker and in the secondary.
Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said one of the keys to success will be to keep the Tigers guessing what's coming next.
"Make them be honest and not let them be one-dimensional ... not just let them line up and rush the passer or line up and know you're going to run it all the time," Fisher said. "When you let great players only have one problem to solve, they become even better players."
Clemson's mammoth - and athletic - defensive front plays a pivotal role in the team's ACC-leading pass defense, which is backed by a veteran secondary.
"They are very well-rounded and have depth," Fisher added.
Not to be overlooked is the Tigers' dangerous return tandem of C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford; two of the fastest players in the country, who happen to be Florida natives with some ties to the Seminoles. Spiller, who has three kick returns for touchdowns this season, has been the focus of FSU's special teams all week.
FSU freshman kicker Dustin Hopkins, who leads the ACC with 16 touchbacks, would like nothing better than to see Spiller and Ford taking a knee - after multiple Seminole kickoffs.
"They're both so dangerous, I'm definitely going to try," said Hopkins, who has also converted five consecutive field goal attempts. "It's definitely the most focus we've had on one returner all season."
On Thursday, the FSU offense moved its practice back inside Doak Campbell Stadium to work on handle signals in an attempt to counter what is certain to be the largest crowd of the season. Fisher said operating effectively in that atmosphere, especially with a young unit, requires extra focus.
"Communication is an issue, which is why we've worked extra hard on it this week," Fisher said.
One issue the 'Noles won't have is the playing status of junior quarterback Christian Ponder, who worked extensively throughout Thursday's practice after resting his sore ribs earlier in the week.
“I’m going to play," Ponder said, following the final practice before Friday's departure. "No matter how much I’m hurting, I plan on playing. I can’t stay off the field. I put my heart and soul into this thing. I want to play.”
Fisher saw enough of the Maxwell Award semifinalist on Thursday to feel good about what the ACC's leader in total offense and passing will bring to the game.
"He threw the ball really well," Fisher said. "He made all the throws you need to make."
Injury report for Clemson game
Out: CB Dionte Allen (thumb), OT Garrett Faircloth (hip), OT Antwane Greenlee (knee), LB Aaron Gresham (knee), LB Maurice Harris (knee)*, DT Demonte McAllister (knee), TE Caz Piurowski (knee)*, OT John Prior (knee), LB Vince Williams (back)
Questionable: CB Xavier Rhodes (thumb)
* - out for the season