Planning for success: Florida State

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It’s easy to respect an offense like Syracuse’s, Jimbo Fisher said. Sure, the stats and the win-loss record might not be overwhelming, but the Orange has a plan, and they stick to it.

They line up, they run the ball, and they keep running.

“They know their identity, that’s what they do, and they’re very patient,” the FSU coach said. “They’ll pound you and all of a sudden, boom, there’s a big one.”

Linebacker Telvin Smith compared Syracuse favorably to the Boston College, an offense than racked up 200 yards on the ground against Florida State earlier this year. It’s an apt comparison.

Syracuse ranks second in the ACC in rushing, and it has two of the conference’s top tailbacks in Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley. The Orange offensive line is strong, particularly up the middle.

“Those guards and the center are just as good as anyone we’ve played this year,” FSU defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said.

What’s even more impressive about Syracuse’s run game is that its success isn’t based on tricks or misdirection. It’s a team that happily goes toe to toe with defenses crowding the box, knowing it’s capable of winning those battles at the line of scrimmage.

“That’s the challenge right there,” Smith said. “They’re telling you what they’re going to do, and they’re coming out doing it. They’re not trying to hide it.”

The way the Syracuse passing game has played this season, it probably wouldn’t be fooling anyone anyway. In seven games against teams from automatic-qualifier conferences, Orange quarterbacks have contributed just two touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Given the success of Florida State’s secondary this season -- including five turnovers forced by defensive backs in last week’s win over Wake Forest -- Syracuse isn’t likely to find much success through the air. That Boston College game, however, offers some hope that the Orange’s ground attack could win a few battles.

Of course, this isn’t the same Seminoles defense that allowed the Eagles to run the ball with so much success. Mario Edwards Jr. missed that game with a hand injury, and the scheme and personnel hadn’t quite found the right meeting point in Jeremy Pruitt’s system. In Florida State’s last five games, the Seminoles have allowed three yards or fewer per carry four times. The lone exception was against NC State, when the first-team D held the Wolfpack to just 39 yards on 21 carries before the backups squandered a sterling stat line.

“We had to learn a whole new defense,” Edwards said of the early struggles. “We just kept to it and each week got better and better.”

Jernigan figures Syracuse has noticed that, too, so he wouldn’t be surprised if the Orange had a few new wrinkles they’ve been saving for Florida State. Quarterback Terrel Hunt can make plays with his legs, and Jerome Smith is angling for his second straight 1,000-yard season.

The Seminoles are expecting a challenge and that might actually make for a fun matchup, Fisher said. There’s something exciting about those battles -- strength against strength, when a team’s mental makeup means as much as its ability. The key, he said, is for Florida State to want to stop the run more than Syracuse wants to flourish with it.

“It’s their mentality, it’s their attitude,” Fisher said of Syracuse’s running game. “And we better have a good attitude and be ready to stop them.”