According to Florida State safety Lamarcus Joyner, you’d never know by watching practice on Tuesday that the Seminoles lost a starting defensive end to a torn ACL, or that their prized defensive coordinator was just hired as head coach at Kentucky – all just days before facing Georgia Tech’s spread option offense in Saturday’s Dr Pepper ACC championship game.
"It was a great environment today in practice,” Joyner told NoleNation’s David Hale. “Guys like [Ronald] Darby, P.J. [Williams], young future stars just enjoying themselves. They know they can play ball. That's where we're at now as a program because we have a lot of great kids. Everybody was into it. No one's walking around with their heads down. We're just trying to win a championship that hasn't been done here in a long time."
Florida State’s defense has to bounce back big time in order for the Noles to win the program’s first ACC title since 2005. With defensive coordinator Mark Stoops having one foot out the door, and leading tackler Tank Carradine sidelined with a torn ACL he suffered against the Gators, Florida State has to somehow find a way to play disciplined enough to slow down Georgia Tech’s unfamiliar triple option. These two programs haven’t faced each other in over three years, and FSU’s usually stingy defense is coming off an unflattering performance in a 37-26 loss to rival Florida.
The Gators ran for 244 yards on Saturday – easily the most FSU had allowed all season. By comparison, Florida State didn’t allow Atlantic Division opponents Maryland, Boston College, Wake Forest and NC State that many rushing yards combined (239). Clemson was the only team in the division to rush for more than 100 yards against the Noles, and three other teams -- FCS schools Savannah State and Murray State, and rival Miami, were each held under 40 rushing yards.
For the first time all year, the Seminoles’ defensive line was beaten up front for a majority of the game.
“Well, it wasn't a bad game,” said defensive end Bjoern Werner. “[We] didn't have a good rushing defense, but we're going to fix things up this week and prepare well against Georgia Tech and their triple option and hopefully have a good game.
“Everybody in the box has to play their assignment,” he said. “They can't get greedy and try to make a play. Everybody has to just play his assignment, what they're supposed to do, and then we'll be successful.”
Successful at slowing the Jackets down, maybe, but not stopping them entirely. Georgia Tech is averaging 323.33 rushing yards per game, trailing only Army and Air Force nationally. The Yellow Jackets have rushed for more yards than any FBS team since 2008, and the program is 115 yards shy of rushing for 20,000 total yards in the five seasons under head coach Paul Johnson.
“Oh, it's a huge challenge, and it's going to be a very -- we have to have a lot of discipline, we have to have a lot of confidence in what we're doing,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We've been developing a plan, and we're looking at it and we're going to have to be very disciplined how we go about it and deep great leverage on the ball, and it will be a huge challenge. That's one of the advantages that Georgia Tech does have is that when you don't play them off an off week or a long period of time, that one week turnaround is extremely tough.”
Having to do it without Carradine and knowing it will be the last game for Stoops could make for an emotional sideline. Those kinds of intangibles have also been known to be inspiring, too, and everyone within FSU’s program was thrilled for Stoops’ opportunity. It just so happens he still has one more game to coach with FSU, and it’s the most important one.
Fisher said the news about Stoops hasn’t been a distraction to the team’s preparation this week.
"We've got to get through this week,” Fisher said. “It's all about Georgia Tech right now and we're doing a great job of keeping focus on Georgia Tech."
"They know that's part of this business,” he said of his players. “Our kids are very good, and they came out and responded very well."
The question is how they’ll respond against the No. 3 rushing offense in the country.