TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – While they would just as soon be playing a game this weekend, the Florida State Seminoles are determined not to let these unexpected weeks off go to waste.
FSU, which returned to practice Tuesday following the departure of Hurricane Irma, hasn’t played since its Sept. 2 opener against Alabama, and won’t play again until it hosts North Carolina State on Sept. 23.
That’s a gap of 21 days, the program’s longest since 1983.
“It’s definitely the oddest start to a season I’ve had since I’ve been here,” tight end Ryan Izzo said. “All the off time. We’ve been practicing more than we’ve been playing.”
But that might not be such a bad thing.
With three weeks between games, the Seminoles have been able to sharpen some fundamentals while also gradually turning their eye toward their next opponent.
Safety Derwin James said that, after a slow start on Tuesday – the team’s first practice in five days – the Seminoles have settled into a nice groove.
“We’re getting back into our rhythm,” he said. “… We’re just focusing on getting better, embracing the practice days that we have to get better and working on some things that we wouldn’t normally have time for during the week.”
That type of attitude is exactly what coach Jimbo Fisher hoped to see once Irma disrupted FSU’s routine. And it’s an encouraging sign in the wake of a first month that’s been both challenging and unusual.
“It goes back to control what you can control,” Fisher said. “(We said), ‘Alright, we have this time, so what can we do with it?’ We have to get better. We have to practice, and just enhance things and improve things.
“I think that’s a very mature way (of thinking), and that’s the message we’ve been sending to our players.”
What was supposed to be a quick transition from reserve to starter for quarterback James Blackman has instead turned into perhaps the best-case scenario for the freshman: three weeks to prepare, learn the playbook and build a rapport with his offensive line and receivers.
Had FSU followed its original schedule, Blackman would have had just four practices before making his debut against ULM, with a high-profile home game against Miami to follow.
Instead, Blackman has received a luxury not afforded to many first-year starters.
“James is doing great,” Derwin James said. “James is making throws, James is making checks. All I can say is he’s going to be ready come game time.”
And while Fisher has stressed that the team doesn’t need to change anything just because Blackman is at the helm, James believes that adjusting to a freshman under center has had a positive impact throughout FSU’s practice sessions.
“The receivers are going to work for him,” he said. “Any ball that he throws to them, they’re taking it to a whole other level, just making plays on the ball. And the O-line, of course they’re helping him out.
“As a team, we see it. As a defense, we see it. it’s taken our game to another level too because they’re pushing us in practice.”
Blackman may be the most obvious beneficiary of the revamped schedule, but he’s far from the only one. Fellow freshmen like Cam Akers, Hamsah Nasirildeen and Stanford Samuels III, all of whom logged extensive action against Alabama, are getting extra practice reps, too.
“It’s definitely been beneficial, especially for our new quarterback and a lot of the freshman guys,” James said. “Just helping them learn how to game-plan different stuff of the schemes, getting a lot of more mental reps and being out there, not just thrown into the fire.”
Like most of the college football world, James plans on having his eyes glued to his T.V. when No. 14 Louisville visits No. 3 Clemson on Saturday.
The game features two of the country’s top teams, as well as several players who James befriended on the recruiting circuit a few years ago.
More than anything, though, the Tigers and Cardinals represent FSU’s two biggest hurdles on the way to an ACC Atlantic Division crown.
“I’m fans of a lot of players on different teams, just from growing up, (going to) 7-on-7s, camps,” James said. “I want to see some of the players do good, of course. And then, of course, I’ve got to scout them because unfortunately we’ve got to play against them.
“It’s both – as a fan and as a scouting report.”