TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Even though a game against No. 8 West Virginia would have been the marquee matchup of college football’s second weekend, sure to draw a sold-out crowd and a national television audience, Jimbo Fisher has been adamant that his team’s focus, preparation and gameplan remains unchanged even if Saturday’s contest is instead against struggling FCS program Savannah State.
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The Tigers (0-1) are on No. 6 Florida State’s schedule because of the Mountaineers’ decision this off-season to back out of their home-and-home agreement with the ‘Noles (1-0) — a choice that sent Fisher and FSU’s administration into scramble mode.
Charged with finding and scheduling an opponent for the second week of the year so late in the process, the Seminoles ultimately agreed in February to host Savannah State — a team that had gone 2-20 the last two seasons.
Six and a half months later, the Tigers are now 2-21 in their last 23 games following last week’s 84-0 drubbing at No. 19 Oklahoma State. A similar outcome is expected Saturday as championship-hopeful FSU is coming off a 69-3 win against Murray State.
“We have to compete against ourselves and play,” Fisher said earlier this week. “We can’t worry about the opponent. We just have to execute the plays that are called, have emotion in the game, play with passion, do the things we’re coached to do. And that’s the issue.”
Despite their strong performance to start the year and the caliber of opponent, FSU’s players have maintained their head coach’s sentiments this week. In interviews with local and national media the message has remained the same: play our game and don’t worry about the opponent.
“We’re not going to look down on them because they lost by 84,” quarterback EJ Manuel said. “They just got embarrassed. They want to come here and do something about it.”
Added running back Devonta Freeman: “I don’t care who we are playing. I just want to play. I don’t pay attention to what they did in their last game. It’s a new week.”
What has drawn the ‘Noles’ attention and pulled headlines away from the 6 p.m. game on ESPN3.com was Monday night’s announcement that star defensive end Brandon Jenkins will miss the rest of his senior season with a left foot injury he sustained against the Racers.
Jenkins would have started his 29th consecutive game for the ‘Noles but instead Cornellius Carradine will be atop the depth chart for the first time in his career. It’s not easy to replace an All-American but Carradine is a worthy candidate.
After a very good 2011 season, Carradine is coming off a team-high nine tackles in the opener and Fisher is confident that FSU won’t experience much of a pass-rushing drop-off due to the collective ability of the team’s healthy defensive ends.
“We think Bjoern [Werner] is a big time player, and we think Tank [Carradine] is the same caliber guy those guys are,” Fisher said. “Are they Brandon? Maybe not to that extent, but he’s pretty close. He’s a really good player. … Giorgio Newberry, a 6-6 280-pound guy, played a lot as a redshirt freshman, we’re counting on this year. [Toshmon Stevens] is an experienced guy, and we have two great freshmen in Mario Edwards, Jr. and Chris Casher that we’ll bring along to build that depth.
“But from the starting rotation, I think Tank will do a good job.”
FSU posted a nation’s best six sacks against Murray State, showcasing the same snap-by-snap pressure that defined the team last season. Even without Jenkins, the defense is expected to continue to be sparked by its force up front.
Offensively, the Seminoles are coming off the third-largest scoring margin in program history and many expect the school record of 74-0 vs. Whiting Field set in 1949 to be within reach Saturday.
That’s not what’s on Florida State players’ minds, though.
“It’s about us getting where we are trying to go,” sophomore wide receiver Rashad Greene said. “That’s more important than who we are playing. It’s like Coach Jimbo says, this is just one more [team] in the way of us trying to get up the mountain. It’s not about them; it’s about us. We’ve got to get better as a team in all three phases and that’s our main focus.”