By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter
LOS ANGELES – Charles Kelly doesn’t buy the idea that Oregon is built on finesse.
The Ducks’ hurry-up, no-huddle offense scores in bunches, but that speed has also led to the perception they might wilt in a tough, physical contest.
“People assume because you spread the field out that you’re finesse,” Kelly said. “That’s not true. (Oregon) runs the football as good as anybody.
“I think the thing that has made them better, not over just this year but over the last couple of years, is that they’ve kind of created that culture and they are more physical. It is more of a power game.”
Kelly and the FSU defense are in for perhaps their biggest challenge of the season when they face the Ducks on Thursday in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl.
Behind Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, Oregon ranks third nationally in points per game (46.3), total yards (546.2 per game) and passes more efficiently than anyone in the country.
“You can tell they have a very good plan of what they want to do,” Kelly said. “They know where they want to attack. And they’ll take what you give them. … So we’ve got a big challenge in front of us.”
FSU has to go back to last year’s BCS National Championship Game against Auburn to find an opponent with an offense that comes close to matching the Ducks.
Last year’s Seminoles, who boasted perhaps the nation’s top defense, held off the Tigers in dramatic fashion. But not before allowing 449 yards and 31 points.
This year’s group enters the Rose Bowl after a season full of adjustments and a few growing pains.
Kelly took over a defense loaded with talent but also missing several key pieces from a year ago.
He reeled off five names – defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan, linebackers Telvin Smith and Christian Jones and defensive backs Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks – who made starts as rookies for their NFL teams this season.
Even with a host of former four- and five-star prospects on the roster, it’d be naïve to think that their departures wouldn’t have an impact.
“We lost five, six guys last year that were great players,” Kelly said. “And we had some great players coming back. But what you have to do is find what your niche is, and what we do good, what we have to correct.”
That process hasn’t always been quick, and the Seminoles finished 13 games ranked near the middle of the pack in several defensive categories.
But, hidden in those numbers, is what Kelly believes is a season-long improvement. He says the Seminoles aren’t allowing as many explosive plays as they did at the start of the season, and he also pointed to strong adjustments in the second halves of several games.
“It hasn’t always been easy,” Kelly said. “This year we’ve had some situations where we didn’t always play as good in the first half, but I think it all goes back to (the players).
“These guys, they don’t panic. You can look in their eyes on the sideline, no matter what the situation – ‘Coach, let’s go. We’ll get this thing done.’”
FSU has rallied from double-digit deficits three times this season, but would prefer not to tempt fate against Oregon.
Still, that experience brings a certain attitude. That when things look bleak, no one in the FSU huddle is giving up.
Kelly believes that trait could prove valuable, too.
“To me, whether you’re a college football player or whether you’re a person running a business, the one thing, the one trait that I want in people is that you’re going to persevere,” Kelly said. “Because things aren’t going to go your way all the time.
“I think that’s the biggest thing – it gives our guys confidence. ‘Hey, we can adjust to this. We’re not going to panic. We’ll be OK.’”