Sept. 9, 2010
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The preparation is nearly complete. Now it’s time for Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State football team to take its first major exam.
Florida State takes its No. 17 national ranking into Norman, Okla., where the 10th-ranked Sooners have rattled off 31 consecutive home victories at the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Saturday’s rare intersectional showdown between perennial powers will be televised nationally on ABC (3:30 p.m.).
“We had a good week of practice, prepared well and worked hard,” Fisher said, after putting the Seminoles through a post-practice skull session Thursday. “We had a lot of good heat and sun. We’ve got another day-and-a-half off here and their legs will come back and we’ll be ready to play.”
A multitude of potential storylines ultimately may come down to this: Which teams’ defense and special teams units can avoid breakdowns that yield big plays.
Neither the Seminoles or Sooners are short of firepower. Offensively, the Seminoles will put the ball in the hands of Heisman hopeful quarterback Christian Ponder, who will spread it around to play-making receivers, while also leaning on the solid cast of running backs. Kicker Dustin Hopkins and return specialist Greg Reid also have the ability to produce game-changing plays.
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Oklahoma will counter with quarterback Landry Jones, who leans heavily on senior tailback DeMarco Murray and sophomore slot receiver Ryan Broyles, who is also a dangerous return specialist.
“They’ve got home run hitters and if you leave the ball down the middle they’ll hit it out of the park,” Fisher said of the Sooners.
In terms of experience, the Seminoles have an edge along the offensive line, where seniors Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon anchor a unit that has grown into one of the nation’s best. Beyond the 147 combined career starts by the five men up front, they have all added muscle mass from last season. How they handle the Sooners’ defensive front, led by explosive senior end Jeremy Beal, will play a huge factor in the outcome.
“He (Beal) makes big plays,” said Fisher. “We’re going to have to know where he is at all times.
“This is one of the best defensive fronts in the country that you’ll face anywhere,” Fisher said. “I think it will be a very good challenge for our guys and I’m anxious to see how they handle it.”
In dispatching over-matched Samford 59-6 in the season-opener, the Seminoles displayed a tenacity and mentality at times unseen in recent seasons. FSU was penalized only four times and methodically overcame a pair of turnovers to handle their business. It wasn’t a flawless effort, but it did demonstrate the strides the program has made in nine months under Fisher’s direction.
The long-time assistant said he’s most proud of the way the team has gone about its work, on and off the field.
“I think its maturity,” Fisher said. “I think it’s a focus. We’ve really tried to emphasize that. … Like I say, you are what you eat. Well, you play like you prepare.”
Make no mistake, the Seminoles have prepared to win, though Fisher insists a victory over the Sooners won’t make or break a season with 10 more regular season games to play.
“It’s an important game and a stepping stone for where we want to go and what we want to do, but there’s a heckuva a lot of football to be played,” he said. “This is just a great opportunity to find out where we are now.
“They understand that it’s a great opportunity and you have to take advantage of those opportunities. It’s one of the unique places to play. It’s one of the experiences you will always remember in your life in college football. It’s why you come to Florida State to play in games like that and have opportunities like that. They’re embracing the opportunity. They’re not fearing it. They’re not overlooking it in any way, shape or form. They just think it is a big game and they want to play in it and play well.”
Thursday’s skull session merely reinforced what Fisher has seen from his squad to this point.
“They are focused,” Fisher said. “When you call out assignments – bang, bang, bang, bang, bang – they know where they’re going and what they’re doing. Now it’s a matter of doing it and doing it under pressure; staying technique sound when you get tired and you get hot in those big pressure situations.”
Like the rest of the current Seminoles, Fisher has never been in a game on Owen Field. But he is comforted by the knowledge that Ponder, his quarterback, will handle the setting and hopefully set the tempo for the rest of the team.
“I know how he’ll play,” Fisher said of Ponder. “Of all the qualities he has, the thing I love the most is he wants to be the best at everything he does. That’s the competitiveness and toughness that he brings. I know how he’ll play there. I hope we play well around him and let him function and do the things that he does.”