Oct. 27, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Game-planning for a team that boasts a national leader in a positive statistical category obviously presents its share of challenges.
But what about when there are two national leaders on one team?
That’s precisely the predicament Florida State finds itself in as it prepares for Saturday’s home game against NC State. Despite their 4-3 overall record, the Wolfpack’s pair of playmakers in wide receiver T.J. Graham and cornerback David Amerson have proven to be a handful for all seven of NC State’s opponents this season.
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
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Graham has a chance as a senior this year to become one of the most prolific special teams threats in Atlantic Coast Conference history. The Raleigh, N.C. native enters the game against the Seminoles just 151 yards shy of tying the ACC career kickoff-return mark.
Because of his ability to make plays in both the kickoff- and punt-return game and his talents at the wide receiver position, Graham currently leads the nation with 185.7 all-purpose yards per game.
“You have to know where he’s at,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “You get him in one-on-one situations, he can definitely burn you … run by you. He catches the ball underneath. Great thing about him is he is a great return guy and he has running skills once he gets he ball in his hand on short routes.”
Playing against Graham is going to be a challenge but it also provides an opportunity for the ‘Noles defenders to prove themselves.
After being burned earlier this year by big plays in the passing game in losses to Oklahoma and Clemson, FSU’s defensive secondary has the chance to experience a little bit of redemption.
“A lot of teams feel they can beat FSU’s defense by attacking our secondary,” sophomore safety Lamarcus Joyner. “This is a chance for us to re-establish our secondary and let them know that we are a good secondary and we can cover the deep ball and short passes and make tackles. That’s what we have been working on this week.”
While Graham excels at getting past defenders, Amerson is the exact opposite; he shuts offenses down.
The 6-foot-3 sophomore cornerback has nabbed eight interceptions in just seven games this season after not recording any as a nine-game starter his freshman year. Those eight takeaways not only lead the country but they are three more than the nation’s No. 2 in the category.
Amerson is just three interceptions shy of tying former North Carolina star Dre’ Bly’s ACC record of 11 that he recorded during the 1996 season.
“He has great ball skills, he adjusts, his instinct, he breaks on the ball,” Fisher said. “He does a very good job. There’s no doubt you definitely have to be aware of where he’s at and what he’s doing at all times.”
Amerson’s ascension into the nation’s defensive elite places even more of a premium on quarterback EJ Manuel’s ability to accurately find the open man.
It will be important on Saturday for the Seminoles wide receivers to give Manuel an open target to throw to whether they are being guarded by Amerson or not.
“We have to be sound; run good routes,” sophomore wide receiver Kenny Shaw said.
THE MENTOR AND HIS UNDERSTUDY
Last Saturday’s 41-16 win over Maryland provided an interesting glimpse at the present and the future of Florida State’s backfield.
In the second half of that game, both Devonta Freeman and Jermaine Thomas participated in quite a few plays together as part of the Seminoles “Pony” package. Seminoles.com’s Scott Kotick will have a video feature on that personnel grouping on Friday and it’s very interesting.
But what’s very interesting as well is the fact that FSU fans are also getting to see the relationship between the two tailbacks.
For the last three-plus seasons, Thomas has been an integral part of FSU’s running game. As his career in Tallahassee begins to wind down, Freeman’s is just getting started.
Like Thomas, Freeman is getting minutes and opportunities early in his career and figures to be at the heart of what the ‘Noles do on the ground for years to come. Thomas said this week that he understands the dynamic that has been created between the two and he has embraced his role as a mentor in their relationship.
“I told [Freeman] that he reminded me so much of myself coming in as a freshman just with his hunger and how he is about the game of football,” Thomas said. “He’s just willing to learn. Once we leave practice, he always has the game on his mind thinking about the little things. That’s how I was when I came in and I just want to inspire him to keep that same mentality that will take him a long way.”
Until FSU starts reeling off 10-plus win seasons on a yearly basis again, a hot topic in the college football world will always be about the Seminoles eventual return to national prominence.
And while that “official” bounce back to the dominating ways of old that defined the dynasty years in the late 1980s and for the duration of the 90s has not happened quite yet, the ‘Noles’ ability to rush the quarterback sure looks a lot like those times.
Paced by Brandon Jenkins and Markus White last year and now Jenkins and budding star Bjoern Werner this season, Florida State’s pass rush has seen its own resurgence. After ranking first in the nation in sacks in 2010, FSU currently ranks No. 4 in the country with 3.47 quarterback take-downs per game.
It’s a facet of the defense that defined the ‘Noles last year and is at the core of what they do best this year.
“We have great coaching with Coach D.J. Eliot and we have great players,” said Jenkins, who grew up in Tallahassee watching a long line of punishing pass rushers clad in garnet and gold. “We have a great attitude. It’s a combination of a lot of things out there.”
For as good as Jenkins, Werner, Dan Hicks and Cornelius Carradine are athletically, it’s Eliot’s teachings that have turned them into an elite unit as a whole.
“Coach Eliot always works on our technique with us,” Jenkins said about FSU’s second-year defensive ends coach. “He is a very energetic coach and he knows how to motive us and keep us hungry. He’s a great coach.”
In addition to ranking fourth in the country, FSU currently ranks third nationally in tackles for loss with 8.43 per game.
TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE
Just a reminder that there are a limited number of tickets still available for Saturday’s noon contest against NC State. If you want to attend this Parent’s Weekend game, simply call 1-888-FSU-Nole or click on the button at the top of this page that says tickets.