TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It’s the third week of November, the conference slate is over, bowl eligibility has been secured and, as they always do this time of year, the Florida State Seminoles are about to turn their attention to the Florida Gators.
Yes, next up for the Seminoles is a trip to Gainesville that will carry major implications – both for the perception of their season and perhaps for their postseason destination.
But first FSU has an open date that, while welcome, comes at an unusual time.
It will be the Seminoles’ second open date of the season, and their latest off week since 2005. (Incidentally, it will be FSU’s latest off week on the calendar since Nov. 23, 1991.)
So while the Seminoles are looking forward to matching up with Florida, they’ve also got a few things to take care of first.
Starting with interim head coach Odell Haggins’ favorite word.
“You know what I’m going to focus on the most? Fundamentals,” Haggins said when asked how he’d use the next week. “See, sometimes we look at all the touchdowns, the interceptions.
“How do you get those touchdowns and interceptions? By being fundamentally sound. Think about this, if we’re fundamentally sound, we’ll get more. And we’re going to get out there this week. We’re going to practice hard. We’re going to be fundamentally sound when we go into that (UF) game.”
Haggins began his press conference Saturday by noting that the Seminoles didn’t play their best game against Alabama State, despite a 49-12 final score. They allowed a 40-percent conversion rate on third down and six passing plays of at least 15 yards. And they found themselves in a closer-than-expectare contest early in the third quarter before pulling away.
So Haggins will a few things to address over the next two weeks.
“We made some mistakes,” he said. “Not proud of it. We’re going to work on that (Sunday). But the one thing about it, this was a two-week thing for those kids. It was a very emotional time. It was a very emotional time. And I take my hat off to those young men. They fought. They could have given in, but those young men fought.”
A week off from game competition will also provide a chance for injured players to heal and send the Seminoles to Gainesville as close to full-strength as possible.
Three key offensive starters – running back Cam Akers, tight end Tre’ McKitty and guard Dontae Lucas – sat out against Alabama State, and FSU hopes to have all three back in action against Florida.
And defensive tackle Cory Durden, managing a shoulder injury for the last few weeks, played limited snaps as well.
Haggins said it was “awesome” to see the way that some of FSU’s younger reserves embraced their expanded opportunities, but there’s also little doubt the Seminoles’ best chance at an upset in two weeks will require their full complement of players.
At 9-2, Florida has a chance to win 10 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 10 years.
But FSU also hasn’t lost in Gainesville since 2009 – back when Tim Tebow was celebrating Senior Day.
With a chance to extend that streak – it stands at four – as well as a chance to avenge last season’s deflating loss in Tallahassee and a chance to improve their bowl destination, the Seminoles won’t be lacking for motivation once UF week finally gets here.
Then again, when are they ever?
“I can’t wait,” Durden said. “I cannot wait. It’s my first time playing in Gainesville. I’m from Newberry. It’s a homecoming for me. I’m excited.”
Same goes for lineman Cole Minshew, a fifth-year senior who will play his last regular season game at UF.
“You always look forward to that, huh?” Minshew said. “Especially when they’re ranked pretty high. We’re going to try to spoil the good season they’re having this year.
“That’s always one you look forward to. Always one you check on the calendar. And I think we’re going to be ready, too.”