Tallahassee, FL - Florida State’s shutout defensive effort against Wake Forest provides tangible evidence that Mark Stoops’ unit is coming together.
The Seminoles were so dominant on defense that they justifiably over-shadowed a 485-yard performance by the offense, which may prove to be the first sign that Christian Ponder & Co. are beginning to get in a groove. A couple red zone breakdowns prevented FSU from putting up an even larger margin of victory than the 31-0 triumph.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher walked off the practice field Tuesday evening convinced that the offense – and the team as a whole – is prepared to build on its 3-1 start. The ‘Noles put their two-game winning streak and new-found momentum on the line Saturday when they visit Virginia (2-1, 0-0 ACC) in Charlottesville.
“We had a good Monday. We had a good Tuesday,” Fisher said. “There wasn’t any thinking about last week. It was getting ready for this week. They’re building. I see them getting better every day.”
First-year Virginia coach Mike London’s Cavaliers will provide the Seminoles an ample challenge on both sides of the football. Fisher hopes to counter with a more productive effort as he takes his team on the road for the second time this season.
Throughout the preseason, Fisher has stressed the importance of developing the younger players on the roster so that they are prepared to make a greater contribution by the midway point of the season and beyond. Some of those youngsters, like freshman wide receiver Kenny Shaw, enjoyed big moments in the Week 4 win against Wake Forest. Shaw had a career-high two receptions, including his first TD catch. Sophomore receiver Willie Haulstead, who managed just one reception as a true freshman last season, collected four receptions and the first two TDs of his career.
Defensively, freshmen defensive end Bjoern Werner, cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and linebackers Christian Jones, Telvin Smith and Jeff Luc are all making significant contributions to the cause.
“It’s fun watching those young freshmen grow on both sides of the ball,” Fisher said. “Those guys are getting better and better.”
Shaw, as well as fellow freshmen receivers Jarred Haggins and Greg Dent, could be important pieces as the FSU offense begins to shape up.
“I really like Kenny,” Fisher said after Tuesday’s workout. “He came out (at the start of camp) and did great, then I think it overwhelmed him for a while. Now it’s starting to slow down for him and he’s doing well again. You talk about a polished route-runner and catching the ball. His confidence is coming back and he understands the offense now and it’s clicking.”
FSU’s offense, in general, was especially sharp during Tuesday’s practice as Ponder repeatedly put the ball on target to his receivers through the air. It was the second consecutive strong outing for Ponder, who is coming off a season-high 243-yard, two-touchdown performance against Wake Forest.
The Seminoles also cranked out a season-high 28 first downs. Couple that with four three-and-out defensive series, and you have the recipe for victory.
“There are two things going on right now that I’m very pleased with,” Fisher explained. “They’re getting three-and-outs and we’re not having three-and-outs. So even if you don’t score, you’re still changing field position and you’re still winning that battle so you can get it back.”
Much as it did a week ago, winning the “first down battle” against the Cavaliers will be critical to helping the Seminoles get to 2-0 in ACC play.