TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A traditional Thanksgiving Day meal awaited the Florida State football team at the conclusion of Thursday’s two-hour practice. Turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings seemed like the right way to put a wrap on the final practice before Saturday’s home showdown with rival Florida.
“Pretty good day; pretty good focus – especially on Thanksgiving Day,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said following practice and before joining the team meal. “They got their work done, were pretty jazzed up and did a good job.”
The Seminoles (8-3, 6-2 ACC) enter the game looking to snap a six-game losing streak against the Gators (7-4, 4-4 SEC), which includes three consecutive losses to their rivals at Doak Campbell Stadium. A victory will give the first-year coach and his team their first nine-win regular season since 2003.
Fisher goes to great lengths to make sure the Seminoles prepare for each opponent in the same fashion, so when he was asked if his first shot as a head coach against Florida might cause some butterflies in his stomach, his response as about as expected.
“It’s another big game; it’s the next game, a rivalry game, but at the end of the day it’s one win (or) one less and has implications,” he said. “I’m not demeaning the game. It is a big game, but you have to play the game. You can’t get caught up in what games mean. It’s how you play them. When you play them right the meaning becomes big at the end.”
As an added bonus Saturday, the Seminoles could also earn a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game if Maryland can knock off NC State in College Park, Md. The ‘Noles have already clinched a share of first place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but would lose the head-to-head tie-breaker if the Wolfpack prevail.
Fisher, however, doesn’t want his team to be wondering what is transpiring up the road. He has instructed athletic staff officials not to provide updates of the NC State-Maryland game on the scoreboard during the Florida game. He wants the Seminoles firmly focused on the task at hand, which is sizeable enough.
“This is another step for us to learn to play in these kind of games,” Fisher added. “For the last six years we haven’t had success in them. We need to do it. We did a really good job in how we went down and handled the Miami situation, not (just) that we won, but I like the way we carried ourselves into the game, in our maturity, readiness to play and the emotional part of the game. This will be another challenge and learning tool.
“It’s not enough to want to win. You’ve got to know how to win and play to win. It’s not always the big plays you make, it’s the fewest mistakes.”
FSU will welcome wide receiver Willie Haulstead back to the lineup against the Gators. The Seminoles’ leader in touchdown receptions, Haulstead has essentially missed the last two games with a concussion.
“If he’ll come back and play on the level he was playing at, he gives you another great weapon,” he said. “Sometimes when a guy is off, you hope he comes back in the same rhythm. He was in a good rhythm.
“You wished Willie hadn’t missed games because he was really on a roll with playing. You hate for that to happen. … Hopefully he’ll have fresh legs and be ready to go.”
The ‘Noles have suffered a shortage of big plays against Florida during their recent series slide; an area they must improve in order to prevail.
“You’ve got to make plays,” Fisher added. “They’ve got playmakers, they’ve got speed. There’s going to be a point in this game where people break tackles, make guys miss, jump over somebody and make a catch. … Turnovers, (no) penalties and big plays – those are the things you have to have to have success.
“It can be tough when you have to execute 13-play drives over and over again.”