TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –Florida State’s three-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s ACC Championship game against Virginia Tech may pale in comparison to the Hokies’ 10-game run, but it doesn’t detract from what the Seminoles have been able to accomplish.
Bouncing back from consecutive losses, the 20th-ranked Seminoles (9-3, 6-2 ACC) staved off Clemson and Maryland in elimination games, then rolled over rival Florida, on the way to their second Atlantic Division title. A place in the ACC title opposite the 11th-ranked Hokies (10-2, 8-0) – as predicted in most preseason models – has been a positive step for the Seminoles under first-year coach Jimbo Fisher.
“It means a lot because of the direction we’re going and what it means to our players; (that) if you do things and have hard work and persevere through a lot of ups and downs, you can get there,” Fisher said, following Wednesday’s practice. “I think this is a great learning tool for our kids.
“Sometimes when you just keep doing things right, good things happen for you. That’s a great lesson.”
Florida State’s defense has had a lot to do with the progress. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ unit overcame a lopsided week two loss at Oklahoma and mental lapses in consecutive losses to NC State and North Carolina, to finish on a high note. The ‘Noles have allowed just one offensive touchdown in each of their last three games.
“(I am) extremely proud of them, because they could have packed it in,” Fisher said. “They didn’t even flinch. For them to learn that lesson is very critical.
“They did what we said we’d have to do all year: when you have a mistake, fix the problem, go about it the right way and become fundamentally sound. … Our kids went back to refocusing. That’s what we talk to them about – have focus. Focus allows details, details allows execution. We did a very good job of that on defense.”
Embracing the changes that came with the arrival of Stoops and a rebuilt defensive staff and completely new scheme came quickly for a team that was motivated to improve from a substandard 2009 season.
“The year before this one we weren’t as good as we are this year on defense,” said senior linebacker Kendall Smith. “Jimbo, when he took over, he wanted our team to be proud of the way we played defensively with big hits and playmaking abilities, and we definitely have the athletes on the defensive side of the ball to do that. By the end of the season our defense is one of the top defenses in the nation and I’m glad to be part of that. I wasn’t used to that in the past, but I feel that all the hard work has paid off.”
With Fisher demanding a unified front, the offense, defense and special teams have turned to leaning on each other in difficult times, as opposed to a year ago, when the Seminoles were often forced to outscore opponents. There have been times this season – most notably in wins over Boston College, Clemson and Maryland – when the defense has carried the day.
“I tip my hat off to the (defensive) coaches,” said junior wide receiver Bert Reed. “They’ve done a really good job of changing the culture, changing how things are done, and changing how guys work at practice…but also putting those guys in the right situation to make plays and being able to use their abilities to get the most out of us. I really tip my hat to Coach Hudson, Coach Stoops, Coach Elliott, and Coach Haggins. They have done a great job of getting those guys ready.”
Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., it will take the best efforts of all three units to deliver the Seminoles an ACC record-tying 13th conference championship. The defense must contend with elusive Hokies quarterback Tyrod Taylor, recently anointed as ACC Player of the Year, and a stable of NFL-caliber running backs. As usual, Virginia Tech continues to boast stout defensive and special teams units.
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