Tallahassee, FL - It seems Florida State faces a different obstacle every game. Thursday night's nationally-televised game at North Carolina - the first of its kind at Kenan Stadium - is the latest of challenges facing the Seminoles, and that does not even touch on the fact that the Tar Heels boast the nation's third-ranked defense.
Both the Seminoles (2-4, 0-3 ACC) and Tar Heels (4-2, 0-2) are looking for their first Atlantic Coast Conference victories of the season in this matchup of strength against streak and weakness against weakness.
"It's a big challenge for us and we have to execute and play as well as we can if we want to be successful," said Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, who leads the ACC's top-rated offense against UNC's top-rated defense. "It’s a heck of a challenge and it’s something that we can show up and shock the world and make a statement because it’s a Thursday night game and it’s the only game on. So we have an opportunity but a heck of a challenge.”
The game will provide new opportunities for several Seminoles, including sophomore tight end Beau Reliford and sophomore lineback Nigel Carr. They are expected to make their first career starts.
Reliford replaces senior tight end Caz Piurowski, who was one of the top players in the country at his position before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Georgia Tech.
“It’s been coming along very well," said Reliford, who caught his first career touchdown pass against Georgia Tech. "It’s just nothing but more reps and going out there and getting more playing time."
Reliford said he got most of the nerves out of his system when Piurowski went down against the Yellow Jackets. Since then he has turned his focus on improving his blocking game, an area where Piurowski was exceptional.
"I’m a blocker," said Reliford, a one-time basketball standout who has made the conversion to football. "That was my main focus this whole week."
Carr, who has played extensively behind Dekoda Watson, will likely get the nod with the senior still struggling with a groin strain. A high-energy, emotional player, Carr hopes he can bring that to the Seminoles' struggling defense if called on.
"Every day I look at myself as a starter," Carr said. "Even though I'm second-team I come out there with a starter's mentality. I'm going to have to play that level in the game."
Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher is confident his unit has prepared to play at a high level against a defense he estimates is the toughest the Seminoles have seen this season.
"They know they're in for a challenge and in for a dogfight," Fisher said, praising the unit's preparation. "We practice to clean up details. I was very pleased with their effort. I just hope we can take it out to this game because it's going to be a huge challenge."
With four regular starters listed as questionable due to injury, and three others definitely out for the game, the Seminoles collectively face another challenge in a season full of them. FSU opened against rival Miami and had just two days to prepare for a visit from Jacksonville State. Then it was off to BYU where the host Cougars had a three-season winning streak at home, before playing host to in-state USF, which had ample motivation.
Losses at Boston College and home to Georgia Tech's spread-option send FSU on to Chapel Hill riding a three-game losing streak.
Though the Seminoles are just 5-4 all-time in Thursday night games, Ponder insisted that the team hasn't treated this one any differently than a regular Saturday game.
“The game falls on a different day but the way the schedule’s set up, we practiced everyday that we would have and we actually had extra practice time, so we should be more prepared than before,” Ponder said.
Kickoff at Kenan Stadium and before an ESPN national audience is set for 8:06 p.m.
The following players appear on FSU's injury report for the Oct. 22 game at UNC:
OUT - CB Dionte Allen (thumb), OT Garrett Faircloth (hip), OT Antwane Greenlee (knee), LB Aaron Gresham (knee), LB Maurice Harris (neck)*, DT DeMonte McAllister (knee), TE Caz Piurowski (knee)*, OT John Prior (knee), DT Budd Thacker (knee).
QUESTIONABLE - WR Richard Goodman (groin), RV Korey Mangum (shoulder), DT Justin Mincey (knee), CB Patrick Robinson (ankle), CB Xavier Rhodes (thumb), LB Dekoda Watson (knee), LB Vince Williams (back)
* - out for the season