Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham has not watched the film of last year’s 47-17 loss to Oklahoma since the Monday following that game last season.
“I haven’t watched that film since,” he said, “and I don’t want to watch it.”
You can’t blame him.
Landry Jones threw for 380 yards and four touchdowns that day, shredding the Seminoles’ defense, which was often caught off-guard and out of position.
That was then, this is now, and those within Florida State’s program are convinced this year’s team is good enough to beat the No. 1 team in the nation. As the season progressed last year, so did Florida State, so much so that the Seminoles won the Atlantic Division and earned themselves a spot in the ACC championship game. Now, in only the second season under coach Jimbo Fisher, an upset of the No. 1-ranked Sooners on Saturday could have Florida State in the hunt for a national title. Fisher said the biggest difference between his team today and the last time it lined up against the Oklahoma is the maturity level and familiarity.
“You know more of your team,” he said. “Last year, being the second game we played, it was still -- an interesting thing -- going on the road, big game on road. I think we know our players better and they know us better. They know our scheme better and we know what they can do in our scheme better. We’ll be able to coach them better. Hopefully we got better as a football team and throughout that time, which I think we did as the year went on. Hopefully, we’ll be better this year.”
The numbers indicate more progress than hope.
In last year’s game against Oklahoma, FSU allowed 44 points in three quarters. They also allowed 487 yards and 394 passing yards. According to ESPN’s research department, the 47 points and 487 yards were the most allowed by Florida State last season. In the 14 games since, the Seminoles have held 11 opponents under 20 points, and only one opponent has thrown for more than 280 yards. Opponents have 14 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions during that span.
Part of that improvement stems from the natural progression that comes with being in the second season of the same system. The players have said they have a much better comfort level with defensive coordinator Mark Stoops and his philosophy.
“We’ve got a great chemistry with coach Stoops now,” Bradham said. “We have more of an understanding of what he wants to do with the game plan, and understand his scheme more. That helps us a lot more. The connection with him as a person and a coach. Knowing what he likes to do in certain situations, and knowing what calls he likes to go to in certain situations has helped us out on the whole defense.”
Offensively, it’s a new story with a new quarterback. Former Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder’s Heisman hopes were dashed in this game before they even really began. This year, there’s more of a humble approach, as first-year starter EJ Manuel calmly readies himself for one of the biggest games of his career to date. Manuel said he is not the only one who has improved since last year.
“I think our team has really grown up from last year,” Manuel said. “A lot of guys who played key positions and key roles for our team are juniors and seniors and sophomores. That experience is very good for us.”
The Seminoles have scored 96 points in their first two games -- 34-0 against Louisiana-Monroe, and 62-10 against Charleston Southern -- but the offensive line hasn’t quite come together yet, and the running game has yet to reach the level of consistency Fisher would like to see. The strength of this team, at least early, has clearly been the defense.
Through two games, FSU’s defense has allowed 10 points, 275 total yards, and 15 first downs. Opponents have converted only 7-of-29 third-down attempts.
Those numbers, though, have come against inferior opponents.
Only Saturday’s game against Oklahoma will truly reveal just how far Florida State has come since the last time it lined up against the Sooners.
“This is a different team,” said receiver Rodney Smith. “Saturday will prove it all.”