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Thursday, October 11, 2012
Eagles prepare to raise their game

By Jack McCluskey

NEWTON, Mass. -- Frank Spaziani has great respect for Boston College’s opponent this weekend.

In a team meeting this week, the Eagles’ head coach asked his players a question.

"I said, 'Raise your hands, who has aspirations of playing in the NFL?' " he said before practice Wednesday. “A lot of guys raise their hands. I said, 'Well Saturday night, you’re getting your chance. Those are NFL guys.' "

Of course, though it is loaded with talent, No. 12 Florida State has not yet been added to the National Football League. But some of its players may make it there someday.

Junior defensive end Bjoern Werner is tied for fifth nationally with 6.5 sacks so far this season. Senior tailback Chris Thompson is 12th in the country with 7.73 yards per carry, second in the ACC in rushing yards and rushing yards per game, and is on track to become FSU's first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996. And senior quarterback EJ Manuel is sixth in the country with a 70.5 completion percentage.

EJ Manuel
EJ Manuel and his Florida State Seminoles better not look past the BC Eagles, who are hungry for a big win.
Because of the Seminoles' formidable collection of talent, the Eagles don’t expect them to do anything fancy on Saturday (5:35 p.m., ESPN2).

"They're just gonna come out at us and do what they’re good at," linebacker Nick Clancy said. "I don’t think they’re gonna do anything special. They’re not gonna do any tricks. They’re gonna line up and run the three plays that they run.

"That’s what we’re preparing for this week .... them just running their bread and butter and they think they’re gonna beat us with it.”

Coming off a 17-16 loss to NC State that dropped them from No. 3 to No. 12, the Seminoles may be ripe for the picking. At least that’s what the Eagles are hoping for coming off their own loss, 34-31 to previously winless Army.

Gone are FSU’s hopes of a national title, the gold and garnet balloons deflated and lying lifeless at fans' feet.

“I think a lot of them are down, and I don’t know if they can respond to that,” defensive back Sean Sylvia said. “I honestly don’t think so.”

That said, the Eagles are far from overlooking the Noles.

“You gotta think the most of your opponent,” linebacker Steele Divitto said, “but you need to have the highest intentions of kicking their ass.”

The Eagles don’t believe the Seminoles have ever really respected them, and they certainly can’t be thinking much of a BC team that is on a three-game losing streak and has yet to beat a BCS opponent.

“I think any team that we play is overlooking us,” safety Jim Noel said, “just because we don’t have the same athleticism as they do, so they think that we’re just gonna be a bunch of pushovers and it’s gonna be an easy win.”

That attitude has helped BC in the past.

“When they came out and said, 'All right we’re not gonna be crazy with BC, we’re just gonna run down their throat,' " Nick Clancy said, "we prepared more than they did and we beat ‘em in the past.”

Florida State has won two straight, and three of the past five, in the series.

Both teams need the win, one to salvage a potentially lost season and the other to maintain at least a shot at an ACC title.

“These are the times you really need to persevere through,” Divitto said. “And when we do get this season turned around, we’re gonna think back, 'Wow, you know, that was pretty special.' "

A win for the Eagles in Doak Campbell Stadium would certainly reset the tone after what has been a disappointing start to the season.

“All wins count the same, but certain wins are weighted a little bit different,” Spaziani said. “Certainly going down there and beating a team of their caliber would be a good thing.”

Sean Sylvia
BC's Sean Sylvia, celebrating an interception against Clemson, said the Seminoles are likely vulnerable after last week's loss. "I think a lot of them are down, and I don't know if they can respond to that," he said.
The Eagles have been preparing to play in a hostile, loud environment this week, working on silent cadences and getting the ball out quickly in passing situations because of FSU’s powerful pass rush. Quarterback Chase Rettig said the Eagles coaches have been sounding a horn after three seconds on passing plays, reminding the offense that the ball needs to be out by then.

“You’re not gonna be able to get a lot of shot plays down the field just because they really have a good pass rush,” Rettig said. “They don’t even need to blitz very much just because those four guys can put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”

“We’ve got a really fast clock to get open,” leading receiver Alex Amidon said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the BC wideouts will have to cut off routes early, though.

“It’s just more of a sense of urgency we have to have,” he said, “come up to the line of scrimmage with a plan and don’t get held up by them because they’ve got corners that can jam you.”

FSU’s defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in several categories, including total defense (221.5 yards per game, fourth), rushing defense (71.33 ypg, fifth), passing defense (150.17 ypg, fifth) and scoring defense (12.3 points per game, seventh). That wouldn’t be possible without the dominant performances from the front four.

“It’s a big-league front four,” Spaziani said. “In other words, when we were really playing good defense here we had four guys and they controlled that aspect and it lets you do a lot of stuff. … They have four guys, they don’t need to gamble to put pressure on you passing and they can hold up in the run for the linebackers to make plays. That’s a good group.”

The Eagles know they have their work cut out for them on Saturday, but they also know what a win over a team like this could do for them.

“I think if we beat this team, then all of a sudden it’s 'All right, we can beat the rest of the teams on our schedule,' " Amidon said.

“This is an absolutely phenomenal opportunity,” Divitto said. “All the kids out there that are gonna be flying down there, every snap they get they’re very blessed. Because that’s a hell of a place to play, we’re playing on national TV, we’re playing a national team.

“It’s very exciting," he added. "This could be our niche where we get things rolling.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.