Wilder, Freeman to see more work

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
9:00
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Devonta Freeman, Chris Thompson, James Wilder AP PhotoAgainst Boston College, FSU will look to split the rushing load between Devonta Freeman, Chris Thompson and James Wilder.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Devonta Freeman knew what he was getting into before fall camp began.

A year ago, he was at the head of the pack by default, the last man standing amid the wreckage of injuries and poor performance in Florida State's backfield. This year was going to be different. His role would be smaller, his carries fewer and, in some games, he might not see any action at all.

As it turned out, the latter has become commonplace. In Florida State's last three games, Freeman has played sparingly. He hasn't had a carry since Week 3.

"It's tough because of the playing time I had last year, but it's a long season," Freeman said. "We've got a long time to go. I'm just being patient, staying humble and waiting on my opportunity."

For a while, Freeman had been elbowed out of the picture by sophomore James Wilder Jr., whose role had blossomed during the first few weeks of the season, culminating with a punishing second-half run to help ice a win over Clemson.

But like Freeman, Wilder has quietly faded from the offense the past two weeks, too. After struggling with goal-line carries against USF two weeks ago, Wilder got just one touch against NC State, while senior Chris Thompson carried the load, racking up a career high 25 carries.

"Thompson is hot and averaging 7 yards a carry," Jimbo Fisher said. "Chris is just playing so doggone well."

Indeed Thompson is just 7 yards shy of matching Freeman's team-leading total from a year ago, and the Florida State running game ranks second in the ACC in yards with 1,431 -- 27 shy of last year's season total. But that doesn't mean the ground game is running smoothly.

As FSU collapsed in the second half last week against NC State, the running game provided little help. After a monster first half, Thompson mustered just 26 yards on nine carries, and Florida State was 0-for-3 converting third downs on the ground in the second half.

When it was over, Fisher wondered if the Seminoles might have found a bit more success had Wilder and Freeman gotten a few touches, putting fresh legs in the backfield rather than pushing Thompson again and again.

Fisher had backed off those concerns by Monday, but even he admits Florida State would benefit from a bit more diversity.

"We'd like to get a little better rotation," Fisher said, "but [it's tough when] you get a guy who is so hot and hitting space and hitting those home runs."

If there's a solution to this dilemma, however, it comes this week in the form of Boston College.

The Eagles rushing defense ranks 121st nationally out of 124 FBS teams. In four games against other FBS foes, Boston College has allowed an average of 306 yards on the ground. In a loss to previously winless Army a week ago, BC allowed a whopping 516 rushing yards and the Black Knights had three different players run for more than 100 yards.

But regardless of the Eagles' lackluster defense, Fisher said he wants to ensure Wilder and Freeman pick up some of the load this week.

"Chris will be our starter, but we're going to rotate," Fisher said. "For a game or two, that's good [to use one back] but the accumulation of a year can pound you and beat you, and you've got to make it through a whole season. We'll keep a little bit better rotation going."

Noles to watch:

1. Wilder and Freeman. Thompson will get his share of work, but it will be particularly interesting to see if Fisher can bring his two backup running backs into the fold with at least five or six carries apiece against the struggling Boston College rushing defense.

2. Menelik Watson. After missing last week's game with flu symptoms, Watson appears poised to return to action, which should help a struggling offensive line. In the two games he's missed this season, Florida State has allowed seven sacks. In the four he's started, the Noles have allowed just three.

3. Christian Jones. After recording 14 tackles last week -- the most by an FSU player this season, Jones figures to be tested once again. NC State killed Florida State with short crossing patterns, putting pressure on the linebackers to play out of position and cover receivers. Boston College has seen the film, and the Eagles could certainly offer a similar attack.

Eagles to watch:

1. Chase Rettig. The BC quarterback offered limited production in a loss a year ago, but he's taken a big step forward this season. While the Eagles have struggled overall, Rettig has put together a strong five games, throwing 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He's averaging 305 passing yards per game so far this season.

2. Alex Amidon. Averaging nearly eight receptions a game, Amidon has been Rettig's favorite target. Given Florida State's problems defending the passing game a week ago, there's a good chance he'll see plenty of action again Saturday.

3. Nick Clancy. In keeping with Boston College tradition, an Eagles linebacker is once again tops in the ACC in tackles. Clancy has 68 tackles through five weeks, and his 13.6 tackles per game average is No. 1 in the nation. This marks the fourth straight year in which a BC linebacker has ranked either first or second nationally in tackling.

By the numbers:

48. That's the percentage of EJ Manuel's passing attempts last week on which NC State brought at least a five-man rush. The result was four sacks on Manuel and a brutal second half in which the FSU QB finished 0-for-6 passing against the blitz. During the first five games of the season, opponents blitzed Manuel just 23 percent of the time.

4. That's the number of turnovers -- via fumbles or blocked punts -- Florida State has had on special teams this season. Rashad Greene has coughed up two punt returns (resulting in seven points) and Cason Beatty has had a punt blocked in each of the last two games (resulting in 14 points).

12. That's the number of first downs NC State recorded on passes in the second half of last week's upset win over FSU. Thats' the most by a Seminoles opponent since the start of the 2004 season. The Wolfpack's 218 passing yards in the second half are the most an FSU defense has allowed in two years.

1. That's the number of fade passes Manuel has thrown to 6-foot-6 receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone this season, and it resulted in a touchdown. Manuel said he'd like to see Fisher call the play a bit more often moving forward, particularly given that FSU has scored on just two of 13 plays run inside the opponent's 10-yard line in the past two weeks.

6. That's the number of receptions for Greene last week against NC State, totaling 60 yards. The six catches represents a season high by a Florida State wide receiver. Only Greg Dent (vs. Clemson) had caught five in a game before last week.

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