Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Planning for success: Florida State
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The chase got a jump start last week against Idaho, but Devonta Freeman insists he’s not really thinking about 1,000.
Sure, the 17-year drought of 1,000-yard rushers at Florida State remains as popular a topic as ever, and yes, Freeman would love to be the one who finally, mercifully puts the subject to rest. But his big game last week, which significantly buoyed his chances, wasn’t about the stats.
“It would mean a lot, but I just feel like if we won a championship, that’d be way better,” said Freeman, who is up to 808 yards for the season, needing to average 64 yards per game the rest of the way to reach 1,000. “I’m not about individual goals. I see the big picture, and I want to get to the championship.”
Still, Freeman’s 11-carry, 129-yard day was a nice reminder that he’s still a significant weapon on an offense that hasn’t needed the running game to do much more than than salt away the clock down the stretch in recent weeks.
Devonta Freeman is on pace to become Florida State's first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996.
Like the rest of FSU’s starters, Freeman hasn’t played but a handful of snaps in the second half for much of the season, and in the two games leading up to Saturday’s blowout of Idaho, he’d gotten just 10 total carries.
It’s been that way for all three of FSU’s tailbacks this season. Each has his niche, but none has garnered a fraction of the spotlight enjoyed by Heisman candidate Jameis Winston.
Freeman has been the starter, which would normally mean he gets the bulk of the carries. But the slew of blowout wins have limited opportunities for the starters, and Freeman has just 12 carries in the fourth quarter all season.
James Wilder Jr. has been the battering ram, leading the team in short-yardage runs. He’s converted 10 of 12 third-and-shorts for first downs, but the punishing job has resulted in a shoulder injury and concussion, too.
Karlos Williams has been the game breaker, averaging 8.5 yards per carry, with nearly one-third of his rushes going for 10 yards or more. But his role has been largely limited to mop-up duty. He’s had just 12 first-half carries all year.
Cobbled together, the group has been incredibly effective. Florida State is averaging 6.7 yards per carry this season (not including sacks), which ranks fourth nationally. The Seminoles are on pace to shatter the program record for rushing touchdowns in a season (40) set just last year. The team’s rushing record of 3,021 is within reach, too. If FSU maintains its current per-carry average, that would set a record, too.
“I just think everybody’s hungry,” Freeman said. “Everybody’s going out like, ‘I might get three carries this week, and these need to be my three carries.’ ”
And, of course, there’s a chance this week’s game could help pad all those stats.
It’s rare that Florida looks like a pushover at the line of scrimmage, and for the most part, the Gators had been solid against the run this season. In its first five games, Florida allowed just 2.8 yards per carry and three total touchdowns. In its last six games, however, things have fallen apart. The Gators have coughed up an average of 5.1 yards per rush along with 13 touchdowns. The implosion culminated last week when Georgia Southern, an FCS team, racked up 429 rushing yards and won 26-20 without throwing a single pass.
If running the ball is the key to demoralizing Florida again, getting Freeman closer to 1,000 yards becomes a far more realistic possibility.
“To me, if it’s in the context of winning and being successful, then it’s a great accomplishment,” Jimbo Fisher said. “Still, 1,000 yards is 1,000 yards, and that means a lot. That’s a plateau that’s been set in this sport. If he gets it, I’m happy for him. That means the other thing, we were able to run the football, which I’m all for.”
Winston’s Heisman Trophy campaign remains in full swing at FSU, and Fisher insists getting Freeman to 1,000 isn’t a priority. But given the way Florida’s defense has struggled, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Seminoles run the ball early and often Saturday.
Of course, given the direction the two teams are headed, that still might mean Freeman only gets a handful of touches before resuming a comfortable position on the sideline.