Florida State Seminoles: Rhett Lashlee

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May, 2, 2014
May 2
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Bring on the Game 7s.
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Auburn running back Tre Mason nearly quit football as a kid. In fact, the Tigers' Heisman Trophy finalist didn't play his freshman year of high school.

He had his heart set on a basketball career.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsTre Mason has run wild this season for Auburn, but at one point in high school thought about giving up football to focus on basketball.
"I stopped playing football in eighth grade and was like, ‘I’m done. I’m going to play basketball,'" Mason said Thursday. "But I went to a game in the ninth grade and said, 'I think I could do this. I think I could dominate.'"

With 1,621 rushing yards and a school-record 22 touchdowns this season, Mason has been nothing short of dominant. He needs 166 rushing yards in Monday's VIZIO BCS National Championship against Florida State to pass Bo Jackson as Auburn's single-season record holder.

It's a good thing for the Tigers that he ditched his hoops plans.

"I was young and had this dream of playing basketball, but the reality was that I wasn’t 6-8," Mason said.

SEC Seminoles?

Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, asked Thursday if the Seminoles could have made it through the SEC this season without a loss, would have welcomed that challenge.

And for the record, he also would have liked the Seminoles' chances.

"We believe we're the No. 1 team in the country," Joyner said. "We believe that in our heart. We wouldn't come out and be disrespectful to a lot of other teams. But with the things we've accomplished this year, everything speaks for itself. So, hopefully, we would have been able to do the same thing.

"But me being a part of this Florida State organization, if we were in the SEC, I'd say we'd do what we do."

The Seminoles are looking to become only the third team since 1950 to win all of its games by at least 14 points. The last to do it was Utah in 2004. The other was national champion Nebraska in 1995.

Too close to call

How good (and how talented) is this Florida State team on defense?

Good enough that linebacker Telvin Smith thinks Florida State's defense would shut out the Florida State offense. For the record, the Seminoles enter Monday's game leading the country in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

Joyner chuckled confidently when told of Smith's claim.

"Some things, you never know," Joyner said. "It’s a good thing to be able to say that, knowing that we won’t have to. Some things you just want to leave that way. We have a lot of talent on both ends.

"Let’s just say it would probably be a national championship game if it was our defense versus our offense."

SEC ties top friendship

Even when close friends are involved, there's apparently an SEC brotherhood that's sacred.

Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt joked that Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart wasn't sharing a lot of secrets concerning Auburn. Pruitt and Smart are friends and worked together at Alabama before Pruitt took the FSU coordinator job.

"Kirby has kind of taken the stance of, 'We’re friends, but …'" Pruitt said. "They’ve still got that SEC thing going. There’s some pride there."

Ties that bind

Auburn co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Dameyune Craig recruited Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston to Florida State. He was integral in luring the nation’s top quarterback to Tallahassee, where he spent the past three seasons as FSU’s quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator.

Now, Craig’s biggest recruit will be lined up against him on college football’s biggest stage.

While Craig hasn’t spoken publicly about his relationship with Winston, the personal ties to Florida State haven’t been lost on his current players.

"It means a lot to him," said Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah. "We know it means a lot to him. We knew that he was really close with all those guys, especially Jameis. He even said something about him at the Heisman ceremony, so we know this game means a lot to him, for sure."

Better than Bama

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Florida State’s defense is comparable to Alabama’s -- and might be even better.

"Honestly, you look at the features, and Alabama might have a little bit bigger guys up front, but not much," Lashlee said. "These guys are extremely quick and active. … Alabama was younger was in the secondary. Their corners are really good players, obviously Joyner is a difference-maker. There are a lot of similarities as far as the talent, I think they’re right there with them. Who knows? We’ll find out, they might be better."

Well, that makes sense

Pruitt spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Alabama, but he’s got no problem trying to help end the SEC’s streak of seven national titles.

"I’d like to end it for sure," he said.

Why?

"Oh, shoot, because I’m on this side and they’re on that side."
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner knows all about Auburn wide receiver and Miami native Ricardo Louis -- the Noles recruited him. And Joyner has done his homework on sophomore receiver Sammie Coates, who is third in the country in yards per catch (22.1) and averages 54.1 yards per touchdown reception.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertWhile Auburn is known for its rushing attack, Nick Marshall is completing 60 percent of his passes and has FSU's attention.
So while the rest of the country is seemingly wrapped up in Auburn’s nation-leading ground game -- and deservedly so -- Florida State’s secondary isn’t sleeping on the Tigers' ability to throw the ball. There's no question Auburn's strength is up front and in its running game, which averages 335.7 yards per game, but to the Seminoles, the difference will be their ability to force the Tigers to throw and get them into long yardage situations.

"That's the key to the game," Joyner said. "That’s key. That front seven has been tremendous for us all season, and we need them to do one more for this last game. [The Tigers] have a lot of great talent up front themselves. Their O-line is pretty good. I see a lot of those guys playing on Sunday. And we have a lot of guys who can play on Sunday in our front seven. It’s a clash of the beasts. … We need them to do more so the pretty boys in the back in the secondary can get a little shine."

It's already glowing.

Florida State leads the FBS with 25 interceptions and ranks third with 34 takeaways. Still, they're going to have to make the most of their opportunities against Auburn.

Auburn threw it only 11 times in the SEC title game against Missouri, and only 16 times against Alabama. Quarterback Nick Marshall, who has 1,023 rushing yards this season, had seven pass attempts against Tennessee, and eight against Arkansas. Overall this season, Auburn has run on 71 percent of its plays, the highest percentage for any non-triple option offense in the FBS.

"We obviously haven't thrown as much the second half of the season as we did the first," Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said, "but never was there an instance I thought it was because we couldn't or didn't want to, it was simply because you're going to go with what's working."

Not that their play-action passing game doesn’t work.

Just ask Georgia, which was stunned by Marshall’s 73-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Louis on fourth-and-18 with just 25 seconds left.

"I think Marshall has as good of arm talent as anybody in the country," FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said. "He can flat-foot throw it 80-some yards. A couple of throws he's made, especially down the stretch here, have been very accurate.

"The big thing is they've been throwing it when they want to throw it. They've been dictating to everybody else. I think it's important to get them behind the sticks early on and get them in some long yardage situations, but I'm sure that's what everybody's game plan has been, and they haven't had a whole lot of success doing it."

Florida State, obviously, hopes to change that.

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