NCF Nation: travis rudolph
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When an all-time program great leaves a school, his presence is felt far longer than the last time he played.
This spring at Florida State, it’s not just Jameis Winston’s name being consistently thrown into that conversation. Former receiver Rashad Greene is talked about at length despite leaving almost three months ago, and he’s spoken about in a manner that can be described as nothing short of reverential.
After four seasons starring at Florida State, finishing as the program’s most prolific receiver, Greene is pursuing an NFL career. His absence leaves a gaping hole at receiver in both leadership and production, but his successors said they’re using the lessons Greene passed along to make up for his departure.
“We’re going to take what he told us and do what we have to do,” junior receiver Jesus Wilson said.
Wilson is the most experienced receiver on the roster. He’s started seven games; Greene started 43.
The Seminoles will rely on a group of mostly freshmen and sophomores. Wilson and Kermit Whitfield are the only juniors at the position, which is why Wilson acknowledged it is his time to take on a bigger role. The 5-foot-9, 181-pound receiver registered 42 catches as a sophomore. He caught only three passes as a freshman.
While Florida State lacks experience and a proven commodity at receiver with Greene graduating and Kelvin Benjamin bolting for the NFL following the 2013 national championship, the current group of Florida State receivers has the talent to potentially make up for it.
Redshirt sophomore Isaiah Jones, who was academically ineligible last season, was an ESPN 300 recruit in the 2013 class. Whitfield also was a highly-ranked recruit in that 2013 class. Sophomore Ermon Lane was the No. 2 receiver in the 2014 class, and Travis Rudolph was not far behind at No. 6. Two 2015 receivers are already enrolled and participating in in spring practices: top-rated athlete George Campbell and sixth-ranked receiver Da’Vante Phillips.
“Just working on our craft and that goes into learning the playbook,” said Rudolph, about the key to turning the promise into on-field production. “What can stop a guy from his highest potential is not learning the playbook.”
Rudolph said he doesn’t assume he will be the No. 1 receiver in the fall, but that it is what he’s working toward -- and he expects his teammates to be doing the same. Rudolph arrived in Tallahassee as one of the more polished high school players, so the expectation was for the 6-foot-2, 187-pound South Florida native to play early. After failing to record a catch in the season’s first three games, Rudolph finished the season with 555 yards. He capped his freshman campaign with six receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown in the Rose Bowl.
“It went well, but not as well,” Rudolph said. “But I just got my feet wet and now I know how the system is and adjusted. … Now I’m at the point where everything is natural.”
Last season, Rudolph started six games and worked his way to becoming Winston’s No. 2 threat on the outside. Sean Maguire, the odds-on favorite to be the starting quarterback, worked with Rudolph with the second-string offense to start last fall and he said the difference between Rudolph then and now is “night and day.”
Then Maguire brought up the name from the past, inciting the hype and trying his best to curb it within the same breath.
“I’m not comparing anyone, but I slowly see him going toward Rashad, that route,” Maguire said. “... I was here when Rashad was a sophomore and this is going to be Travis’ sophomore year. They’re both great players, explosive, got that fifth gear to go get the ball and Travis is becoming a leader pretty much every day out there, too.”
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is not inviting the comparisons, but he isn’t squashing them, either. He said he will wait and see whether Rudolph is the next Greene.
For what it’s worth, Greene had 38 catches as a freshman -- the same as Rudolph. Greene used that season to springboard to 232 more.
“There’s nothing that says he won’t [be like Greene],” Fisher said, “but until someone does that, I’m not going to say they’re going to do that, you know what I mean?”
Both No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State made it this far because of the talent littered throughout the rosters. While Mariota and Winston have both shown they have the ability to win games on their own, the Rose Bowl could be decided by a player who has been flying a bit under the radar but is poised to make a big splash on Jan. 1.
Here are a few players that haven't been discussed much that could have a big impact on the game.
Oregon: Chris Seisay. First and foremost, he's going to surpass expectations simply because so much more will be asked of him this game than has ever been asked of him. He'll be stepping into the spot vacated by Jim Thorpe Award finalist Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who suffered a career ending injury last week. Seisay, a redshirt freshman, has only accounted for 20 tackles this season due to the fact that he just really hasn't seen the field a ton. Because of this, Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense are certainly going to throw at him quite a bit more. The rest of the secondary is pretty solid -- Troy Hill, Erick Dargan, Reggie Daniels -- so why not take shots at the youngest, most inexperienced guy?
But that's where I think it'll get interesting. I feel like Seisay could have a huge game for the Ducks. Because he'll be targeted more, he'll have a chance to make some big plays (though, he'll also have chances to make some big mistakes), but I think he's going to pull through for the Ducks. Last week, Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum said that the game plan wouldn't change for the Ducks. “We lost a great leader, great player, great spiritual leader and everyone has got to -- it's like a hit -- everyone's got to pick it up a little more,” Pellum said. I think Seisay picks up a lot more.
Florida State: Nile Lawrence-Stample. He likely won't receive a ton of snaps, but any contribution from the defensive tackle could prove major for the Seminoles. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher felt the senior lineman was poised for a big season before tearing a pectoral muscle against Clemson in September. He played through the injury during the game, but the tear was bad enough that Fisher said Lawrence-Stample would miss the remainder of the season. So it was a bit of a surprise when Fisher said last week that Lawrence-Stample was ready to practice and should play against the Ducks. Florida State has been thin at defensive tackle all season, and the loss of Lawrence-Stample was a tough blow. Fisher said Oregon's tempo wouldn't give Lawrence-Stample any trouble as he works back into game shape, but the 6-foot-1, 314-pound tackle is likely not going to be able to play a significant number of snaps. Still, even 20 snaps in a reserve role could be pivotal for a defensive line that will need fresh legs deep into the fourth quarter if the Seminoles plan to pull off the upset.
Oregon: Royce Freeman. Yes, I know he's already a player that so many people know. But I think he's going to exceed expectations by having his best game of the season. The Seminoles haven't faced a rushing attack quite like Oregon's. Not only do they have to worry about the rushing attack out of the tailback (Freeman), they have to worry about it out of the quarterback (Mariota) and a slot receiver (Byron Marshall, former running back). There's so much to focus on that I think Freeman might get lost in the shuffle just enough times to really crank off some huge runs.
Florida State has given up 3.9 yards per rush this season, but the Seminoles have also given up 69 rushes of 10 or more yards -- that's one in every seven or eight rushes. And they've shown out when they needed to. FSU held Miami's Duke Johnson to right around his season average in rushing yards per game, while keeping him to just one touchdown run and two rushes of 10 or more yards. But Johnson doesn't have the weapons around him like Freeman has. Freeman is playing his best football right now and has averaged 6.1 yards per rush over the past four games. With each game and practice he, along with Mariota and a constantly reshuffling offensive line, are finding better ways to collectively attack defensive fronts and I think with the extra two weeks of practice we're going to see a huge performance -- his biggest of the year -- out of Freeman. Put me down for it: 180 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns (and one receiving touchdown) at 6.0 yards per carry.
Florida State: Travis Rudolph. The freshman receiver has been brilliant at times this season, dazzling with his footwork and speed. He's also made a few rookie mistakes that have led to Florida State turnovers. Rudolph's talent is undeniable, and the Florida State offense has often looked its best when Rudolph is having a productive game. The Seminoles could use a secondary receiving threat on the outside to complement Rashad Greene, who defensive backs target before every play. Florida State's young receivers have been inconsistent providing help for the senior Greene, who is the most productive receiver in school history. With Greene on the outside and Nick O'Leary on the inside at tight end, there will not be any shortage of opportunities for Rudolph to make a play. Winston has shown he isn't afraid to throw the ball in Rudolph's direction and is not lacking confidence in the freshman. With Oregon's top cornerback out, Rudolph isn't going to have the same caliber of defender standing opposite him either. Even a few catches for 60 or so yards would be a strong contribution from Rudolph and enough to shift some attention from Greene and O'Leary.
Florida State’s freshmen: Jimbo Fisher has been bringing in big hauls on the recruiting trail for years, but it’s been rare that so many have paid such instant dividends as his 2014 signing class did against Louisville. Dalvin Cook, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph had 284 of FSU’s 574 yards of offense and scored three times. Cook’s 110 yards rushing on nine carries was the difference as the Seminoles pulled away late after trailing by 21 in the first half. Since Oct. 1, Cook leads FSU in rushing with 265 yards, and Rudolph is second on the team in receiving with 268 yards.
Miami RB Duke Johnson and Pitt RB James Conner: We’re lumping the two together not as a slight, but to point out that we’re witnessing two of the truly great seasons by ACC running backs at the same time. Conner was tremendous in a losing effort against Duke, racking up 263 yards -- the most by a Power 5 running back this season -- and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Johnson had 226 yards from scrimmage and scored three times to lead Miami to a win. Through nine weeks, Conner has racked up 1,342 yards and Johnson 1,213. BC’s Andre Williams -- a Heisman finalist in 2013 -- is the only ACC running back to account for more rush yards through nine games in the past decade.
Duke WR Jamison Crowder: How crazy have the past two Duke-Pitt games been? The combined score of last year’s and this year’s game is Duke 106, Pitt 106. The Blue Devils managed to eek out the win in two overtimes this season after the Panthers botched a late field-goal try, but it was Crowder who kept Duke in the game all along. The senior had nine catches for 165 yards and two scores — his first touchdowns of the year against an FBS team. Add a 99-yard kick return for a score by DeVon Edwards, and Duke’s faint playoff hopes remain intact.
NC State DE Pharoah McKever: The Wolfpack offense continues to struggle to find the end zone, but the defense was up to the task against Syracuse. NC State forced three turnovers in the game, and none were more significant than McKever’s 82-yard interception return for a touchdown that turned a 14-9 deficit into a 17-14 lead. It was McKever’s first career INT, the first NC State defensive touchdown in an ACC game since 2012, and more importantly, it was Dave Doreen’s first conference win as the Wolfpack’s head coach.
Georgia Tech RB Synjyn Days: In the two games since Zach Laskey went down with an injury, Days has been a revelation. One week after racking up 110 yards on 22 carries - both career highs -- Days led the way to a win over Virginia by running for 147 yards and adding another 17 through the air, scoring twice. The Cavaliers entered the game with the No. 9-ranked rush defense in the nation, but Days became the first player to rush for 100 against them this season.
Boston College QB Tyler Murphy: The Eagles are bowl eligible for the second straight season, and Murphy is a big reason why. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third, racking up 122 yards on 18 carries on the ground. Murphy’s 57-yard TD run with 2:59 to play effectively sealed the win over Virginia Tech, and he’s now just 35 yards shy of becoming the first ACC quarterback to run for 1,000 yards since Georgia Tech’s Josh Nesbitt in 2009.
Florida State is still unbeaten: For the third time this season, Florida State trailed at the half, but the Seminoles once again staged a dramatic comeback followed by a nail-biting defensive stand on their opponent's final drive to remain unbeaten and keep their playoff hopes alive. Jameis Winston was the star, as he completed 15-of-16 passes for 181 yards in the second half and lead the 31-27 comeback win, while Rashad Greene and Travis Rudolph both caught TD passes. It's clear Florida State isn't the same team it was a year ago, but the Seminoles' ability to continually fight back and find ways to win might be even more impressive.
A healthy Louisville is pretty good: We knew Louisville's defense was good. The offense, on the other hand, was a problem. But Saturday's 30-18 win over NC State was the Cardinals' first game with a full lineup of healthy stars on offense, including QB Will Gardner, running back Michael Dyer and receiver DeVante Parker. The trio injected some life into the proceedings, as Louisville scored 30 points for the first time in a month, and Dyer and Parker combined for 305 yards. Dyer racked up his first 100-yard rushing performance since 2011. It was a nice addition for Louisville but also a reminder of what might've been for the Cardinals, had the offense been this healthy from the start of the season.
Clemson can win ugly: The Tigers' offense has mustered just two touchdowns and averaged just 4 yards per play without star QB Deshaun Watson the past two weeks, but they've still managed to win both games. Chalk it up to a spectacular defense that once again stuffed an opponent's ground game. Boston College entered as the No. 5 rushing offense in the nation, but Clemson racked up 14 tackles for loss and surrendered just 120 yards on the ground in its 17-13 victory and held BC nearly 200 yards below its season average. Cole Stoudt won't be confused for Watson any time soon, but if he can continue to make a handful of plays a game, this defense should be enough to carry Clemson a long way.
Marquise Williams is UNC's QB: It's hard to believe there was a QB debate in Chapel Hill earlier this year. Williams has been unstoppable in his past two games -- which, coincidentally, were the first two games in which Mitch Trubisky wasn't given regular playing time. Williams set a North Carolina record with 38 completions, threw for four TDs and rushed for one more while leading a dramatic 48-43 come-from-behind win over Georgia Tech late in the fourth quarter. In his past two games, Williams has compiled 696 passing yards, 205 rush yards and nine touchdowns.
Pitt's not dead yet: Thursday's 21-16 win over Virginia Tech proved to be a resurrection for Pitt. The Panthers had dropped three in a row as their QB struggled and defenses ganged up to stop star tailback James Conner. Against Virginia Tech, however, Pitt looked much improved. Chad Voytik didn't have to do much with his arm (92 yards), but he racked up 118 yards on the ground, and the win further stifled Tech's hopes for a division title and rekindled Pitt's.
If the 1993 matchup between Florida State and Notre Dame was the game of the century, Saturday night's contest certainly proved to be a worthy successor. The Seminoles held off a final drive from the Irish and stopped one last fourth-down heave from Everett Golson to preserve a 31-27 win, extend their win streak to 23 and keep their playoff hopes alive.
How the game was won: Florida State erased a 17-10 halftime deficit on the arm of Jameis Winston, who was nearly flawless in the second half, but it was a final defensive stand that was the difference. Notre Dame converted a fourth-and-18 with less than two minutes remaining, but Golson couldn’t get the job done again on the game’s final play. The Irish had four drives of more than 10 plays, but the 12th play of the final drive was a long throw from Golson that was picked off by Jacob Pugh in the back of the end zone, which gave Florida State the win.
Game ball goes to: Winston, of course. The FSU quarterback spent the week dealing with more off-the-field chaos, and he struggled in the early going against Notre Dame, including a foolish throw that resulted in an interception. But in the second half, Winston was electric. He completed 15 of 16 throws for 181 yards and a touchdown. Credit, too, to Winston’s receiving corps. Rashad Greene was spectacular once again and caught eight passes for 108 yards, while freshman Travis Rudolph (six catches for 80 yards and a score) took a huge step forward in his career.
What it means: For Florida State, it means the win streak is extended and the playoff hopes remain. For Notre Dame, it’s a blow to the postseason dreams. But it was also a showcase for just how good this team is, led by Golson, who battled cramps to turn in a tremendous performance. Notre Dame will certainly slide a bit in the polls, but with some big games remaining on the slate, the Irish still have a chance at the playoff.
Playoff implications: Florida State’s ticket certainly isn’t punched, given tough games against Louisville, Virginia and Miami on deck, but this felt like the biggest hurdle the Seminoles will face in defending their title. The question now is whether a close win over the No. 5 team in the nation can push FSU past Mississippi State for the top spot in the polls. The Irish proved a lot of critics wrong, but a loss is still a loss, and it’ll be a bit more of an uphill climb for them to reach the playoff.
Best play: There were plenty of them on both sides, but the two most memorable will probably be the two fourth-and-18 throws on the last drive. The first one was a minor miracle, as Golson completed a 20-yard pass to Corey Robinson with a man in his face to extend the drive. But the final throw from Golson was picked off in the back of the end zone to secure the win. Of course, for sheer drama, the play that preceded that last heave -- a touchdown toss to a wide open Robinson -- will be the one Notre Dame fans will talk about for years. A penalty negated the score and the win.
What’s next: Both teams get a much-needed week off after Saturday’s heavyweight battle. Notre Dame returns against Navy on Nov. 1 but still has tough matchups against Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC to close out the year. FSU has a Thursday date at Louisville on Oct. 30 that could be a potential trap on the Seminoles’ way to the playoff.
Trailing by 10 midway through the third quarter, Florida State rallied for a 56-41 win at NC State.
How the game was won: For Florida State, the game was brutal at times, but Seminoles' fans can walk away feeling OK because at times both the offense and defense played exceptionally -- for the first time all season. The Seminoles were able to win because, despite allowing a school-record 24 first-quarter points, the defense was tough the rest of the game, with breaks only after turnovers. When the offense didn’t turn it over, it was scoring touchdowns behind an energized Jameis Winston and improved rushing attack.
Game ball goes to: The freshmen of FSU’s No. 3-ranked 2014 class deserve this one because they made critical plays throughout the third quarter. Defensive end Lorenzo Featherston is credited with causing the fumble that helped the Seminoles to their first lead. Fellow freshmen Jacob Pugh was next to Featherston as they pressured Jacoby Brissett on that fumble. Receiver Travis Rudolph had a big catch, and Dalvin Cook had a 19-yard touchdown. It all came in the latter part of the third quarter, when FSU began taking control.
What it means: There is no such thing as an ugly win when every loss has the potential to cripple a season. It was a close win, but coach Jimbo Fisher can leave Raleigh, North Carolina, feeling pretty good about how his offense played. Winston was sharp, Karlos Williams played his best game at running back, and the offensive line provided lanes to rush the football.
Playoff implication: As the No. 1 team in the country and the defending champions, all Florida State needs to do is win. An undefeated FSU is not going to be left out of the College Football Playoff, so every win -- despite margin of victory -- is critical for Florida State. Fisher doesn’t need to worry about style points.
What's next: The Seminoles get a bit of a reprieve as unranked Wake Forest travels to Doak Campbell Stadium next weekend before a road date at Syracuse. Those two weeks should provide an opportunity for FSU to build on this performance before undefeated Notre Dame comes to Tallahassee.
"It's definitely a difference from not playing in a game and going [between] different quarterbacks," senior receiver Rashad Greene said. "We definitely have to get our timing back and it's already back, but Monday was a little off. It shows you if you miss a little time it makes a difference."
Fisher said Winston is leading the No. 1 Seminoles in the same fashion as he always has despite the suspension, which was handed down a week ago. The fifth-year coach did say Winston was a little more "appreciative of how quickly things can go away."
Senior running back Karlos Williams said Winston still has the respect of the Seminoles' locker room. Williams called the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Florida State's "emotional leader."
"The way Jameis loves the game is unlike a lot of people. He's going to be vocal, he's going to talk, he's going to express himself and he's going to show emotion," Williams said. "You can tell it hurt him down to the core of his soul because he could not play … but the way he responded to it brought attention to me like 'this guy really cares about this team and it's not just about Jameis Winston but Florida State as a whole.'"
The passing offense's production comes down to more than just Winston's re-emergence as the starting quarterback and one of the country's elite players. The offensive line was suspect in run and pass blocking against a talented Clemson front four. Left tackle Cam Erving was seen once again working at center with right tackle Bobby Hart sliding to the left side. Chad Mavety, a former junior college lineman, was playing right tackle.
Fisher said after practice he still plans to use the same starting five offensive linemen he has all season with Austin Barron orchestrating the calls at center. If the same starting lineup trots out against NC State, there is the potential Fisher could mix things up during the game if the offensive line, which consists of five seniors, once again isn't playing up to the level it showcased in 2013.
The Seminoles are still waiting on the emergence of a No. 2 receiver opposite Greene, who is fourth in the country in receiving yards per game. Christian Green is the other starting outside receiver, but Fisher said true freshmen Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph saw increased snaps in practice Tuesday.
"We need the legs and to bring them along," Fisher said. "We have to get more bodies. I'm very happy with the day they had."
Greene, who ESPN Insider KC Joyner recently ranked as college football's top receiver, said the onus is on him to develop a secondary receiving threat to open up the offense.
"As a whole we're not at our best but we're definitely coming along. I'm in charge of that and I'm doing my best to get everybody on the same page and the mindset of how to work," Greene said. "That's the first thing I have to do is show them and teach them how to work."
South Carolina State at Clemson, Raycom, #SCSTvsCLEM: The Tigers look to rebound after a punishing loss to Georgia in Week 1. While Clemson looked sharp at times in the first half against the Bulldogs, the second half was a disaster. Getting the ground game going will be Step 1. Clemson averaged just 2 yards per carry in its opener. But the focus from fans will likely be on the quarterbacks, as freshman Deshaun Watson could push for more playing time against an FCS opponent. With No. 1 Florida State up next for Clemson, this is the last chance to iron out the issues that plagued the offense during its final 30 minutes in the opener.
Richmond at Virginia, ESPN3, #RICHvsUVA: Mike London has waited all week to announce his starting quarterback, with Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns both expected to play. Johns performed admirably in relief of Lambert last week against UCLA, and the Virginia defense nearly allowed the Hoos to pull off the upset. Adding some intrigue to the proceedings this week, Richmond features two more former UVA QBs in transfers Michael Rocco and Michael Strauss.
Old Dominion at NC State, ESPN3, #ODUvsNCSU: The Wolfpack needed some late-game drama to escape Georgia Southern with a win in their opener, and while the early struggles weren’t necessarily encouraging, Dave Doeren hopes Jacoby Brissett’s impressive second half -- 18-of-23 for 213 yards, three TDs and no interceptions -- was a better indicator of what’s to come for the Wolfpack’s offense. In its opener, Old Dominion allowed 407 yards of passing offense to Hampton.
Gardner-Webb at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #WEBBvsWAKE: The Dave Clawson era got off to a rocky start as the Demon Deacons couldn’t muster any offense against Louisiana-Monroe in their opener. Wake’s total of 94 yards of offense was the second worst in the nation in Week 1, as was its rushing total of minus-3 yards. Clawson hopes to find some answers against FCS Gardner-Webb, but the Deacons clearly have a long way to go.
Murray State at Louisville, ESPN3, #MURRvsLOU: Coming off an impressive win over Miami in its first ACC contest, Louisville will need to avoid a letdown this week against Murray State. No. 2 rusher Michael Dyer is likely to miss his second straight game, but starter Dominique Brown proved in Week 1 he could provide the offensive foundation, carrying the ball 33 times -- three more than any other tailback in the nation.
Florida A&M at Miami, ESPN3, #FAMUvsMIA: Brad Kaaya's debut wasn’t one Miami fans will want to remember, but he should have an easier time of it this week against FCS foe Florida A&M. It may also be a chance for backup Jake Heaps to get in some reps, too. But regardless of the QB, the Hurricanes’ offensive line needs to show some improvement if Miami is really going to be a contender in the ACC Coastal.
Duke at Troy, ESPN3, #DUKEvsTROY: The Blue Devils didn’t have much trouble in their opener against Elon, but a road trip to coach David Cutcliffe’s home state of Alabama should prove a bit tougher. Jamison Crowder picked up right where he left off in 2013, hauling in 93 yards and two scores, but the bigger reason for optimism is that Issac Blakeney caught two more scores and could emerge as a reliable No. 2 option in the passing game. With linebacker C.J. France out with a leg injury, Duke’s battered defense could be tested, but Troy’s offense showed little flash in mustering just 4 yards per play (112th nationally) against UAB in Week 1.
The Citadel at Florida State, ESPN3, #CITvsFSU: This certainly wouldn’t have been circled on No. 1 FSU’s schedule as a big game, but the opportunity for the younger players -- particularly on the defensive line and receiving corps -- to get some game action suddenly looks crucial after the Seminoles' turbulent Week 1 performance against Oklahoma State. Getting Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson (who is returning from a one-game suspension) and others involved in the passing game will be a major priority.
San Diego State at North Carolina, ESPNEWS, #SDSUvsUNC: Larry Fedora says San Diego State’s chaotic defensive scheme should be an exceptional test for his young offensive line, which may be the Tar Heels’ weakest position group. Marquise Williams has solidified his spot as UNC’s starting quarterback, however, and the strong second half for the Heels in Week 1 offers some optimism that the preseason hype was warranted.
Virginia Tech at Ohio State, ESPN, #VTvsOSU: With conferences battling for marquee wins in the new era of the College Football Playoff, this game could be huge for both the Hokies and the ACC. Virginia Tech is eager to prove it’s ready to contend on a national stage again, and few stages are bigger than Columbus, Ohio. “Virginia Tech hasn’t been where we’d want to be in the past couple years, and this is a chance on a big stage to regain some confidence in people and put our name back up on the map,” QB Michael Brewer said. It’s also a chance for the ACC to garner a big win over a powerhouse program in the conference it’s chasing in ESPN’s FPI rankings.
Quarterback Jameis Winston played perhaps the worst game of his career, and aside from senior Rashad Greene, the rest of the receiving corps appeared limited. As the Seminoles prepped for their Week 2 matchup against The Citadel, finding alternatives to Greene in the passing game -- particularly on the outside -- is a priority. That means a focus on sophomores Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield and freshman Travis Rudolph, in particular.
"[Defenses'] main focus is going to try and stop Rashad and Nick [O'Leary]," Winston said. "That is where those young guys are going to have to step up. It is a work in progress because we have to get those guys ready for the show."
Against Oklahoma State, Winston targeted Greene on 18 of his 40 pass attempts (45 percent). That is by far the most favoritism he has shown a single receiver in any of his 15 career starts, and the focus on Greene certainly underscores the need for a No. 2 receiver to emerge.
Though the Oklahoma State game did shine some light on the lack of established depth at the position, Winston’s focus on a single receiver has actually been something of a trend that began at the tail end of last season.
In Winston’s first 11 games last season, he distributed the ball rather well, with no single receiver earning more than 38 percent of his targets in any game. On average, Winston’s most targeted receiver each game during that stretch received about 31 percent of his throws.
In Winston’s past four games, however, that has changed. Against Florida, Kelvin Benjamin was targeted 13 times (42 percent of Winston’s throws). Against Duke, Greene saw 10 targets, then saw 14 more against Auburn (40 percent). And against Oklahoma State, that number went up again. In total, Winston’s top target in the past four games has averaged 40 percent of his throws.
Of course, the lack of diversity in the passing game at the end of 2013 certainly wasn’t a result of a lack of weapons at receiver. More likely, it was a factor of matchups (like Benjamin vs. Florida) and taking what the defense allows.
But the numbers also suggest that zeroing in on a top target isn’t good for Winston’s overall performance.
In the four games in which Winston distributed the ball most evenly among his receivers, he completed a far better percentage of throws, averaged more yards per attempt and had a better touchdown to interception rate.
That is not to say the fix is simply to do a better job of distributing the ball. Winston is relying on the receivers he trusts, and he’s identifying the best matchups. Sometimes that means targeting three or four players routinely, sometimes it means zeroing in on Greene. And it might be that defenses are just getting a better read on how to attack Winston.
It’s worth noting, too, that despite the close score, FSU did generate 476 yards of offense (sixth most against a Power 5 team in Week 1), scored 37 points (also sixth nationally) and threw for 370 yards (third most vs. a Power 5 team), so the opener wasn’t exactly an ugly performance regardless.
Winston and the Seminoles would certainly benefit from developing their young receivers as quickly as possible, but any perceived struggles probably relate far more to a dormant running game and a surprisingly mediocre performance by the O line than anything else.
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Previewing the 2014 season for Florida State Seminoles, the reigning ACC and national champions.
Key losses: RB Devonta Freeman, WR Kelvin Benjamin, WR Kenny Shaw, OC Bryan Stork, DT Timmy Jernigan, LB Telvin Smith, CB Lamarcus Joyner, S Terrence Brooks.
Most important 2014 games: Aug. 30 versus Oklahoma State (neutral site), Sept. 20 versus Clemson, Oct. 18 versus Notre Dame, Oct. 30 at Louisville, Nov. 15 at Miami and Nov. 29 vs. Florida.
Projected win percentage: 93.5 percent.
Over/under Vegas odds: 11.5 wins
Instant impact newcomers: There has been a lot of hype surrounding the freshmen in Florida State camp, and Jimbo Fisher is not doing much to lower expectations. Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, two of the top six receivers in the 2014 recruiting class nationally, could start at some point this season. Defensive tackles Demarcus Christmas, Derrick Nnadi and Arthur Williams are impressing the coaches and offensive linemen, and the Seminoles need depth along the D-Line.
Best NFL prospects: The over/under for how many first-round picks the Seminoles have in the 2015 draft should be set at five. If he remains healthy and declares following his redshirt sophomore season, Winston could be the No. 1 pick. Two of his linemen, Ervin and Jackson, could be first-round selections, too. Defensively, Edwards could move into the top 10, and Darby and Williams are competing to be the No. 1 cornerback taken in next spring’s draft.
Best-case scenario for 2014: It’s rather simple -- the 2013 scenario plays out a second time in 2014. Florida State has the talent to become the first team to go 15-0 and win the inaugural College Football Playoff. Las Vegas expects the Seminoles to finish the regular season undefeated, and Florida State should be able to dispose of its opponent in the ACC championship game. Florida State 2014 might be competing against Florida State 2013 as one of the greatest teams in school history.
Worst-case scenario: Any season that does not end with Florida State in the College Football Playoff has to be considered a disappointment. The Seminoles could probably survive one regular-season loss and still advance to the playoff, but two losses would almost certainly eliminate them from the conversation. With Winston likely off to the NFL following this season, the Seminoles could take a lengthy step back in 2015 as they reload offensively.
Budding superstar: Ramsey is already regarded as one of the best defensive backs in the country, and he should be squarely in the Thorpe Award conversation this fall. He’s not quite a national name yet, though, and he was not even named to the preseason All-ACC team. Fisher has said repeatedly that as a sophomore Ramsey is the vocal leader of the defense. In a secondary that possibly houses four first-round picks, if not more, Ramsey could go the highest when he’s eligible in 2016.
They said it: “People ask me, ‘When did I know Florida State was the team that they are?’ You never believe it until you get out there on the field, but in warm-ups, I was looking at their kids warming up, and I said, 'Who the heck is that guy? Who is that guy?' I'm looking at them and, oh, they're getting redshirted. And they're a foot taller than our guys and can run, too.” -- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer.
New linebackers coach Bill Miller was already adjusted to head coach Jimbo Fisher's "attitude of domination" standard at the onset of the Seminoles' first practice of fall camp. When a freshman linebacker didn't perform a warm-up drill correctly, Miller sent him back to the front of a line with a not-so-subtle message to do it better next time.
"I liked the intensity of practice. It was very good competition, guys getting after each other, competing with each other, for the most part knowing what to do," Fisher said.
Although players were not in pads Monday, Fisher was encouraged by what he saw. With the mandated restriction on pads -- Florida State's first two-a-day will be Saturday -- the first day of practice was an opportunity for the Seminoles to work on alignments, assignments and execution.
Fisher expressed a little disappointment in how the passing game performed -- he called the quarterbacks' execution "very average" -- but he acknowledged it was the first time the group had a defensive line charging at them in four months. And when you return Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, there is little reason for long-term concern.
Once baseball season ended, Fisher forced Winston to take a couple of weeks off to ease the demands on his star player's body. The result was a Winston who is much fresher than he was entering the 2013 season and a smarter player under center. When Winston was kept from the field, he used it as an opportunity to fine-tune his mechanics.
"He was very anxious to get better fundamentally. He did a lot of film study with his footwork and working on his release and quickening things up," Fisher said.
Coupled with an energized Winston, the first few days of practice should go smoother this season because of the lack of roster turnover on the offense line and a defensive scheme that remains largely unchanged. The offensive line has five seniors and more than 100 starts among them, and new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly is executing the same defensive scheme as predecessor Jeremy Pruitt. Kelly was the Seminoles' linebackers coach in 2013. While Florida State has to replace defensive leaders Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith, there is a knowledge that should allow the new starters to transition quickly to their roles.
"It's the second year on defense of exactly the [same] system we're running, so I think the knowledge is increased," Fisher said. "The young guys will know more because the older guys can help them. Last year early, the older guys couldn't help them because they were learning it for the first time, too."
There is a belief those younger players will crack the rotation and make an impact at some point in 2014, possibly for the Aug. 30 opener against Oklahoma State. Freshman receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, recovered from offseason foot surgery, look physically impressive, and there is an opportunity for playing time on the defensive line; the Seminoles have seven freshmen defensive linemen, and Fisher said "there's not one you'd throw back."
Linebacker Terrance Smith smiled when asked about the big bodies accompanying their new faces.
"This is probably the biggest group of freshmen we've had in a long time," he said. "Me as a linebacker, I'm not complaining because we got some big D-Linemen in front of me."
Notes: Sophomore receiver Jesus "Bobo" Wilson remains indefinitely suspended following a Monday meeting with Fisher. Wilson is practicing and should return during the season, but Fisher sounded as if Wilson will not play in the opener. ... Linebacker Ukeme Eligwe (Lisfranc injury) is not practicing, but Fisher said Eligwe is ahead of schedule. Nile Lawrence-Stample (shoulder surgery) is practicing but will be eased back into contact. ... A few players wrote on Twitter that Sunday would be their last day tweeting until the season ends. Fisher said it was a team initiative and he did not ask his team to quit social media until the season ended. However, Fisher did say Florida State does monitor what its players and the athletes it is recruiting say on social media.
Griffin brings up a terrific point. Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but Florida State blew the doors off that notion. Are the Seminoles going to go unbeaten again? ACC reporter Andrea Adelson and Florida State reporter Jared Shanker debate the odds.
AA gives Florida State a 25 percent chance of going undefeated.
First, strength of schedule. Florida State trades in Nevada and Idaho (combined 5-19 last season) for Oklahoma State and Notre Dame (combined 19-7 a year ago). Not to mention trading Atlantic Division teams Maryland (7-6) for Louisville (12-1). Not only are the teams better, but there will be a cumulative effect of playing much tougher competition.
With the exception of the BC game, Florida State never had reason to play its starters for a full game during the regular season last fall. But that is not going to be the case in 2014. More playing time means more wear and tear on the starters, and more wear and tear on the starters means you need to rely on your backups to play many more meaningful minutes.
This leads to my second point. Florida State lacks depth on its offensive and defensive lines, and that could be a problem. The biggest concern should rest with the defensive front, where the Seminoles lost a ton of talent early to the NFL and was therefore low on players in the spring. Depth is vital, most especially late in games, when the big guys up front start to get gassed. What happens against high-tempo teams such as Oklahoma State and Louisville if the depth is lacking and the game is on the line?
Finally, what will Winston do for an encore with the spotlight shining even brighter than last season? Florida State needs a much more mature, much more focused Winston in 2014. He doesn’t have a Kelvin Benjamin to bail him out in the end zone. He has no 1,000-yard back returning. There are terrific players around him, and Winston has to learn how to trust them all from the outset while the media dissects every move he makes.
We saw what a focused Winston can do under that glare of the end of the BCS national championship game. But we also saw what do-it-all-myself Winston can do under that glare in the first three quarters of that game, too.
I still believe Florida State has as good a shot as any team in America to make the College Football Playoff. I just don’t think the Seminoles make it there unscathed.
Jared Shanker gives Florida State a 35 percent chance of going undefeated.
Florida State is looking to become the first team in college football history to go 15-0 and to win the inaugural College Football Playoff. The good news for the Seminoles is, unlike in previous seasons, going undefeated is not required to win the 2014 national championship.
The Noles, as a potentially unanimous preseason No. 1, will have the most leeway when it comes to suffering a loss and still being in the discussion for one of the four playoff seeds. Looking at the 2014 schedule, its roster and trying to account for the multitude of unknowns every season presents, it is hard to see Florida State going through another season undefeated.
As AA pointed out first, the schedule is tougher this fall. While Oklahoma State is rebuilding, coach Mike Gundy has that program in good enough shape that an upset of the defending champions in Week 1 would not be a total shock. The Fighting Irish are on the schedule, and whether it is Everett Golson or Malik Zaire taking snaps, both look capable of leading an offense and the Irish into a playoff berth. Bobby Petrino is tearing Louisville down and rebuilding it in his own image, but any Thursday night road game presents unique challenges.
Injuries are also the great unknown for every team, and Florida State remained relatively healthy throughout the 2013 season. Winston avoided significant injury last season, and with arguably the country’s best starting offensive line in front of him, he again could go the entire season without any major bumps. However, the nature of the position often leaves quarterbacks vulnerable, and there is no telling how FSU would fare if it is without Winston for any amount of time.
Even a healthy Winston could see a decline in production this fall with new faces throughout his receiver corps. Rashad Greene returns, but no longer is Benjamin or Kenny Shaw around to redirect double teams. The revamped unit showed some flashes during the spring game, but there is reason to worry about whether the receivers will step up in the fall. Several talented freshmen enter the fold this summer, and while freshmen across the country are making earlier impacts than ever before, it is still premature to expect Ermon Lane, Ja’Von Harrison or Travis Rudolph to replicate Benjamin’s or Shaw’s numbers immediately.
What Florida State does have is as much talent as just about any team in the country. Only Alabama has recruited better the past few years, and the Noles are loaded with talent from top to bottom. However, a decent portion of that talent is inexperienced. Certainly those new faces could exceed their predecessors' production, but it will not happen overnight. Defensively, breaking in coordinator Charles Kelly could add to the early-season learning curve as that side of the ball adjusts to a handful of new starters and is without vocal leaders Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith.
The odds of going undefeated being at 35 percent are still the highest in the country potentially, but that is not where I would put my money if I was a betting man. I’m much more inclined to believe Florida State enters the playoff as a one-loss team.
The plan comes as a surprise to many outsiders, given Winston’s status as a likely first round pick in the 2015 draft -- and, perhaps, the first selection overall. But for Winston, it’s not entirely unreasonable.
Winston will take a similar approach toward his decision regarding the NFL draft. Baseball remains a priority for him, and if staying through the 2015 football season allows him to continue to develop on the diamond, it’s entirely possible he’ll stick around. And for now, that appears to be the plan.
But what would it mean for FSU to have Winston in garnet and gold for an extra year? A few key points to keep in mind:
The depth chart
If Winston planned to leave for the NFL as soon as he’s eligible, that would’ve meant a chance for Jacob Coker to start for Florida State in 2015, but clearly that possibility wasn’t enough to keep him in Tallahassee. Coker plans to transfer to Alabama at the end of this semester, and given Winston’s plans to stick around for two more years, Fisher understood Coker’s rationale.
"He wants to graduate and he wants to play. He's got two years left and he's a year behind Jameis. Could he battle again? Yes. But I understand,” Fisher said. “I’m very supportive of it. I think the guy is a good player. I think he's going to be a good quarterback and we had a great conversation about it.”
Should Winston stay, it also makes FSU’s one-quarterback haul on signing day a little easier to tolerate. Treon Harris, a longtime FSU commit, flipped to Florida on Wednesday, leaving J.J. Cosentino as Florida State’s lone QB signing. That might be a concern if Winston departs following the 2014 season, but another year for the Heisman winner allows FSU to pad its QB depth with next year’s recruiting class, too.
While Sean Maguire likely will be the No. 2 for Florida State in 2014 and 2015, Cosentino also gets an extra year to develop his skills, too, and Fisher said the QB from Western Pennsylvania has ample upside when his time finally arrives.
The recruiting buzz
Winston’s plans to stay through 2015 actually might have hurt Florida State’s hopes of inking two quarterbacks in this year’s signing class, but just the notion that the star QB will be in Tallahassee for two more seasons is certainly a big selling point for other offensive talent.
FSU already inked three top receivers this year in Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison, along with highly touted running back Dalvin Cook. The opportunity to spend two years playing with Winston was certainly alluring.
But even the notion that Winston might be back for 2015 provides Fisher with another selling point on the recruiting trail this coming year. If Class of 2015 recruits believe he’ll be around for their freshman season, it’s one more reason to think FSU is a great landing spot.
“I also think getting them here and getting them to play with him is tremendous, especially when we have a need at that position,” Fisher said of his wide receiver recruiting. “Those guys have a chance to make an impact and be able to play with him.”
The 2015 season
Winston’s return for his redshirt junior campaign would mean a lot to a Florida State offense that figures to endure a massive overhaul in 2015. Of the 10 other projected offensive starters this season, as many as nine figure to be gone in 2015, including the entirety of the offensive line.
That’s perhaps a reason for Winston to reconsider his plan moving forward. While his talent and football acumen certainly won’t diminish with an extra year in college, the risk of injury is a real concern, and with five new starters on the offensive line in 2015, the potential for an injury diminishing his draft stock becomes all the more likely.
But if Winston does come back in 2015, it allows for some stability for an offense that will be saying goodbye to Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Karlos Williams, among others.
The problem with all this supposition about Winston’s future is that he’s still 11 months away from having to commit to any definitive decision, and a lot can happen in that time. While Winston might be completely sincere in his plan to stay through 2015 now, the lure of first round money in the NFL and the risk of spending another year playing two sports in college could certainly change his mind. If he does, FSU is still in good shape with Maguire and Cosentino. If he doesn't, the Seminoles fans get an extra year with a once-in-a-lifetime player.
At this point, there’s no reason for Winston to offer any possibility other than his stated commitment to remain at Florida State. But what Winston and Fisher believe today doesn’t matter all that much. If his plans haven’t changed by January 2015, however, it’s an enormous boon for Florida State.