October 11, 2005
TALLAHASSEE - Former Florida State All-American offensive tackle Brett Williams made his first appearance on the Seminoles' practice field last week since completing his eligibility after the 2002 season.
A redshirt freshman starter on FSU's 1999 national championship team, Williams remembers the good times and the bad. With a career bridging the dynasty years and its tumultuous collapse in 2001 and 2002, he has a unique view on what transpired.
Over the past two years, Williams has monitored the Seminoles as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, watching games on television and getting regular reports from his brother Blake, a former FSU offensive lineman whose career was cut short by injury. Brett's practice visit, along with former All-American center and Tallahassee pastor Clay Shiver, confirmed what he had suspected about the 2005 Seminoles, who are off to a 5-0 start.
"It feels like a different atmosphere," Williams said. "Even on TV, you can tell people are having fun again playing. It's good to be around here."
Though he had never met first-year offensive line coach Mark McHale prior to his visit to campus (Williams is recovering from a knee injury that led to his placement on injured reserve), he was invited to speak to FSU's linemen at the end of practice.
"It's nice to get two pro guys in there to talk to our offensive linemen," McHale said, "and reinforce what we've been teaching those guys."
Williams, a captain during his senior season, was more than willing to oblige, sticking around to share some pointers. He said he was impressed with the progress the line has made in McHale's first season, but also with the way the team has responded after suffering 15 losses over the past five years.
"I think beating Miami was the big thing," he said. "It seemed like that lifted a big weight off of us. I was watching it and thinking, Man, if I was there right now I'd be crying.' I couldn't think of any better way of (Miami) losing than by missing that kick. It's about time."
Williams, who was a true freshman when the Seminoles went to the 1998 national championship game against Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl, has his ideas about what led to the program's slippage.
"My recruiting class that came in with me - a lot of them didn't make the best decisions when they were here," he said. "Some of them got injured. When I was here, the first three years we were in the national title game. After that, a lot of guys left. It was a big change.
"I felt like every time we got something going, then something bad would happen. There was kind of a funk on us. Even my senior year, we were expecting big things. It didn't go our way. ... It looks like it's getting back to normal now."
RUSH DEFENSE CAUSE FOR CONCERN?
History has shown that Wake Forest's misdirection running attack has given Florida State's defense fits only in the first half, before the Seminoles' staff made halftime adjustments.
That wasn't the case in FSU's recent 41-24 win over the Demon Deacons. Tailback Chris Barclay ran for 125 yards and Wake piled up 247 on the ground against the nation's sixth-rated run defense.
Whether the Deacs exposed the Seminoles' run defense, or it was merely a subpar performance against a well-coached offensive scheme may be revealed in the coming weeks. Regardless, FSU's inability to stop the run while relying more on its 3-4 or "Panther" defense could be problematic in the coming weeks.
"It's something we need to learn early," FSU senior linebacker A.J. Nicholson said following the Wake game. "I'd rather have a win and we learn about this, than a loss and learn about it. They had a great offensive performance, but we came out with the win."
Two of the Seminoles' next three games come against teams - Virginia and Maryland - that not only lean on the running game, but also use variations of the 3-4 defense. So did the Demon Deacons. The familiarity of facing the 3-4 every day in practice no doubt benefited the Deacs, just as it might the Cavaliers and Terrapins.
While the 3-4 defense has been in FSU's package for nearly a decade - dating to the days when quarterback Danny Wuerffel was directing Florida's high-octane passing attack - the Seminoles have used it with more regularity this season. One of the reasons is to help get more of the team's best defenders - meaning its deep and talented linebacker corps - on the field, while helping cover for a lack of depth up front.
Wake Forest, however, used FSU's defensive strength - its pursuit speed - to its advantage. Barclay and the Deacs continually stretched the Seminoles east and west, then cut back for big gains. Wideout Kevin Marion ripped off a 67-yard touchdown run on an end around, and Barclay ran for 31 yards on Wake's next play from scrimmage in the first half. On both occasions, the Seminoles had players over-run potential tackles for minimal yardage.
"Football is about playing smart, playing fast, playing tough and playing together," FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "That's all it is. Any scheme you put up there, any play you put out there, there are always 11 people to defend a play."
Nicholson said Wake Forest's line was able to make its initial blocks up front, then get on the linebackers quicker and more effectively than other teams had. That problem may not go away.
While the Seminoles have great talent and depth at linebacker, the front remains undersized. That's particularly true at end, where there isn't a player who weighs more than 265 pounds. Nose guard Brodrick Bunkley, in the midst of an All-American-like season, doesn't weigh more than 290.
If Wake Forest can capitalize on those situations, so - potentially - can Virginia and Maryland.