September 8, 2003 TALLAHASSEE Speed and depth, two key factors that stood out when Florida State joined the ACC in 1992 and immediately reeled off 29 consecutive conference wins, appear to be back after a three- or four-year absence. While studying film in preparation for Maryland's ACC opener, Ralph Friedgen suggested that the Seminoles couldn't be playing with the same 85-player scholarship limit as the rest of the country. Strange as it may seem, the team isn't carrying a full complement of players on scholarship (it's around 80), though it occasionally plays with such speed and quickness that it appears to have more than 11 players on the field. Save for the offensive line, where two true freshmen, a redshirt freshman and two inexperienced sophomores make up the second team, FSU again is swimming in quality depth. The Seminoles are two- or three-deep with proven performers and promising prospects at almost every position. When we got in the conference, we had a better first team and definitely better reserves than anybody else, FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. Now (other teams) have got as good a first team as we've got a first team, but we've still got more depth than everybody else. That's why we play so many people. We try to stay fresh and win that fourth quarter. So far this season, FSU is winning virtually every quarter. The Seminoles outscored their first two opponents (lightweight North Carolina and middleweight Maryland) by a 72-10 margin, and it would have been far worse against the Tar Heels (37-0) if Bowden hadn't eased off the accelerator. Neither game was even slightly in doubt after the first handful of possessions. The defense didn't yield a single touchdown in either game, in part because coordinator Mickey Andrews reverted to his old manner of deploying substitutes en masse, without a serious risk of a fall-off in production. It's a luxury Andrews hasn't truly enjoyed since the 1999 or 2000 seasons. That 2000 team, in fact, leaned on freshmen Kendyll Pope, Michael Boulware, Darnell Dockett, Jeff Womble and Stanford Samuels, who are now all senior starters. Bowden attributes some of FSU's struggles over the last two seasons to that lack of depth. I think the lack of experience probably meant just about as much, Bowden said, but that depth had some role in it, too. The Seminoles also might be deep along the offensive line if not for some injury-related attrition. Blake Williams, a 2001 signee and the younger brother of two-time Jacobs Blocking Award winner Brett Williams, was medically disqualified with a chronic back problem. Matt Heinz, from the same signing class, is out indefinitely following back surgery. Factor in 1999 signee Corey Whitaker, who dropped out of school after one year, and you have a better understanding of why the widebody ranks are particularly thin. Rather than bemoan the issue, Bowden takes it with a grain of salt and crosses his fingers. If you look at it from our standpoint everybody else is the same way, Bowden said. I'll bet Florida doesn't have two lines, either. I bet Miami doesn't have two lines. It's a common problem we've all got. Three-Headed Tailback Awesome Nowhere is FSU's depth more apparent than in the offensive backfield. That's a dual-edged sword that limits various individuals' opportunities to touch the football but also provides the Seminoles with the luxury of bringing senior tailback Greg Jones along slowly from his reconstructive knee surgery. Of course, All-ACC safety Dexter Reid of UNC probably thinks Jones has played too much already, after the 248-pounder humiliated the Tar Heels' heavy hitter with a crushing blow in the season opener. After breaking the line of scrimmage, Jones initiated contact with Reid, knocking his helmet off and sending him flying backward, with his arms and legs flailing. FSU tailback Lorenzo Booker said the scene reminded him of the popular child's toy Mr. Potato Head, with all of his parts falling from his body. Limited to eight carries for 59 yards against North Carolina, Jones upped the ante with 14 carries and 88 yards including a breathtaking 44-yard touchdown run around the end against a pretty solid Maryland defense. Still, it was clear the Seminoles were cautiously protecting their investment. Jones had just two carries in the second half against the Terps. I won't mind more (carries for Jones) later, Bowden said. What did we go, from eight to 15 (carries)? That's not bad, but we can add more as we go. He produces so doggone good when you get him in there, but gosh, we were moving the ball so good throwing. The passing game was effective, if not prolific, but FSU still ran the ball more times (88) than it threw it (67) through two games. What was truly amazing was that FSU didn't miss a beat with second-team tailback Leon Washington sidelined by a dislocated elbow after one rush in the opener and third-teamer Booker hobbled with a tender ankle. Despite a retooled offensive line, the Seminoles averaged 4.9 yards per carry (88-432) with seven rushing touchdowns, compared to just three through the air. Booker, who had just one carry in the second half against Maryland before aggravating his ankle injury, had 18 carries for 129 yards (7.1 yards per carry). Jones piled up 147 yards on 22 totes, for a 6.7-yard average. Yet another luxury at tailback for FSU is Willie Reid. He opened the season at wide receiver but moved to tailback late in the second half at Carolina after Washington's injury. Through two games, he had 78 yards on 17 carries (4.6 yards per carry), with nearly all of his work coming late in the game against the more competitive Terrapins. When you saw Booker go down, and you've got Leon Washington out, now you've got Willie Reid and Greg, Bowden said. So (the philosophy was), Let's save Greg and let Willie get the work.' What if you put Greg in and he gets hurt? Now you're down to the fourth-team tailback, and he (Reid) is good.
Big Improvement: Pass Coverage It wasn't very difficult to identify FSU's greatest area of defensive improvement after two games: defending the pass. Andrews quickly pointed out early in the season that returning all of your players isn't always a great asset, unless those players are playing better. (No, he didn't specifically reference North Carolina's defense by name.) The Seminoles entered this season with their entire secondary back, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing, considering that FSU ranked eighth in the ACC and 85th nationally in pass defense last season. In 14 games last fall, the defense gave up a league-high 3,293 yards and 21 touchdowns, as it repeatedly was undone by the big play. Through their first two games in 2003, the Seminoles allowed just one pass reception longer than 22 yards. That was a 43-yarder from backup UNC quarterback C.J. Stephens, in the fourth quarter of a blowout. Of course, FSU also did not allow a touchdown pass in the two games, as the defense yielded just one field goal in eight quarters. It's such a big key, Bowden said. Us giving up the long plays the last two years, it just kills you. Everybody's playing so hard, then you give up the bomb. I told the team this: If you don't allow a long pass, I don't know of many people who can score on us.' I think we've got that good personnel. Certainly, the Seminoles were more than deserving of such praise, after collaring UNC's Darian Durant and Maryland's Scott McBrien, the ACC's second- and third-best quarterbacks last season based on pass efficiency numbers. Better communication, particularly among safeties who were burned often a year ago, played a contributing factor in the Seminoles' progress. But so too did the play of starting cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and Stanford Samuels. Unofficially, they had a half-dozen breakups between them. The number probably will be significantly higher following a review of film. For Samuels, it's merely a continuation of the solid second half he enjoyed last season. McFadden, however, has been the most pleasant surprise. Widely acknowledged as one of the nation's top cover corners when he signed in 2000, McFadden had lots of trouble digesting Andrews' defensive schemes prior to this season. Not only has he emerged as a sticky defender in coverage, he's playing with a tremendous amount of confidence, contending everything in his area. That doesn't surprise me, Bowden said. I've always felt like he's one of the most talented corners we have.