Florida State Mid-Week Report

Neither Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher nor quarterback Christian Ponder had a good time on Halloween weekend. The ghosts of a Thursday night loss to N.C. State, sealed when Ponder fumbled in the final seconds, haunted them for days. Fisher called it one of the toughest losses he's experienced. Ponder said he stayed at home for an entire day in a mental funk.

But the dejection seemed to leave when practice resumed Monday and the Seminoles (6-2, 4-2 ACC) began preparing for Saturday's homecoming game against North Carolina.

"Very humble. Very back-to-work," Fisher said, describing the mood. "They went out there and they're hurting. You could tell. But I think they channeled it the right way."

That remains to be seen, of course, and depends on how this team plays Saturday against the Tar Heels.

For now, Fisher said his first season as head coach has gone better than expected.

"I think in all facets, we're ahead of where we were," he said. "It's not close to where we want things to be, but it's progressing, too."

Ponder said he has recovered and is ready to lead by example. It's going to be an important challenge. The Seminoles have to play better than they've shown in the past two games.

A 10-win season and an ACC division title are still very viable, but only if this team can avoid bad habits that have reoccurred at times this season.

"Everyone on this team has to do a good job and make sure guys are focused and motivated and have forgotten about North Carolina State," Ponder said.

NOTES, QUOTES

--OG Rodney Hudson was named one of the 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation's top lineman. Hudson is one of only two offensive linemen among the dozen.

--Florida State running backs have not lost a fumble this year, a streak of 194 carries without a turnover.

--The Seminoles are 4-0 at home this season, equaling their best start since the 2004 season, when they won their first five games in front of the home crowd.

--With five plays covering 25 yards or more against N.C. State, Florida State's offense equaled a season-high in one game and pushed its season total to 24. Florida State's running game has produced 15 of those plays covering 25 yards or more.

--LB Kendall Smith finished with a career-high 15 tackles against N.C. State. He said his personal best is 24 tackles, which he made in high school.

SERIES HISTORY: Florida State leads North Carolina 15-1-1 (last meeting 2009, 30-27 Florida State).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Seminoles are averaging 33.5 points a game, nearly 10 points more than they averaged last season. Through eight games, it has been the most productive scoring season by the Seminoles since the 2001 season, when they averaged 33.6 points per game. The Seminoles are threatening the 2000 season scoring average of 39.5 points, when Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke led the team to the BCS national championship game. Florida State's school record for scoring average is 48.4 points per game, established in 1995.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Seminoles blamed themselves for failing to adjust on defense at halftime last week, leading to a back-to-back N.C. State touchdowns that tied the game. But for the most part, this team is still playing solid defense since the Oklahoma blowup in the second game of the season. The Seminoles remain the national leader among FBS teams with 33 quarterback sacks. They are on pace to post their most productive season for sacks since 1996 and '97, when they had two of the best defensive teams in school history.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You know, ultimately it's football. It's a game. Obviously it was a tough loss, a heartbreaking loss, but it's important to move on. We've still got four regular-season games left." -- Florida State QB Christian Ponder, on how he coped with the N.C. State loss.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: North Carolina (5-3, 2-2 ACC) at Florida State (6-2, 4-1), Nov. 6 -- In recent years, there has not been a homecoming game as big as this one is for the Seminoles. After last week's blown opportunity at N.C. State, there are no more second-chances left. Florida State must win the final three ACC games and hope N.C. State stumbles once in order to claim the ACC Atlantic Division title. This series has been remarkably one-sided, a big contrast to other ACC opponents during the past decade. North Carolina has never won in Tallahassee.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seminoles have not played well since the Miami game nearly a month ago. That must change Saturday. North Carolina has a solid-enough offense to pose big challenges for the Seminoles' defense. It starts with Tar Heels' quarterback T.J. Yates, who has thrown 12 touchdown passes and leads the ACC with a 66.1 percent completion rate. The Seminoles must control him and tailback Johnny White, the ACC's second-leading rusher with 713 yards this season. But the biggest issue is Florida State's offense and whether QB Christian Ponder can shake the bad memory from N.C. State and play winning football without turnovers. The Seminoles must also prove they are emotionally ready for this challenge. If you judge North Carolina by recent games, the Tar Heels haven't looked strong, but they will be fired up for this game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Christian Ponder -- Until his fumble in the final minute against N.C. State, Ponder may have played his best game of the season. He threw with more zip and made plays downfield. But his confidence was shaken by the loss, so now it becomes a question of whether that bad experience carries over.

TE Beau Reliford -- He caught the winning touchdown pass last year from Ponder in this matchup, and the Seminoles are trying to get him more involved in this year's offense. He was the player Florida State had open when Ponder fumbled in the final minute against N.C. State.

CB Greg Reid -- He will be part of a secondary that's going to be tested by North Carolina's solid passing attack. The Seminoles are also hoping Reid can deliver some big plays on punt returns. Florida State's entire kick return game has been subpar in recent weeks.

ROSTER REPORT:

--The Seminoles appear to be in good shape, especially after head coach Jimbo Fisher opted to give the team a three-day weekend Friday after the N.C. State game to heal better physically and emotionally.

--QB Christian Ponder (elbow) seems to have less of an issue this week with his throwing elbow injury.

--OG David Spurlock (concussion) will not play for another week. That means Bryan Stork, a redshirt freshman, who finished the BC game when Spurlock got injured, will get another start.


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