TSX Mid-Week: Florida State

A pair of last-minute losses and being pushed to the brink of elmination in the ACC chase has not altered the way Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher feels about his team. He said the Seminoles (6-3, 4-2 ACC) are approaching Saturday's game against Clemson with the same proper focus he has seen in previous games.

"I keep saying that I like the character of this football team," Fisher said. "They come to work every day."

"If we're 8-1, it isn't as good as everyone thinks. And if it's 6-3, it's not as bad. We all want to be sitting here 8-1. There's no doubt. We want to win championships. But are we any different team at 8-1 than we are at 6-3? Perception-wise you are. But you're still the same (team)."

Perception, however, is an important thing among Florida State fans, who have been resigned to thinking a once-promising season is now headed for the same kind of bad ending. The mood has taken another downturn with the likelihood that quarterback Christian Ponder (elbow) might not play, or may try to play without significant practice time this week.

Fisher is not showing his hand with Ponder. He has been reluctant to disclose injuries or accurately detail a player's status. But Ponder did not practice Monday and Tuesday and backup E.J. Manuel has taken the snaps.

The Seminoles are in must-win situations against Clemson and Maryland. It's also their best hope at attaining eight victories and showing improvement before facing surging Florida in the season finale.

Their only hope at a major bowl would be to win the ACC title game. Otherwise, it could be another pre-New Year's Day game for this team.

"The thing I'm worried about right now, as much as anything, is building a foundation here to understand how to play championship-level football and consistent football." Fisher said. "We have to learn to make those plays, but we have to learn to eliminate those mistakes before it comes down to those one plays."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Seminoles have a pair of sack streaks going. DE Markus White's sack against North Carolina in the third quarter gave him 5.5 for the season. He has now recorded at least a half sack in five straight games. DE Brandon Jenkins also recorded a sack, his fourth consecutive game with at least a half sack. Jenkins currently leads FSU with nine sacks this year.

--The Seminoles will honor one of their greatest players, linebacker Derrick Brooks, during the Clemson game. His old locker will be permanently sealed and turned into a display and his jersey (No. 10) will be retired, although players will be allowed to win that number in the future. He will also be saluted before the game and during the game in front of the home crowd.

In addition, the Seminoles will honor former catcher Buster Posey, the rookie hero for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. He will be honored in a ceremony on the field.

--FSU center Ryan McMahon will make his 49th consecutive start against Clemson, putting him one short of tying the school record of 50 held by Tony Carter (2005-08).

SERIES HISTORY: Florida State leads Clemson 16-7 (last meeting, 2009, 40-24 Clemson).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: So much depends on the quarterback situation. The Seminoles will have to alter their playbook with E.J. Manuel, simply because he has played very little this season. They are going to try to generate a more productive running game, something that has been lacking in the past two weeks.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Against North Carolina, the Seminoles returned to the same troubling problems they showed a year ago. Their safeties got faked and lured out of position and their cornerbacks couldn't cover in solo matchups. It led to North Carolina producing a school record 439 yards passing. This week, it's been back to fundamentals, back to trying to get players to stay disciplined in coverage schemes and figuring out a way to bring more pressure. The Seminoles will face a good quarterback for the third consecutive week in Clemson's Kyle Parker. He is easily capable of putting up big numbers against this group if the same mistakes occur.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The thing I'm worried about right now, as much as anything, is building a foundation here to understand how to play championship-level football and consistent football. We have to learn to make those plays, but we have to learn to eliminate those mistakes before it comes down to those one plays." -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher on his team's future.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Clemson at Florida State, Nov. 13 -- This series has shifted decidedly in favor of Clemson (5-4, 3-3 ACC), which has won five of the last seven games, many in blowout fashion. Hard to believe, the Seminoles (6-3, 4-2) once had an 11-game win streak against Clemson after joining the ACC. With this being the first home night game for the Seminoles, the atmosphere should be loud, but will the Seminoles be as fired up to play? Hard to know how the past two games, both last-minute losses, have affected the team's confidence and mind-set.

KEYS TO THE GAME: If E.J. Manuel is the FSU quarterback, the Seminoles' plan will be more rollout passes and short throws and it will further emphasize the need to have a consistent running game. The Seminoles have to start well. They can't further increase doubt if Clemson takes the opening possession for a score or jumps out to a first-quarter lead. On defense, which one will show up for FSU? The one that played so well at Miami and fairly well against most ACC teams? Or the one that couldn't stop any pass play last week against North Carolina? The Seminoles need to create some turnovers and give their offense a chance to get rhythm.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB E.J. Manuel -- We'll assume he plays, which will be his first meaningful snaps since the Gator Bowl win he led over West Virginia last year in Bobby Bowden's farewell. Maneul has good scrambling skills and a solid arm, but it's been puzzling why he hasn't been used more, at least in some situational roles, this season.

WR Willie Haulstead -- He's coming off the best game of his career with 10 catches for 154 yards against North Carolina. But he has also shown a penchant for dropping a couple passes, too. The Seminoles believe his best football his ahead of him.

CB Greg Reid -- The Seminoles' secondary has been besieged in the past two games. Some of the problems are self-inflicted. Reid's smallish-build gives teams confidence they can lure him into mistakes and created mismatches. He'll be under fire again in this game.

ROSTER REPORT:

--QB Christian Ponder (elbow) left the Seminoles' practice Tuesday with his right arm heavily wrapped and harnessed in a sling. His injury apparently got worse following the North Carolina game, but no decision has been made on a starter. E.J. Manuel has taken all the snaps with the first team offense and freshman Clint Trickett, son of offensive line coach Rick Trickett and a player the Seminoles wanted to redshirt, took snaps with the second team. "He went to the doctor and they took some fluid off (elbow)," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said of Ponder. "He'll be day-to-day, we may rest him for a day or so and we'll play it as we did a couple weeks ago."

--OG Rhonne Sanderson will make his second straight start, filling in for starter David Spurlock (concussion) and primary back-up Bryan Stork (illness).


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