FSU Prepares for Maryland

One game, one dramatic kick has changed the mood and perception around the Seminoles. As Florida State (7-3, 5-2 ACC) prepares for its critical game Saturday at Maryland, there is a noticeable uptick in vibe around the team and among the players.

Florida State supporters were energized by the last-second win against Clemson, and the team now has exceeded its regular-season win total from last year.

The players understand, however, it can all get reversed back if they don't defeat Maryland. "After back-to-back losses, you would have figured that the world was ending," said quarterback Christian Ponder, referring to previous defeats against N.C. State and North Carolina."But the goals are still right there. Obviously, we have to handle business this week and hope that something happens with N.C. State for us to make it to the ACC championship game. But there's still that glimmer of hope."

The Seminoles will know where they stand in the ACC race prior to taking the field for warm-ups at Maryland. N.C. State and North Carolina play an early-afternoon game. The Seminoles need N.C. State to lose, and then Florida State must beat Maryland to win the ACC Atlantic Division title. If N.C. State wins, the Seminoles must beat Maryland, then hope Maryland turns around and beats N.C. State the following Saturday.

"I'm sure they'll watch it," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher "It will add more drama ... but again, if N.C. State wins, you can't worry about it. If N.C. State loses, we have to play the game against Maryland. That's the game that we can control and make a difference for us."

But this is the first time Florida State has remained in the ACC race at this point in a season in four years. "The opportunities are still there for us," Ponder said. "We can still have a very successful season."

Fisher said the team has a lot riding "for the seniors, to give them a great senior year, and to build a great foundation for the future of our organization. You want them to get in those situations, especially when they're young. So if they happen when they're older, they've been in those situations before. ... I think it does nothing but help you."

Tidbits

QB Christian Ponder and OG Rodney Hudson have both received invitations to play in the Jan. 29 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. That's a sure sign of how valued they are among NFL scouts. With Ponder, it's may be even more notable, since the Senior Bowl is almost obligated to invite Alabama QB Greg McElroy, no matter whether he is considered a higher-round draft pick or not. With the game being in Mobile, organizers have to lean to Auburn and Alabama players whenever possible. Normally, only three quarterbacks are invited to play for the South squad, though this year might be an exception.

PK Dustin Hopkins and QB E.J. Manuel were both honored as the ACC special teams and offensive back of the week. That's impressive for Manuel, since it might be the only time he starts a game this season. He is now 4-1 as Florida State's starting quarterback.
  --DE Markus White, a senior, recorded a sack, extending his streak to six consecutive games with a sack. He now has 6.5 on the season. White is second on the team in sacks behind Brandon Jenkins (10).

With their win against Clemson, the Seminoles now appear the favorite to play in either the Chik-Fil-A Bowl or the Champs Sports Bowl, if they do not win the ACC championship. The only way they get to the Orange Bowl, of course, would be to win the Atlantic Division, then win the ACC title game, which are both long shots right now.

SERIES HISTORY: Florida State leads Maryland 18-2 (last meeting, 2009, 29-26 Florida State).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has stated many times he is not a believer in a two-quarterback system or even bringing in the backup quarterback for situational plays. But the temptation has to be there after watching the way E.J. Manuel provided some gains on option plays, both with his own running ability and pitching to the tailback against Clemson. But there is relief that Christian Ponder can return for the Maryland game, because Ponder is more adept at making proper check-offs at the line of scrimmage and recognizing the opposing defenses, if only because he has played much more than Manuel. The Seminoles have to figure a way to get WR Bert Reed back involved in their offense. He's their most experienced receiver, but he has dropped passes and has been out of the picture.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Seminoles have given up 78 points and 1,231 yards total offense in the last three games. They were previously among the nation's leaders in total defense and scoring defense. Most alarming, they have allowed 788 yards passing in the past two games. Among the reasons has been their lack of push up front to generate a pass rush and force quarterbacks to scramble or get uncomfortable. This is where the season has taken a physical toll, and the team's lack of quality depth is showing. It's the same situation in the secondary. The Seminoles are playing a step slower with guys banged up and a lack of experienced backups. It's a situation defensive coordinator Mark Stoops must find a way to mask in the final two games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It would have been good from 80 yards. I am so proud of him and for him to be so strong. I think lot guys would have crumbled after last week and gone out there and most likely missed the kick. He's a completely different kid. Couldn't have happened to a better person." -- Florida State QB Christian Ponder, on his admiration for PK Dustin Hopkins, the team's newest hero for his game-winning kick against Clemson.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Florida State (7-3, 5-2 in ACC) at Maryland (7-3, 4-2), Nov. 20 -- The ACC has to love this scenario. Both teams are still in the ACC title race on the second-to-last weekend of the season. In fact, the Terps are the ones controlling their own destiny. If they win the last two games (N.C. State next week) they win the Atlantic Division title. For that reason, Florida State will likely face a wild atmosphere for a Saturday night game. But this is another defining moment in whether Florida State has truly progressed. A win gives the Seminoles a chance for their first 10-win season in seven years. A loss eliminates them from the ACC race and makes the season-finale against Florida a greater challenge. It's a must-win to show this program is heading forward.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Terps lean on their passing game, and that has been the biggest weakness of Florida State's defense. Clemson had receivers open that were missed in last week's game, and the Seminoles' zone coverages are creating plenty of cushion for short throws. The Seminoles have not taken control of games in the first quarter, and falling behind against Maryland would only make the challenge more difficult. The Seminoles will be without their best big-play tailback, Jermaine Thomas, so they have to hope Chris Thompson and Ty Jones are able to generate some type of rushing attack. The other issue is how well QB Christian Ponder plays. If he can zip the ball around to receivers in space, the Seminoles should be able to make good yards against Maryland's defense.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

CB Xavier Rhodes -- He has a team-leading three interceptions and made his second pick in three games last week against Clemson. He has emerged as the team's best cover corner.

WR Rodney Smith -- He more than doubled his previous career-high in receiving yardage, recording 121 against the Clemson Tigers. His previous high was 49 against Boston College last month. Smith and fellow sophomore Willie Haulstead have become the top big-play receivers for this team.

PK Dustin Hopkins -- He made all three field-goal attempts against Clemson, including the 55-yard game-winner with no time left. It was the third longest field goal in school history. The only longer kicks in school history were by Gary Cismesia (ACC record 60 yards, 2007) and Sebastian Janikowski (56 yards, 1997). Hopkins' game-winning field goal topped his previous career-long of 52 yards and marked the first time in 27 years that the Seminoles have won a game on the final offensive play.

ROSTER REPORT

QB Christian Ponder (elbow) took every snap with the first-team offense in Monday's practice, clearing the way for him to play against Maryland. Ponder revealed to reporters that he had 16 ounces of fluid drained from his right elbow last week, all part of an injury that occurred against North Carolina. But he has been cleared to play "They said they see it (fluid buildup) a lot in people's legs after car accidents and stuff," Ponder said, "but they've never seen something like this in an arm."

TB Jermaine Thomas (knee) likely will miss the next two games, but the Seminoles hold out hope he could play against Florida. He should be OK for the bowl. The Seminoles feared a torn ACL, but an MRI revealed a far less serious injury.

OG David Spurlock will miss his fourth straight game since suffering a concussion against Boston College on Oct. 16. The status of his primary backup, Bryan Stork, who has missed the past two games with mononucleosis, is uncertain. Fisher says the team is continuing to monitor blood work on Stork.

WR Willie Haulstead (concussion) did not have a serious head injury, unlike Spurlock, and could be cleared to play Saturday.

CB Mike Harris has moved even with Greg Reid on the depth chart, and he may see increased playing time Saturday. The Seminoles have been unhappy with the progress of Reid, who had plenty of high school acclaim but may be better suited to a position switch to offense.


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