FSU held a light practice Saturday morning, officially putting an exclamation mark on the close of preseason drills. The Seminoles return to practice Monday to continue preparations for Saturday's season-opener at North Carolina.
Naturally, FSU coach Bobby Bowden did not need to be reminded of FSU's last trip to Chapel Hill, N.C., in 2001. The Tar Heels, 0-3 and a 17-point underdog, used a 34-point second half to stun the Seminoles 41-9. UNC limited FSU to just 11 first downs and 34 second-half yards.
"We were going to go out there and run that ball," Bowden said and laughed.
"We had a freshman quarterback (in Chris Rix), so what do you do? You try to run better and take the pressure off him. I didn't know they had two No. 1 draft choices on that line of scrimmage (laughing). All four of them got drafted and all of them are playing. Whew, we were butting our head up against a brick wall with those guys and it forced us to get into some other things."
UNC, of course, is coming off a disastrous 2002 campaign. The Tar Heels finished 3-9 overall and eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 1-7. Plagued by injuries and inconsistency, only seven players started all 12 games. FSU's had its share of problems the past two seasons as well, and Bowden doesn't want to think his team will underestimate the Tar Heels.
"I think these kids are too mature to underestimate them. That's where history comes in. All we have to do is read our history books and see the last time we went up there we got slaughtered," Bowden said.
"Those things should be on their mind."
FSU also has had plenty of positives to think about this preseason, specifically a defense that appears determined to rekindle past success.
It expects to be tested by a UNC passing attack that accounted for a school-record 3,199 yards and led the ACC in passing offense (266.6) for the first time since 1963. Quarterback Darian Durant led the ACC in total offense (285.5) and threw for more than 225 yards in seven of his eight starts.
"It seems like (it's) playing much more like we did when we were successful," Bowden said of the Seminoles' defense.
"Again, you have to see it against another opponent in order to judge it. Remember, that's your people you are doing it to. That's the question that always enters your mind -- is your defense that good or is our offense that bad? What if your offense is good? That means you have one heckuva defense. So, the only way you are going to find out is to play other people."
Bowden also believes the Seminoles should be improved across the board this year due to one key intangible -- experience.
"I am hoping with a year of experience," Bowden said.
"I know it's going to help us at quarterback. I know it's going to help us at running back. I know it's going to help us at wide receiver. I know it's going to help us at tight end. I know it's going to help us on defense. Offensive line, inexperienced. That year should make a lot of difference. Yet, you have to keep it relative because the other team should be better, too."
Injuries continue to be a concern.
Starting offensive guard Bobby Meeks, who made his first career start last season against UNC, continues to be plagued by asthma attacks and did not finish practice Saturday. Second-teamer Eric Broe expects to be ready for UNC but did not practice as he continues to recover from an injured kneecap. Second-team center John Frady also left practice during conditioning due to heat-related issues.
Additionally, coach Billy Sexton's tailbacks are slowed by hurts -- Greg Jones has experienced soreness in his surgically repaired knee, Leon Washington sat out after he re-aggravated a thigh bruise in Friday's scrimmage and Lorenzo Booker is not quite 100 percent as he recovers from an ankle sprain.
"We just got to heal up and get as much work as we can next week," Sexton said. "Right now we are not very healthy."
FSU's special teams have been hot and cold this preseason, and Bowden is looking for better consistency from kicker Xavier Beitia. Bowden noticed a flaw watching video, saying, "we are struggling right now and we are trying to find some of the answers. I looked at the film today and I think I see something. We are going to find out."
Sexton, who handles the Seminoles' special teams, says Beitia has improved his leg strength from last season but needs "to get his kicks up quicker. He has been extending his kickoffs and looks strong, but he just needs to get the ball up quicker (on field goals). It's not like we try 65-yard field goals. Most of ours are from the 45- to 20-yard range, so getting that ball up (quickly) is important."
The majority of Saturday's practice focused on specialties. During the 10-period session, the Seminoles covered kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt coverage, punt block and punt returns.