Defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion.
Pardon fifth-ranked Florida State (2-0, 1-0 ACC) for gnashing its teeth when that piece of trivia is discussed. The Seminoles will be looking to get even on Saturday against the team that made sure FSU did not win the conference for the first time since joining the league 1992
"We have a lot to prove, to ourselves and to the rest of the ACC," FSU linebacker Kendyll Pope said.
"Going up there is going to be a tough challenge, it being a conference game and being in their backyard. Everybody in the ACC feels like Florida State has gotten soft now, so I feel like we have to go up there and show them we are going to be back on top of the ACC again. There is a lot riding on this game. They are the defending champs, that's something you have to respect. They are the defending champs. We have to go up there, strap on our helmets and play ball."
FSU realizes its needs to play ball, especially on defense. The numbers are somewhat mind-numbing. The Seminoles rank seventh in the conference in total defense (378), third in rushing defense (86.5), sixth in scoring defense (25) and last in pass defense (282.0).
Additionally, FSU first two opponents - Iowa State and Virginia - averaged 5.6 yards per play, converted 11 of 30 third downs and 3 of 4 fourth downs. Let's also not forget the Seminoles have surrendered 36 second-half points - 33 in the fourth quarter. FSU hasn't been much better in its red-zone defense, surrendering five scores (four touchdown) in six attempts.
Off last weekend, FSU has had plenty of time to correct its mistakes. The Seminoles also hope to be in better health against the Terrapins, though Jerome Carter is expected to start at rover in place of Claudius Osei, who continues to be hampered by a sore Achilles tendon.
"We got a jump having that off week, so that helped us out a lot with our form tackling," said Pope, the team's leading tackler with 15.
"The most common thing was missed tackles, and finishing the fourth quarter. That has been the biggest thing. We've worked hard on trying to finish hard, finishing a drills. That's the thing here at Florida State. Finish the drill. Finish the fourth quarter. Hopefully, this game Saturday we are going to see that difference."
Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews is also looking for improvement from his unit. Pressure along the defensive front continues to be a concern - FSU has just three sacks to rank eighth in the league in front of Wake Forest (two). Virginia has a conference-best eight.
"We have to continue to attack the line of scrimmage," Andrews said. "When you play great defense, you are attacking the line of scrimmage and you are not giving up big plays. You are making tackles. We've done that well at times but we are not consistent enough with it right now."
The Terps have struggled offensively thus far this season, which should be good news for the Seminoles. They also are expected to be without star running back Bruce Perry, who continues to recover from a groin injury.
Maryland managed only 16 rushing yards and 133 total net yards in its 22-0 opening defeat to Notre Dame. However, Maryland rebounded last Saturday with an easy 44-14 win over Mid-American Conference-member Akron. Chris Downs, Scott McBrien and Jason Crawford each scored rushing touchdowns in the win. The Terps rank seventh in the league in total offense (230) and rush offense (230) and last in pass offense (117.5).
"We are last in the league in pass defense, they are last in the league in passing," Andrews said. "What does that mean? I don't know. We are 2-0, they are 1-1. We liked not to be last in anything. But the main thing Saturday is we come out and have enough points to win. We've been fortunate enough to score points in both games and we've been fortunate enough to create opportunities for our offense to score with turnovers or fourth-down plays or whatever. We have to continue to do that."
Andrews believes the Seminoles have made progress in practice since beating Virginia Aug. 31. However, he admits that progress can't be measured until Saturday's game. While the Seminoles look poised to dominate the ACC again, Maryland has not been nearly as impressive. Andrews is not as quick to rush to that judgment.
"I don't know if they are as good as they looked against Akron. For sure, they are not as bad as they looked against Notre Dame," Andrews said.
"Maybe we are the same way. I don't think we are as bad as we looked in the fourth quarter the last two games. Yet, we've played them and that was the result. We've given up five touchdown passes and four of them have come in the fourth quarter. Three of them were little short passes, but they still count as much as that 39-yard pass where we broke a coverage. We feel like we've gotten better. We've made some progress."
Pope agrees, saying the Seminoles have the impact players on defense to set the game's tone. However, that hasn't been the case thus far, and even coach Bobby Bowden has said the unit needs a playmaker to emerge each week.
"We know we have a lot of super talent on the defensive side of the ball," Pope said. "It's not about just one guy stepping out, we want everybody stepping out. To make that good play. We can make that good play as a whole defense. If we have 11 guys flying to the football, everybody is going to stand out. If we have all 11 guys flying to the ball like we are supposed to, then everybody will look good."
"The front seven, we have to stone the run and make them pass the ball. We have to get that point average down. If we get a shutout, that will cut down that points-per game average game a whole lot. That's our thing. We are trying to get that down, so we can be back up there at the top of the stack like Florida State is supposed to be."
FSU certainly doesn't have to look far for motivation.
Defending ACC champion.