For a player and a unit still searching for big plays this season, Saturday's road date at Maryland just might provide the Semionles that opportunity.
"They normally play eight men in the box with single coverage," Gardner said of the Terps. "That leaves one-on-one on the receivers, and then it's up to us to make the plays we are expected to make here. We've been working hard in practice, getting our assignments down. We are ready to make some play if we get the opportunity.'
After two games, however, FSU has relied on its newfound running game, led by tailback Greg Jones.
Jones leads the ACC and is eighth nationally in rushing at 143 yards per game. Fellow tailback Nick Maddox is averaging 59 rushing yards per game, while quarterback Chris Rix (45.5) and third-team tailback Willie Reid (40.5) are also capable running threats. Overall, the 'Noles are first in the ACC and third nationally in rushing offense (318).
While Iowa State and Virginia each made it difficult for the Seminoles to pass, flooding the middle of the field and dropping into deep coverage, Maryland - at least in the past - has challenged the Seminoles with single coverage on the outside. The Terrapins also like to blitz, though they might be a tad more conservative Saturday judging by their first two games.
Maryland's secondary lost three all-conference performers from a year ago, including both safeties. Additionally, five seniors are gone from the depth chart at linebacker, though record-setting E.J. Henderson anchors the unit. The Terps are sixth in the league in total defense, allowing 337.5 yards per game - 106 rushing and 231.5 passing.
"We can only go on what they've done in the past," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said.
"Based on what they did last year and what they've done so far this year. That's what we have to base everything on. They haven't changed drastically. I imagine it's the same style. The big thing is how are they going to play our receivers. Are they going to lay off or are they going to come up and bring 'em and try to stop the run. They'll probably mix that."
FSU would certainly like to see a mix of big plays here and there. The 'Noles have had just one pass completion over 20 yards - a 31-yarder from Rix to Anquan Boldin, who also has the team's lone two touchdown receptions. Last year FSU receivers averaged 266.5 yards per game, compared to 183.5 this season. Boldin is averaging 56.5 receiving yards per game - Morgan (28.5), P.K. Sam (23.5), and Jones (22.0) round out the players above 20 yards per game.
FSU fans shouldn't fret, according to senior offensive lineman Brett Williams. The Terps just might be the perfect tonic.
"They like to play more aggressive and blitz more, so you anytime the do that you will be able to make some big plays on them," Williams said.
Both Gardner and Robert Morgan have enjoyed big games against Maryland in their careers, each with 100-yard receiving games. In fact, FSU's six returning receivers, including Maddox, have combined on 20 receptions for 419 yards and four touchdowns against the Terps. Last year against Maryland, FSU scored 21 unanswered points to rally from a 14-0 deficit.
While the Seminoles would love to see more big plays, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen doesn't understand what the fuss is about. He also likes Rix, who was knocked out of last year's game in the first quarter on an aggressive hit by Henderson.
Rix returned to the game with 6:04 left in the first half and went on to enjoy one his best efforts of his career. Rix was 3 of 6 for 27 yards before the hit that left him with a ringing headache; 12 of 18 for 323 yards and five touchdowns after it.
"They ran the ball last year, too," Friedgen said. "We kind of thought they would run it against us and they came out throwing. They have great balance. He (Rix) completed a lot more passes than I saw (before the game). He also showed me he had a lot of guts. He got hit and taken out of the game. He would be a guy who I would love to coach. He would fit nice in our offense."
While it's agreed that FSU's passing game needs improvement, Bowden also says he's not worried about his team's lack of big plays.
"I sure would like to have some, everybody would," Bowden said. "We sure need them. If we win, I really don't care what we do there. Probably the more you run the ball, the fewer big plays you'll have."
Gardner, last year's hero against the Terps, agrees, saying the Seminoles' running game is an extremely valuable weapon.
"That's what we've been wanting the whole time," Gardner said. "Get the running game going, that will open the pass. That's the good thing about our offense this year (balance). Some teams play the safeties so far back it's hard to get behind them. So, just hand the ball off to No. 6 (Jones) or No. 20 (Maddox). I don't have a problem with that."