Learning to Win

When Jimbo Fisher arrived at FSU, he talked about how the players needed to "learn how to win" again. Halfway through his second year, it looks like it may have already happened.

From the moment he arrived at Florida State, Jimbo Fisher preached that the first thing that needed to happen was that this team—these players—needed to learn how to win again. Time and again, Fisher has talked about learning to do things right in practice, learning to trust in the process, learning to fight and play with heart—that all these things would ultimately lead to success as the team learned what was necessary to win.

The last three games, FSU has demonstrated that they just might have already learned what it takes to win games once again, winning three games that in all likelihood would have been losses a year ago. The ‘Noles have fought off slow starts, penalties, squandered leads, poor special teams plays, and all sorts of adversities (both self-inflicted and otherwise), but have won each of the games after key drives by the offense and key stops by the defense. The last three wins have not been pretty, but ugly wins are much better than pretty losses.

In fact, winning ugly against quality teams is precisely the sign that this team is headed in the right direction—when a team doesn't play its best but fights, kicks, and claws to a win nonetheless, that team has learned what it takes to succeed. It is that quality that most separated FSU's dynasty teams both from their own competition and from the FSU teams of recent years. Even the dynasty teams played close games (and not just against Miami and UF) and had games in which they did not play their best, but those teams won because they quite simply refused to lose.

It is this quality, this refusal to back down and lose, that has been the defining characteristic of this Seminole team over the past several games. Even better is that teams learn to win by winning; success breeds success. Every time this young team pulls out an ugly win, the FSU program takes one more step towards being a perennial powerhouse once again. The talent is there (albeit young), and if these kids can learn how to close out games and fight for tough wins now, the program's near-future ceiling will be very high.

Just as with any VT team, this version of the Hokies challenged, hit, and forced FSU to beat them. Virginia Tech rarely beats itself, so any win against Frank Beamer's squad is big. However, this year's Virginia Tech team was not nearly as good as those of recent years, so only so much can be taken from this win in those terms. The meat of FSU's schedule remains ahead—arguably the four most difficult games on the schedule (Florida, Georgia Tech, Maryland, and Clemson) have yet to be played.

The upcoming Georgia Tech game is actually a tougher matchup for the ‘Noles than were the Hokies (despite VT's win over the Yellow Jackets earlier in the year). Georgia Tech has arguably the best defensive line of any team in the country—a matchup not exactly tailor-made for FSU's young offensive line, an OL that quite frankly struggled against Virginia Tech. In addition, FSU's defense struggled at times against Virginia Tech's few option plays (especially in the first half), with players getting out of their lanes and opening seams for the VT backs. The ‘Noles simply cannot afford those mistakes against the Ramblin' Wreck. On the positive side, FSU continues to tackle very well in the open field, a critical element in stopping an option attack.

Observations from Saturday:

In order to beat the Jackets, FSU is going to have to get major improvement at the right tackle position this week, where both Zebrie Sanders and Antwane Greenlee struggled mightily at times this week.

The running backs did a poor job in blitz pickup this week. As good a game as Marcus Sims had otherwise, he missed a couple key blitz pickups that could have allowed for some major gains in the passing game. Antone Smith continues to get overpowered on blitz pickup at times—that is going to hurt his draft stock. He doesn't always look as though he wants to make the square contact needed in pass protection. Many of the protection issues against Virginia Tech's blitz packages were actually the fault of the backs, not just the offensive line.

Rodney Hudson might have had his worst game since the Clemson game of last year, giving up one sack and getting beaten on several other plays. That said, he still won many more battles than he lost. We're going to need him to play up to his usual outstanding standard against GT, however.

In the first half, Ponder several times bailed from the pocket too early instead of stepping forward and releasing the football. In the third quarter, Ponder showed some growth by standing in and delivering a couple strikes to Greg Carr downfield while taking the hit. Look for this to happen more in the future; this is an area in which he'll improve as he gets a little more experience. As Ponder gets more comfortable, we'll start making teams pay downfield if they blitz like VT did.

It's only a matter of time before Surrency has a breakout game, but he needs to hang onto the football on the tough catches he's been making routinely in practice.

Marcus Sims' presence makes me much more comfortable as we face more physical defenses down the stretch.

We're still not very good at the defensive tackle position. Can we get Jacobbi McDaniel in here for the next few games?

Greg Carr is making himself some money this year, despite not being as much a focal point in the offense—his willingness to do a better job blocking and to become a more complete receiver will not go unnoticed by the scouts. And when he steps up to make huge plays like he did this week, that only adds icing to the cake.

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