Hard Knocks

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - There was no need to turn on the Doak Campbell Stadium scoreboard for Florida State's initial preseason football scrimmage Friday afternoon.

It would have merely illuminated the fact that the Seminoles have a lot of ground to cover in order to be where coach Jimbo Fisher wants his team for the Sept. 4 opener against Samford.

"The defense played pretty good," Fisher said afterward. "The offense was very erratic and sloppy. We're a long ways from where we want to be, but we'll get better. The defense did a lot of great things, but a lot of it didn't have to do with them. The plays were there and we made them, but we dropped the ball or did something stupid."

A rash of mistakes - fumbles, interceptions and a handful of penalties - prevented the offense from putting together a single-sustained scoring drive in six series, much to Fisher's chagrin. Of course, the other side of the coin was quite a bit shinier, as the defensive unit continued to show improvement. They came up with five takeaways including two that went for scores, building on the momentum shown over the first eight days of the preseason.

"It was really just fun," said sophomore cornerback Greg Reid. "We're starting to understand the defense better and were flying around the ball and making plays. That's what we want.

"I think we've come a long way, but we have a ways to go. We'll find out when the games come. I can't call it success, yet."

Senior quarterback Christian Ponder stopped just short of calling the offensive performance a complete failure.

"The bright side of it is there's a lot of room for improvement," Ponder said. "There's a lot of ways we can get better. We didn't perform like we should have. We played pretty bad. There were a lot of mistakes. It all goes back to focus; a complete lack of focus.

"I take the blame for that. As the quarterback, I've got to make sure that everyone is doing what they're supposed to do. I could have made some throws early to get the momentum on our side, but I didn't do what I was supposed to do and that affected the rest of the offense."

All five turnovers occurred in the first three series, which spanned approximately 34 plays.

"We had a couple picks, dropped some balls, but most of them were fumbles," said Fisher.

Some of the credit belongs to a defensive unit that was anxious to wrap up and tackle for the first time this preseason.

"We were really enthused about being able to bring people down to the ground," redshirt sophomore linebacker Vince Williams said. "This was the first time we were able to tackle. ... We don't like to see people break through the line and run for touchdowns. That's not something we want to get used to."

From that standpoint, the defense had every reason to be pleased. Of course, it's hard to beat the enjoyment of collecting takeaways.

"When somebody makes a mistake you need to be there to counter it," Williams added. "That's what a defense really is. I guess you could say we were forcing (turnovers), but really we were taking advantage of situations."

Fisher declined to cite specific players on defense, but emphasized the collective performance of the unit.

"The front guys did a pretty good job," Fisher said. "A couple of the linebackers made plays, but nobody really jumped out. But they played solid across the board which is pretty good - a lot of them made plays. When the whole group is playing well, it's hard for one guy to stand out."

Despite his own disappointment with the offense, Ponder was equally impressed with the defense.

"The good thing for us is the defense played really well," he said. "They definitely dominated this scrimmage and that's a good thing to see."

As for the offense, Ponder didn't candy-coat his feelings.

"If we play like this we're going to lose a lot of games and that's the truth," Ponder said. "We can't play like this. We have to fix a lot of things and guys have to step up. It starts with me."

The process that Fisher often speaks of will carry over from the meeting room to the practice field Saturday afternoon, with the Seminoles scheduled to go at 3 p.m.

"We've got to get back to basics (tomorrow)," Fisher said. "Line them up and butt them in the mouth. We'll find out who can hold onto the ball, who can block and who can tackle. People used to say Coach Bowden's old adage was blocking and tackling, [and] it is. Can you block, can you tackle, are you fundamentally sound, do you hold onto the football? That's what you've got to do."

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