"Great week to be going down to play Florida State, in terms of that being a huge game for us last year," North Carolina head coach John Bunting said at his Tuesday press conference. "I hope that it's a real motivating device for us as we go down. I'm sure that they're going to be excited about playing us because of the way the game went last year. Paybacks, sometimes, can be really tough on you, but I love the challenge of that."
It has been something of a strange season for the Seminoles. They came into the season with the 2001 Rookie of the Year, Chris Rix (6-4, 210, So.) poised to lead the Florida State offense at quarterback. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit named Rix as the number one run/pass threat quarterback in the nation, and named Rix and FSU receiver Talman Gardner (6-2, 205, Sr.) as the top QB/WR tandem in the country. Things have not turned out that way for
Instead of the highly touted Rix, Adrian McPherson (6-4, 180, So.) will be making his third career start at quarterback. Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden benched Rix after the Seminoles lost to Notre Dame, McPherson got his first career start against Wake Forest and completed 28 of 44 passes, while Florida State gained 533 total yards on offense.
There were many media reports that the Seminoles were a team in turmoil under Rix, and that he had lost the confidence of his offensive teammates. Against Notre Dame, FSU receivers dropped five of Rix's passes. For whatever reason, Bowden made the switch.
"Some guys have a little bit of composure about them - Charlie Ward had it - and I think A.D. has got it," Bowden said of McPherson after the Wake Forest game. "He doesn't frustrate very easily, he doesn't worry very much. He's one of those guys, if he starts to worry too much, he'll fall asleep."
Last week against Georgia Tech McPherson again directed the Seminole attack. He connected on 8 of 24 attempts for 139 yards and two touchdowns, against no interceptions. McPherson has completed 67 consecutive passes without an interception. He has also been a threat in the running game as well, rushing for 53 yards against WFU and 22 against Georgia Tech in his two starts.
Florida State has a reputation for fielding great talent at the wide receiver positions, but this year has been something of a down year for the Seminoles in comparison to previous years. Junior Anquan Boldin (6-2, 226) is averaging 4.6 receptions per game and 73.7 yards per game, both marks good for fourth place in the ACC. Senior Talman Gardner (6-2, 205) hasn't had quite the year that Kirk Herbstreit predicted, but is averaging 2.8 catches per game and 46.1 yards per game.
Craphonso Thorpe (6-2, 175, So.) is another threat for the ‘Noles at times, catching a 72-yard pass last week versus Georgia Tech. P.K. Sam (6-3, 175, So.) is another player to watch at the wide receiver spot. Sam had his career best game against Duke, when he had seven receptions for 96 yards. Senior Robert Morgan rounds out the wide receiving corps, and has 16 catches this season for 162 yards.
Junior tailback Greg Jones (6-1, 248) was leading the ACC in rushing when he suffered a torn ACL and other ligament damage in his right knee during the third quarter of the Wake Forest game. In his absence, North Carolina native Nick Maddox (6-0, 196, Sr.) has had the best games of his career.
Maddox, who had never rushed for more than 100 yards at anytime in his career, has had back-to-back 100 yard games against WFU (119) and Georgia Tech (122) since the injury to Jones. The Kannapolis native would undoubtedly enjoy another 100-yard-plus performance against the Tar Heels, though he has downplayed the game in this week's interviews.
"We haven't forgotten what happened last year," said Maddox. "But, I think the focus is going out and playing the best we can play. We are playing for goals that we want to meet this year, not trying to make up for last year."
The offense line of the ‘Noles features a pair of Williams' Todd, (6-6, 325, Sr.) who lines up at right guard, and Brett (6-6, 310, Sr.) Todd Williams has 21 career starts, was named ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his performance against Duke, where he had 10 pancake blocks. Brett has even more experience, with 36 career starts to his credit. He was named ACC Offensive Lineman of Week for his performance during the FSU win over Maryland.
Antoine Mirambeau (6-4, 300, Sr.) lines up at center, while two sophomores, Bobby Meeks (6-3, 290) Ray Willis (6-6, 295) fill out the left side of the offensive line. Tight end Patrick Hughes (6-5, 265, Sr.) is used primarily as a blocker and has only four catches for 36 yards this season.
Another Seminole player to watch is specialist Leon Washington (5-9, 180, Fr.) who is second in the ACC in punt return yardage, and may see some action at tail back on offense as well.
Florida State leads the ACC in total offense, averaging 428 yards per game, but is third in scoring offense behind N.C. State and Maryland.
The Seminoles are known for great defensive ends, and this year Alonzo Jackson (6-4, 250, Sr.) is likely headed for first team All-ACC honors and early selection in the NFL draft. He has twice been selected for a player-of-week honor by the ACC, has eight sacks, twelve tackles for loss, fifteen quarterback pressures, and 30 tackles this far this season. Jackson has also found the end zone this season, intercepting a Seneca Wallace pass against Iowa State and returning it 48 yards for a touchdown. At the other defensive end spot, Kevin Emanuel (6-4, 240) has also been productive, notching four sacks, fourteen tackles for loss, and 35 tackles.
On the interior of the defensive line, tackle Darnell Dockett (6-4, 280, Jr.) now owns the FSU record for tackles for loss, a record held for 22 years by Ron Simmons. Dockett now has 48 tackles for loss, including seven thus far this season. Dockett also has 12 quarterback pressures. A first-team All-ACC pick a year ago, Dockett is a Outland and Lombardi Trophy candidate. Sophomore Travis Johnson (6-5, 275, So.) joins Dockett on the interior of the line.
Linebackers Kendyl Pope (6-2, 220, Jr.) and Michael Boulware (6-3, 222, Jr.) lead the Seminoles in tackles with 91 and 83 respectively. Pope also has nine tackles for loss. Allen Augustin is fourth on the team in tackles, recording 55 tackles, two tackles for loss, and two sacks. It has been said many times before, but when your leading tacklers are linebackers, that is a sign of a very good defense.
Even though the Seminoles are getting a good pass rush this season [they have nine more sacks this season through 10 games (23) than they had all of last season (14)], they have not been as strong in pass defense as they have in previous seasons. Uncharacteristically, the ‘Noles rank eighth in the ACC in pass defense, yielding 246 yards per game.
Rufus Brown (5-9, 185, Jr.) and Leroy Smith (5-10, 190, So.) are listed as the starting corners for the ‘Noles, but their most productive corner is Stanford Samuels (5-10, 190, Jr.) who was named the ACC Defensive Back of the Week in the Seminoles' 21-13 win over Georgia Tech. Samuels had two interceptions, returning one 82 yards for a touchdown against the Yellow Jackets.
Jerome Carter (6-0, 216, So.) and Claude Osei (6-0, 195, So.) will both likely see action at the strong safety or "rover back" position for the ‘Noles.
Free safety B.J. Ward rounds out the secondary for the Seminoles. Ward also has a knack for blocking field goals, owning both the single-season (4) and career (6) record for blocking field goals at FSU.
The Tar Heels are limping to the finish line this season, and after being embarrassed by both Maryland (59-7) and Clemson (42-12), they are faced with the prospect of facing a Seminole team in Tallahassee with a chip on their shoulders.
Not only do the Seminoles want revenge on the Heels for the 41-9 loss in Chapel Hill last year, but the ‘Noles haven't had the type of "comeback" season they expected in the preseason. FSU lost an unheard-of four games last year, and it is not out of the question that the Seminoles may lose as many games this season. They are going to feel the need to take it out on someone, and the Heels are a likely candidate for their wrath.
The Heels do catch something of a break. McPherson is only in his third start and last week against Georgia Tech wasn't scintillating, connecting on only 33.3% of his passes. In addition, they don't have to face the ‘Noles bruising tail back, Greg Jones, who at 248 pounds is less than twenty pounds lighter than the Heels starting defensive tackle, Kendall High. The Seminoles' offensive line is also banged up, losing starter Montrae Holland for the second straight week. Linebacker Kendyl Pope missed some practice this week with an intestinal virus, but should be ready to go Saturday.
The major problem for the Tar Heels is that the Seminoles may be the best in the league at pressuring a quarterback and have a solid defense against the run. The embattled Tar Heels have little chance to establish any running game on Saturday, which will make UNC quarterback C.J. Stephens that much more vulnerable.
Since Darian Durant was lost for the year against Virginia, UNC quarterbacks have been sacked an average of five times per game. Clemson got to the UNC signal caller six times last week. Given the pass rush created by Florida State, it is hard to imagine how UNC's quarterbacks will get any time to throw the ball.
If the offense is as stagnant as it was against Clemson last week, things could snowball quickly on the Heels in Tallahassee. The Tigers began four drives on the Tar Heel's side of the fifty, and three more past their own thirty yard line. For a struggling defense, poor field position will add to their problems.
The best that the Tar Heels can hope for is to give tremendous effort and show they can play with pride.