It allowed Williams to skip out on the carnage as Tech racked up more than 400 yards rushing, but he bore witness to the dangers his defense will face Saturday, and the memories have stuck with him.
Williams is among a select group of FSU's defenders who knows firsthand the challenge that awaits. Only four active members of Florida State's defense played in that game in 2009, and only Nick Moody had a significant role.
For everyone else, preparing for the option is a new experience, and Williams said it's as much about forgetting what you've already learned and starting from scratch with a new system.
"Your same keys don't really work for this offense," Williams said. "You're going to have to do a complete overhaul of what you've already learned about football."
Based on last week’s defensive performance, that might not be a terrible idea. FSU allowed 244 rushing yards to Florida, the most it had given up since 2009, and the Gators’ 5.19 yards per carry was nearly double FSU’s season average.
Of course, the Tech offense -- which boasts the fifth-best yards-per-carry average in the country -- provides a far different challenge, and Moody said it's not one Florida State should fear. The triple option offense is unique, but it also leaves room for good teams to succeed on defense.
"It's kind of simplified, actually," Moody said. "You don't have to think about as many possibilities. You can kind of tell what to expect -- it'll be here, here or there."
“Here, here and there” are the A-back, B-back and quarterback -- all of whom can get the ball on any given play. Few other teams run a true triple option, which makes preparing for Tech in just one week a tall task.
The two keys to success revolve around defenders sticking to their assignments and defeating the immense amount of cut blocks that Georgia Tech runs effectively, but few teams practice during the season.
That puts a ton of pressure on the defensive linemen and linebackers to both get up field and control the perimeter.
"You've got to make sure your defensive linemen make a lot of tackles inside the box before a linebacker has to pursue out to the numbers," Williams said.
The triple option doesn’t make life easy on the secondary, either. Tech doesn’t throw the ball often -- it is attempting the fifth-fewest passes in the country -- but the Jackets lead the ACC in yards per attempt. When they do throw, it tends to be for big yardage because defenses were caught looking for the run.
“It’s definitely a game where you have to key in on your keys, read your keys,” safety Lamarcus Joyner said. “If you’re not, you can easily be embarrassed.”
That means the responsibility for shutting down Tech's offense won't fall on one defender, but rather on the unit working together as a group. Maturity and patience will be tested Saturday, but Moody said he's already been driving that point home with the myriad teammates who haven't already seen first hand how tough Tech's offense can be.
"Across the board we know we have to take care of our assignment for it to work, to stop them," Moody said. "That's what gets the job done."
Manuel has been here before, and last time it didn’t turn out so well. Filling in for an injured Christian Ponder in the 2010 ACC championship game against Virginia Tech, Manuel threw two interceptions in a 44-33 loss to the Hokies, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
"In the future, we'll learn from it," Manuel said that day. "Just remember how to get back in this position and win."
He’s back, and there’s no question he’s better.
Manuel enters Saturday’s title game against Georgia Tech as one of the most efficient passers in the country. His career pass-efficiency rating of 151.54 would be the best in ACC history if maintained, surpassing the mark of 151.15 set by former FSU Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke during the 1997 to '99 seasons. Manuel has led Florida State to a 23-6 record as a starter, including consecutive bowl wins against West Virginia, South Carolina and Notre Dame. This season, he has thrown for 2,967 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Surprisingly, a third of those picks came last weekend.
Manuel is coming off an uncharacteristically poor performance in a loss to rival Florida during which he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble that eventually led to a touchdown. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said one of the biggest differences between Manuel now and the last time he played for the ACC title is his maturity in tough situations.
“I think how he deals with things from day to day and the ups and downs, and he understands there are ups and downs,” Fisher said. “There's going to be tough moments like [the loss to Florida] for him, and how he responds back and bounces back. I just think he's a much [more] mature player, and he has great knowledge of what we're doing.”
Manuel followed his own advice and got the Noles back to Charlotte. Now he's got to finish the job and help them win.
His head was woozy and his body beaten after a physical game against Florida, but it was the mental scars that were so evident when it was over. Manuel was beaten, his final home game concluding as one of his worst.
Manuel's misery was intense, but it was short lived.
"He’s been through this enough where he’ll put it behind him because there is a lot to accomplish," Jimbo Fisher said.
Manuel gets his second crack at an ACC championship and his first shot at redemption following the loss to Florida when he takes on Georgia Tech's woeful defense Saturday with a conference title hanging in the balance.
It won't erase the scars of Florida, but it would be an accomplishment no other FSU quarterback has managed in seven years.
“It is a championship game and it hasn’t been done here since ’05," Manuel said. "You just have to move on, process [the loss] and understand why you made those mistakes. Can’t go out there and do that [this] week.”
Manuel is making his second ACC championship game start. The first came as something of a surprise against Virginia Tech in 2010, and Manuel managed to impress -- completing 75 percent of his passes and throwing for 288 yards -- but this time he expects even more.
“It’s kind of like a second bowl game," Manuel said. "The implications of this game are huge and I understand that, my teammates understand that, so we have to get the job done.”
On big-game weekends in Tallahassee, Fla., hotel rooms are hard to come by. And when time is limited to begin with, due to games on Fridays and the subsequent travel, travel plans become difficult.
Such was the situation for the ESPN Watch List offensive lineman who had to leave before the game's conclusion.
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Who: No. 13 Florida State (10-2, 7-1 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6, 5-3 ACC)
What: Dr Pepper ACC Championship game
When: Saturday at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Jimbo Fisher: 29-10 (third year) at Florida State and overall
Paul Johnson: 39-25 (fifth year) at Georgia Tech; 146-64 (16th year) overall
All games: Florida State leads 12-9-1;
In bowls and at neutral sites: First meeting
In ACC play: Florida State leads 12-2
Last meeting: Georgia Tech 49, Florida State 44 (Oct. 10, 2009 at FSU)
FSU title game history: Florida State will be seeking its 13th ACC championship. The Seminoles won or shared the title for the first nine seasons after they joined the conference (1992-2000), and went on to capture the national championship in 1993 and 1999. The Seminoles were also ACC champions in 2002, 2003 and 2005. FSU is making its third appearance in the ACC championship game. The Seminoles defeated Virginia Tech 27-22 in the inaugural event in 2005 in Jacksonville, Fla., and suffered a 44-33 loss to the Hokies in 2010 in Charlotte.
GT title game history: The Yellow Jackets captured their first of two ACC titles in 1990, when they went on to claim the national championship. Georgia Tech shared the title with Florida State in 1998. The Yellow Jackets are making their third appearance in the ACC championship game since its inception in 2005. Georgia Tech suffered a 9-6 loss to Wake Forest in the 2006 championship game in Jacksonville, Fla. The Yellow Jackets defeated Clemson 39-34 in 2009 in Tampa, Fla., but later vacated the win and the ACC title because of NCAA sanctions.
FSU stat stars
DE Bjoern Werner: He ranks third nationally and leads the ACC in QB sacks per game with 1.08 and is tied for 15th in total tackles for lost yardage per game (1.50). Werner’s 18 TFL this season have accounted for 134 yards in lost yardage. Werner now has 13 sacks this season.
QB EJ Manuel: He ranks eighth nationally in passing efficiency with a 160.01 rating and leads an offense that averages 41.5 points per game and has scored at least 51 points in four regular-season games.
PK Dustin Hopkins: He now ranks third on the all-time NCAA FBS scoring list with 456 points. Hopkins trails Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio) by 12 points for second place all-time. He enters Saturday’s game tied for the all-time lead in field goals among NCAA FBS kickers with 87.
WR Rodney Smith: He has caught a pass in 37 consecutive games, one shy of the school record. E.G. Green (1994-97) holds the school record for most consecutive games with a reception at 38.
Georgia Tech stat stars
RB Orwin Smith: His 9.43 career yards per carry is the best for any ACC running back who has gained 1,000 or more yards. Smith has 1,830 yards on 194 carries and 20 touchdowns. His 61.2 yards per game leads the team.
QB Tevin Washington: His 36 career rushing touchdowns are an ACC and school record by a quarterback. Washington leads all active conference players in rushing touchdowns, and his 216 points scored rank seventh. He has improved his completion percentage by more than 12 percentage points (47.1 in 2011 to 59.6 in 2012).
KR Jamal Golden: He ranks second in the ACC and 10th nationally in kickoff returns with 29.0 yards per runback, including two returns for touchdowns.
LB Jeremiah Attaochu: He leads the team and ranks third in the ACC with eight sacks in 11 games (.73 per game).
1. Florida State run D vs. Georgia Tech offense. Seminoles fans may have felt a little better about this matchup if last weekend hadn't happened. Florida roughed up the No. 1 defense in the nation to the tune of 244 yards rushing, physically dominating up front. That came as a surprise, considering the way the Seminoles had physically dominated just about everybody in ACC play. Now, they have a week to prepare for an offense that has only one thing on its mind -- running the football. Georgia Tech averages 323.3 yards rushing per game and should have leading rusher Orwin Smith back and healthy. Smith sat out last week's game against Georgia with a sprained ankle, but indicated this week he will be ready to go against the Seminoles. Meanwhile, Florida State is going to be without All-ACC defensive end Tank Carradine, a huge blow to the defense. Just how Florida State prepares for the option off such a miserable outing last week will be a huge key in this game.
2. Avoiding distractions. Not only does Florida State have to bounce back from an uncharacteristic performance on defense, but it has to avoid the distractions of this week. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was announced Tuesday as the new coach at Kentucky, but he will coach in this game. He has declined all interview requests in order to focus on Saturday, and will not be formally introduced in Lexington until Sunday. All that is well and good, but you cannot completely ignore the distraction of this week, juggling a game plan with life-changing news. We will see how both he and Florida State respond.
3. Georgia Tech defensive consistency. Georgia Tech's defense has been the biggest problem with the Jackets all season. Coach Paul Johnson fired Al Groh midway through the year, and there just has not been as much consistency as anybody would like. We see good quarters or good halves, but not an entire 60-minute effort. Now, they are coming off giving up 42 points to Georgia and are facing a balanced offense in the Seminoles. Georgia Tech must play a full game on defense in order to have any shot at winning.
4. QB EJ Manuel rebound. Manuel had his worst game of the season last week against Florida, throwing three interceptions and taking a hit to the head in the fourth quarter that sent him to the sideline briefly. Manuel is good to go against Georgia Tech, but he is going to have to avoid trying too hard to get Florida State its ACC title. Coach Jimbo Fisher said after the Florida loss that Manuel was pressing to make things happen. Florida has a much better defense than Georgia Tech, so he may be able to relax a little more Saturday.
5. Can Georgia Tech pull the upset? Both teams are coming into the game off demoralizing defeats. Florida State did not exactly look unbeatable and now has to rebound off a deflating loss to in-state rival Florida to focus on winning the ACC title game. The Jackets have won two straight in the series, but they also have lost five straight games to ranked teams. They are going to have to play nearly flawlessly to take down the heavily favored Seminoles and get into the BCS.
For Bjoern Werner, it's the first time he's ever faced an option attack. For Timmy Jernigan, it's been since his high school days. Only FSU's most veteran defenders have faced off against Tech before, and few of them saw extensive action back in 2009.
So how much of a challenge will the Yellow Jackets be in this week's ACC title tilt? To find out, we asked Georgia Tech beat writer Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for some insight.
NoleNation: FSU hasn't faced a team like Georgia Tech all season, while Tech is coming off a (rather ugly) game against Georgia, which runs a similar pro-style offense to FSU. Is there any thought among the Jackets that this could be an advantage, or does what happened against Georgia simply underscore that Tech might be outclassed in terms of talent in this game?
Ken Sugiura: In terms of FSU offense vs. Tech defense, I confess, I don’t know. Tech has seen a lot of spread offenses this season and not much in the way of pro-style offenses, so it can’t hurt, although I don’t think that scheme was the issue Saturday against Georgia. It was more a difference in talent and an inability to get to the quarterback followed by a lapse in effort.
The other way around, I think that could well play to Tech’s advantage. Coaches facing Tech invariably talk about the challenge of facing this offense with just three practices to prepare for it. FSU is having to do that while its defensive coordinator’s attention is presumably divided. Plus, I don’t believe Mark Stoops has coached against an option offense in several years.
It's been a busy news week to say the least, and oddly enough, the ACC championship game has largely gotten lost in the shuffle.
So, with so many other distractions going on around them, are the Seminoles still prepped for Georgia Tech? Here are five key issues they'll be facing.
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Seeing the visitors come away with the win did impress him, though.
"I thought it was a pretty good game," he said. "I thought Florida's defensive line was great."
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"It was a great environment today in practice,” Joyner told NoleNation’s David Hale. “Guys like [Ronald] Darby, P.J. [Williams], young future stars just enjoying themselves. They know they can play ball. That's where we're at now as a program because we have a lot of great kids. Everybody was into it. No one's walking around with their heads down. We're just trying to win a championship that hasn't been done here in a long time."
The Gators ran for 244 yards on Saturday – easily the most FSU had allowed all season. By comparison, Florida State didn’t allow Atlantic Division opponents Maryland, Boston College, Wake Forest and NC State that many rushing yards combined (239). Clemson was the only team in the division to rush for more than 100 yards against the Noles, and three other teams -- FCS schools Savannah State and Murray State, and rival Miami, were each held under 40 rushing yards.
For the first time all year, the Seminoles’ defensive line was beaten up front for a majority of the game.
“Well, it wasn't a bad game,” said defensive end Bjoern Werner. “[We] didn't have a good rushing defense, but we're going to fix things up this week and prepare well against Georgia Tech and their triple option and hopefully have a good game.
“Everybody in the box has to play their assignment,” he said. “They can't get greedy and try to make a play. Everybody has to just play his assignment, what they're supposed to do, and then we'll be successful.”
Successful at slowing the Jackets down, maybe, but not stopping them entirely. Georgia Tech is averaging 323.33 rushing yards per game, trailing only Army and Air Force nationally. The Yellow Jackets have rushed for more yards than any FBS team since 2008, and the program is 115 yards shy of rushing for 20,000 total yards in the five seasons under head coach Paul Johnson.
“Oh, it's a huge challenge, and it's going to be a very -- we have to have a lot of discipline, we have to have a lot of confidence in what we're doing,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We've been developing a plan, and we're looking at it and we're going to have to be very disciplined how we go about it and deep great leverage on the ball, and it will be a huge challenge. That's one of the advantages that Georgia Tech does have is that when you don't play them off an off week or a long period of time, that one week turnaround is extremely tough.”
Having to do it without Carradine and knowing it will be the last game for Stoops could make for an emotional sideline. Those kinds of intangibles have also been known to be inspiring, too, and everyone within FSU’s program was thrilled for Stoops’ opportunity. It just so happens he still has one more game to coach with FSU, and it’s the most important one.
Fisher said the news about Stoops hasn’t been a distraction to the team’s preparation this week.
"We've got to get through this week,” Fisher said. “It's all about Georgia Tech right now and we're doing a great job of keeping focus on Georgia Tech."
"They know that's part of this business,” he said of his players. “Our kids are very good, and they came out and responded very well."
The question is how they’ll respond against the No. 3 rushing offense in the country.
No. 13 Florida State allows fewer yards per play than any other FBS team. Its star defensive end Bjoern Werner, who's tied for the FBS lead in sacks, talks about the departure of defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.
In three years on the job, Stoops has taken a defense that was among the worst in the nation in 2009 and turned it into the No. 2 unit in the country in 2012. Add those credentials to a strong family legacy, and it's easy to see why Kentucky thinks it made an exceptional hire.
Q. How much longer will Stoops stay on staff at Florida State?
A. At least through the ACC championship game, and Jimbo Fisher said there was never any discussion of Stoops leaving immediately. But the job at Kentucky is a big one, and it would be a surprise if Stoops stuck around through the bowl game, which would mean an extra month in Tallahassee.
Q. So if Stoops leaves after this game, who coaches the defense in the bowl game?
A. Odds are, Fisher would take a slightly bigger role, and the rest of the defensive coaches and grad assistants would pick up the slack, as the Noles would simply have to do their best with what they have for now. It's hardly an unprecedented situation, and Lamarcus Joyner said it could actually be a nice challenge for the defense.
"All these years of putting in work with Coach Stoops and building me into a team leader, we'll get to see him not able to coach that bowl game but see how we're able to carry on without him, see if we can really put it to the test -- the knowledge and tools he's given us. It'll be a great challenge," Joyner said. "It would be fun."
Q. What kind of a distraction will Stoops' impending departure be for the ACC championship game?
A. Fisher was resolute that it wouldn't be any distraction, and players seemed to echo those comments on Tuesday, saying the energy in practice was high and they hoped to send Stoops out on a high note.
Of course, the defensive lapses against Florida have certainly opened the door to some criticism about the timing of all of this, and if there's one team that you don't want to have to prepare for on short notice with major off-field distractions on the defensive side, it's Georgia Tech.
Q. When can we expect Fisher to find Stoops' replacement?
A. For obvious reasons, Fisher did his best to downplay all of that Tuesday, saying he has his list but won't start sifting through candidates until after Saturday's game.
There's a good chance that's at least partially true, but Bjoern Werner certainly undermined some of that story later when he said Fisher assured him a plan was already in place.
"I came here when he came here, so I want to know who the next guy is," Werner said. "At Unity Council, I asked Coach Fisher, 'Can you give us a little hint?' He's like, 'Nope, but I have my plan and you guys are going to know soon.' "
Q. So who are the top candidates?
A. This is a tough one to say because when it comes to assistants, there are a lot of names out there, and FSU remains an elite job. Stoops' quick rise from being hired in late 2009 to taking a head coaching job in the SEC is exactly the type of career path any assistant would drool over. In other words, Fisher expects to have his pick of top candidates.
Fisher didn't open up much about who those candidates would be or what type of coach he's looking for -- young up-and-comer or veteran assistant, coach with a similar scheme or someone willing to try something new -- but Werner offered a hint on that, too.
"Everybody that's been in the system for a few years wants the same system because we were successful like that," Werner said. "I've talked to Coach Fisher already and he has his plan already written out. I'm sure he'll find the best fit."
It's far too early to say any one candidate is clearly at the top of Fisher's list, but a few names to watch: Manny Diaz at Texas, Brent Venables at Clemson, Ellis Johnson, who was recently fired as Southern Miss head coach and Travis Jones of the New Orleans Saints.
Q. Could Fisher find a replacement from his current staff of assistants?
A. That's certainly a possibility, with Greg Hudson probably the most obvious choice. It seems less likely than an outside hire though, and while Fisher gave lip service to the possibility on Tuesday, he didn't exactly sound enthusiastic about it.
"I think there could be," Fisher said when asked if any of his current assistants were on his short list for DC. "There's possibilities of that all the time. We've got some great coaches underneath that could possibly do those things."
Q. Speaking of assistant coaches, will Stoops be the only one to leave?
A. There are plenty of reports already that offensive coordinator James Coley has an offer to go with Stoops to Kentucky, and given Coley's current role as OC in name only with no play-calling duties, it might be a smart career move.
For what it's worth, Fisher didn't offer much on that topic.
"[Stoops] is the head coach and none of those things have been done and nothing is set," Fisher said. "We haven't even talked about those things. We're totally focused on Georgia Tech."
Certainly other coaches -- D.J. Elliott and Dameyune Craig chief among them -- could be hot commodities for other programs around the country looking to make changes or fill vacancies, too.
Q. What impact will Stoops' departure have on the decisions of FSU's juniors considering the NFL draft?
A. It will definitely have an effect on the guys who are on the fence, but it would also stand to reason they'll be keenly interested in who Stoops' replacement will be. If it's a guy with an NFL pedigree or someone who runs a similar style to what's already being run at FSU, there may be no extra push to head out the door. In fact, for a guy like Christian Jones, who might be a huge star in some other systems, it could actually help his career to see some minor changes to FSU's defensive style in 2013.
It would be surprising if guys like Werner and Xavier Rhodes didn't already have a pretty firm decision in mind, so really it's Jones and Joyner who are most affected.
"That will be something I'll have to pray about," Joyner said. "I'll have to talk to my family, Coach Fisher and Coach Stoops about it. We have two games to finish, so I just want to finish strong and let the cards deal what it may."
It's also worth noting, too, that a number of FSU's defensive players have a very close relationship with Stoops off the field, too. So more goes into evaluating this than simply Xs and Os.
Q. What impact could Stoops' departure have on recruiting?
A. The initial reaction was, not surprisingly, mixed at best from some of FSU's current commitments. It's a tenuous time on the recruiting circuit with signing day still two months off and coaches around the country starting to make some late pushes for wavering commits.
"It's hard when you're a younger guy," Joyner said. "You get caught up into all kinds of reasons for why you commit to a program."
Of course, depending on who replaces Stoops, the shakeup could be just as likely to spark some interest from recruits as it is to turn off some others.
The key for FSU will be to quell any immediate concern with the commitments they already have and then move as quickly as possible to bring in a replacement to start the sales pitch again.
Q. So, enough about Stoops. What about those Fisher rumors?
A. That, of course, is the 10,000-pound elephant in the room -- unless it's not, which is sort of hard to say at this point.
Fisher has offered as stringent a denial of interest in other jobs as he can without actually saying, "No, I'm not leaving FSU under any circumstances," so it's fair to assume he'll be back for 2013 and beyond.
Still, with three potentially lucrative SEC jobs open at Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn and recent rumblings that there could be a shift at LSU, there's probably not going to be any end to the speculation until every job is filled.
When it comes to money and athletics budgets, there may be some perks to moving on, but Fisher's also got a pretty good situation here. He's had to work hard to push the limits of the budget and get new projects underway, but he's been successful in doing so. He's rebuilt the talent on the roster, even if a slew of seniors and talented juniors could depart at year's end, and starting that process over again elsewhere has its drawbacks. And as he said Monday, his family is here and settled in Tallahassee. For a coach with young kids, sometimes the biggest paycheck isn't the top priority.
Of course, this is college football, so you never know what might be around the corner.
For an FSU defense that hasn't faced a true option team in years, that may be a tall order, but it's also not its only concern.
As Florida racked up rushing yards and converted nearly half its third-down tries last week, one problem continued to haunt the Seminoles: Missed tackles.
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Nigel Patten (Miami/Booker T. Washington) -- Emerged on the scene at Florida State's camp over the summer impressing with his pure speed. Also went on to win an award at Florida's camp for the fastest man among his group. Patten was offered early by Florida State and assistant coach James Coley who will be hoping to open a pipeline at Booker T. Washington High School. He's also teammates with other targets such as Matthew Thomas, Denver Kirkland and Treon Harris.
D'Andre Payne (Washington D.C./Howard D. Woodson) -- Payne was offered by Florida State over the summer to go along with a multitude of others. Most recently, Payne was on campus for the Florida-Florida State game on an unofficial visit. Coming all the way down from Washington D.C. could be indicative of his interest in the Seminoles. Defensive line coach Odell Haggins has had success in the area landing targets such as Ronald Darby and Eddie Goldman as recently as last year.
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"Oh no," Werner said, "not that much."
Still, the sentiment was universal following Tuesday's practice, as Stoops' tenure winds to a close at Florida State.
Jimbo Fisher announced Stoops' impending departure in a team meeting before practice, and players offered a standing ovation. There was some instant buzz, particularly among the younger players, but that quickly died down as attention turned to the work on the field.
"It actually brought energy," safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "It's always best when someone is honest with you, and everybody wishes the best for Coach Stoops. We believe he deserves that, and we're going to play hard for him before he leaves out. We're going to end this on a good note for him."
Stoops accepted the Kentucky job Tuesday and he'll stay on staff at least through this week's ACC championship game. Beyond that, the future is a bit murky.
Fisher said his focus is entirely on Florida State's upcoming game against Georgia Tech, and he hasn't talked through anything beyond that with Stoops, who appears unlikely to stick around through FSU's bowl game.
Amid swirling rumors Monday, Fisher said he kept an up-to-date list of potential replacements for any assistant coaching vacancies, but he also denied he's given much thought to who might be at the top of his wish list to replace Stoops.
"We'll start that next week," Fisher said. "I'll look at my list and see what's available, what's out there and make a good decision. It happens so quick. I have those lists, and I know what my process is going to be, but I haven't had time to think about it because it's Georgia Tech."
Given the quick announcement by Kentucky that Stoops had been hired, it stands to reason that Fisher isn't ready to make a hire immediately, but Werner indicated a plan was already in place.
"At Unity Council, I asked Coach Fisher, 'Can you give us a little hint?' " Werner said. "He's like, 'Nope, but I have my plan and you guys are going to know soon.' "
Werner is among a handful of FSU underclassmen who will be keenly interested in who is hired to replace Stoops before making a final decision on whether or not to return for their senior seasons or enter the NFL draft.
"That will be something I'll have to pray about," Joyner said. "I'll have to talk to my family, Coach Fisher and Coach Stoops about. We have two games to finish, so I just want to finish strong and let the cards deal what it may."
The job of keeping Florida State's recruiting class together in the wake of Stoops' departure could also be a concern. Several FSU recruits expressed disappointment in Stoops' decision Tuesday, and Joyner said it's not uncommon for younger players to put a lot of stock in coaching changes as they attempt to formulate a final decision on their college choices.
It's also possible that Stoops may not be the only departure from Fisher's staff. Message boards floated numerous rumors following the announcement that Stoops may bring one or more of FSU's current coaches with him to Kentucky, but again, Fisher said those decisions have yet to be discussed.
"He's the head coach and none of those things have been done and nothing is set," Fisher said. "We haven't even talked about those things. We're totally focused on Georgia Tech."
When Fisher's attention does turn to hiring a replacement, he said he anticipates having his pick of top options for the job. Stoops' departure provides an obvious sales pitch to future candidates.
Florida State is a marquee job, Fisher said, and the fact that Stoops was able to parlay three years in Tallahassee into a head coaching job in the SEC speaks volumes.
"I want to be known as the guy that helps guys get jobs," Fisher said. "If they come to a good program and they do well, you get those opportunities."
Stoops arrived at FSU following the 2009 season in which the Seminoles were a dismal 108th nationally in total defense, but the rebuilding happened quickly. The Seminoles rank second in the nation in total defense and seventh in scoring defense this season, and for the second straight season has been one of the elite units in the country.
Add that to Stoops' impressive coaching pedigree -- his brother Bob is head coach at Oklahoma, and and another brother, Mike, coached Arizona -- and he was a hot commodity for vacancies that came about in recent weeks.
It also meant that Stoops' departure came as no surprise to the players he's coached for the past three years.
"I was more happy for Coach Stoops than anything," Joyner said. "He's a coach that's put in his work. He doesn't have to explain that it's best for him and his family and sets him up for what he needs. That's a blessing for him. He's a great man and he deserves it."