- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Jimbo Fisher took the heat, offering a laundry list of things he could have done differently in Florida State's 17-16 loss to NC State.
Two days later, that tune has changed.
Fisher said he watched film, evaluated his play-calling and came to a concise conclusion about what went wrong Saturday.
"You try to keep trying to be aggressive in calls and how you do things, and hindsight is 20/20, but I don't regret calls," Fisher said. "Now that I look at the film, I don't regret."
The pronouncement isn't going to make Fisher a fan favorite this week, as he has been lambasted for his conservative approach in the fourth quarter while FSU watched a 16-0 lead slip away.
Two situations earned the most criticism.
The first came on a third-and-2 at the NC State 19-yard line, when after calling a timeout, Fisher sent EJ Manuel back onto the field to run a bootleg to the right. The play failed miserably and Manuel was stuffed for a 15-yard loss.
The irony is, for all the clamor of Fisher's conservative approach, a simple run up the middle would have resulted in at least three points. Instead, the sack meant a 52-yard attempt at a field goal, and Fisher elected to punt instead.
"I thought we had a play that we'd worked all week," Fisher said of the third-down call. "It was a lack of execution. If we execute the play, it's going to be an excellent play. They got penetration off of it and it wasn't there. It's something we'd worked a bunch."
Florida State still had a chance to ice the game with 2:47 left to play.
The Seminoles took over at their own 32 with a six-point lead knowing NC State would burn through its timeouts to preserve clock. Fisher called three straight running plays that went nowhere. The ensuing punt was blocked, and NC State cashed in on its next drive for the win. Again, Fisher doesn't quibble with the decisions to run the ball.
The first down play was a run by Chris Thompson that had been successful in the first half Saturday. It was a similar play call to the long run Thompson had to ice the previous week's game against USF. But a guard missed a block and Thompson was tackled for a 2-yard loss.
The second play went back to Thomspon, who picked up 3, setting up a third-and-9. Rather than looking downfield, Fisher went with a quarterback run. Again, a block was missed and Manuel was dumped for no gain.
Fisher said the film showed all three plays had a chance to go for big gains if executed properly, and he suggested the major problem with the drive was the blocked punt that left a short field for NC State.
"Every play was right there," Fisher said. "Does throwing it make you more aggressive? Or does running it when you're moving the ball? Hindsight is all 20/20. I don't regret any of the calls. I regret we didn't execute some of the things we did, and we've got to play better."
Fisher's philosophy is not without merit. Florida State's offensive line had struggled in pass protection, which made a conservative approach at least defensible. But the context of the situation is what caught the ire of so many fans.
For one, Fisher continued to give the ball to Thompson, who had a career high 25 carries Saturday. He had been excellent in the first half, but he wore down late and found little room to run. Florida State had 21 yards rushing in the second half.
After the game, Fisher said he should have gotten backup James Wilder Jr. more touches, but he backed off those comments Monday as well.
"Chris has just been playing so daggone well," Fisher said. "The guy is averaging 7.7 yards a carry for the season, and he's catching the ball very well."
Thompson's season average is impressive, but he's averaged just 4.1 yards per carry in the second halves of games this year.
The passing game was a separate issue altogether.
Going into the game, Manuel said he was eager to get his chance to eviscerate the Wolfpack's secondary, which had given up an ACC-record 566 yards to Miami quarterback Stephen Morris. Fisher called just 34 passing plays.
"We didn't throw the ball as much as I thought we would have," Manuel said.
Manuel offered no further explanation. He said he hadn't thought the heavy dose of runs would be the game plan coming in, but he didn't specifically criticize the decisions made during the game.
The film review essentially boiled down to a simple formula for Fisher: The plays were there, but the execution and the focus was not.
"Any time you're a leader, you have to look at yourself first and say, 'Did I make the right call?'" Fisher said. "After seeing the video, [NC State] was in what we thought they were in, doing exactly what we thought they were doing. It's not blame. We just didn't execute. It's not the same guy. It's just one guy -- a guy can grade 88 percent in a game and have two bad plays that happen to be at the wrong time. That's what it was an accumulation of in the second half."
That's going to be a tough sell to a frustrated fan base, but Fisher's real answers will be delivered in the next six games.
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