Monday, January 7, 2013
5 decisions that defined 2012
By David M. Hale
From Jimbo Fisher decision to start four freshmen linemen in the bowl game a year ago to Brandon Jenkins returning and Greg Reid leaving before their senior seasons, the storylines that seemed the biggest at the time actually had relatively little impact on 2012 for FSU. As it turned out, only two of those young linemen saw significant playing time this season, Jenkins season ended in Week 1, and the secondary improved without Reid.
Sometimes, the biggest decisions float under the radar at the time, and it's only in retrospect that we figure out what really defined the season. With that in mind, here are the five decisions that probably made the biggest impact on the 2012 ACC champions.
1. West Virginia waves goodbye
The rumors started last December and by February it was official: West Virginia backed out of its scheduled non-conference trip to Tallahassee, leaving FSU scrambling for an opponent. The result was a horrific game against lowly Savannah State -- one that mercifully wasn't played to completion due to weather -- and months of bemoaning a weak schedule.
Thanks to two games against FCS foes and another down season in the ACC, the Seminoles were lambasted as untested and its conference title (and 12 wins) felt somewhat hollow, given that only Clemson and Florida provided legitimate obstacles in the minds of many fans.
When the 2011 season ended, Erving was a prospect on the defensive line and Hart was ensconced as the starter at right tackle. By the end of spring practice, a lot had changed.
The young and talented Hart found himself in line coach Rick Trickett's doghouse, and by the time fall practice began, he had been moved inside to guard and was working with the second-team offense. That opened up room for Menelik Watson, a junior college transfer who blossomed into a star.
Erving was swapped from offense to defense -- with a little convincing -- and although he had his ups and downs this season, he provided a marked improvement in protecting EJ Manuel's blind side.
With Erving and Watson working the edges, FSU shaved 14 sacks off its total from 2011 and kept Manuel healthy enough to start all 14 games.
When Reid was dismissed just days before fall camp, the options were numerous, but untested. During the next few weeks, Waisome got faint praise from coaches and teammates, but it was freshman Ronald Darby who drew raves.
But it wasn't Darby who landed the starting job. He played -- and played well -- but defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was wise to ease his transition and handed the bulk of the playing time -- and all the starts -- to Waisome.
The first big test for the sophomore came against Clemson, when he effectively shut down Sammy Watkins and helped seal the win with a fourth-quarter interception. Waisome wasn't perfect in 2012, but his performance might still have been an improvement over Reid's, as FSU secondary proved to be one of the best in the nation.
Florida State got senior fullback Lonnie Pryor more involved in the offense this season to bountiful results.
4. Playing it safe at NC State
Florida State led 16-0 at the half, but things slowly unraveled throughout the final two quarters. As NC State chipped away at the lead, FSU's offense remained stuck in neutral -- but throughout it all, Fisher never appeared interested in rolling the dice to secure a win.
He stuck with the running game that was clearly not working. His play calling was denounced as overly conservative. He chose to punt from the NC State 34-yard line in the fourth quarter rather than attempt a 51-yard field goal that might have won the game. That all led to a late score by the Wolfpack and a loss that, for many fans, undermined the entire season.
There were other examples of frustrating offensive play calling, too, and while none of it endangered Fisher's role as head coach, but the questions about whether he should continue calling plays have grown much louder.
For three seasons, Pryor was happy being the man behind the scenes, laying the groundwork for others' success. Before the season, however, he went to Fisher to ask for a chance to touch the ball more. Fisher obliged.
Pryor nearly doubled his previous career high in touches and easily set career bests in rushing yards, yards per carry, total offense and touchdowns. He was a factor all season, both as a fullback and a runner, but his final game was his best, and it assured FSU of an Orange Bowl title.
Pryor rushed for a career-high 134 yards and scored two long touchdowns against NIU, pacing the offense. While Devonta Freeman struggled to find running room and James Wilder Jr. was inconsistent, Pryor made the most of his eight touches and provided the difference in a surprisingly close game -- ensuring FSU ended the year as Orange Bowl champs.