Florida State Seminoles: Josh Parris

ACC weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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That does it for the ACC regular season, which has left us with Duke and Florida State to play for the league's crown Saturday in Charlotte, N.C. Before we get there, however, we will take one look back at the week that was in our weekend rewind.

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Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsOnly Duke stands in the way of Kelvin Benjamin and FSU playing for the national title.
The good. There is a new No. 1 in town, as Florida State tops the latest BCS standings after taking care of business in Gainesville, Fla., before watching previously top-ranked Alabama fall at Auburn. While the politicking between the now-No. 3 Tigers and No. 2 Ohio State will wage over the next week (and likely beyond), the Seminoles are now left with a simple formula: Beat Duke on Saturday, and they will close their season in Pasadena, Calif., playing for all the marbles. (Oh, and Kelvin Benjamin had himself a pretty nice day for the Noles, too.)

The bad. It was a weekend of blown opportunities for the ACC against the SEC, which got the upper hand in three of four matchups. After FSU beat Florida -- as it should have -- Georgia Tech blew a 20-0 first-half lead and fell at home in double overtime to an Aaron Murray-less Georgia 41-34. Wake Forest let a four-point lead late get away at Vanderbilt, which kicked a pair of fourth-quarter field goals to escape with the victory. And then, for the cherry on top, Clemson turned the ball over six times to drop its fifth straight to rival South Carolina.

The ugly. Virginia fell to Virginia Tech 16-6, a fitting margin of defeat for a team that has now dropped 10 straight to the rival Hokies in the Commonwealth Cup, and one that has now ended the season on a 10-game slide. NC State did not fare much better, as Maryland beat the Wolfpack 41-21, in the Terrapins' final ACC game, meaning NC State also finishes winless in conference play under first-year coach Dave Doeren, losing its last eight and nine of its final 10. Kudos to Florida State for carrying the ACC flag to the top overall ranking this year, but the bottom of the league was as ugly as ever in 2013.

Now what? These last few years are tough to put in perspective for Clemson. Dabo Swinney and Tajh Boyd have, in some ways, taken the Tigers to new heights, amassing great recruiting classes and breaking records. At 10-2, Clemson has its third straight season with double-digit wins; it had not posted consecutive 10-win seasons since 1989-90. At No. 13 in the BCS standings, a second Orange Bowl berth in three years remains a real possibility. Yet Swinney and Boyd are 0-5 against rival South Carolina, and just 2-3 against top ACC competitor Florida State -- including an 0-4 mark against those teams in the last two years while going 21-0 against everyone else. The Tigers deserve credit for taking a sledgehammer to the word "Clemsoning" and erasing it from everyone's vernacular in recent years, but knowing that it still came up short against its toughest foes during a historic run has to be a tough pill to swallow, especially with no sign of the Seminoles slowing down.

Happy Thanksgiving. Pitt might have had a Black Friday to forget, as it lost at home to Miami,41-31. But the Panthers can be forgiven if they were in an extra-festive mood Thanksgiving night. That's because Mississippi State topped Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, assuring the SEC of 10 bowl-eligible teams and, more importantly, eliminating the potential vacant spot in the BBVA Compass Bowl, where Pitt has closed its last three seasons in Birmingham, Ala. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

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Kellen Micah/Icon SMITerrel Hunt came up big to get Syracuse bowl eligible with a win over Boston College.
Bowl-bound. Syracuse extended its season by the slimmest of margins, as Terrel Hunt hit Josh Parris for an 8-yard touchdown pass with six seconds remaining to deliver a 34-31 win over Boston College for victory No. 6. Hunt played his best ACC game yet, completing 29 of 43 passes for 270 yards with two touchdowns and one pick. He also ran for 90 yards and another score. And now both newcomers, Syracuse and Pitt, are bowl-eligible in their first seasons in the ACC. Not too shabby.

Heisman hopes hurting. While it was a day of celebration for the Orange, it might have also been a blow to Boston College's hopes of getting its first Heisman Trophy winner since Doug Flutie. Andre Williams left the game with an injury in the third quarter, meaning his final impression on the voters was a line of nine carries for 29 yards and a touchdown. Syracuse and Ohio State now remain the only teams in the nation not to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. Williams still has a solid chance of making it to New York for the Heisman ceremony, but you have to think his chances of winning the trophy now are slim.

DeVon, again. DeVon Edwards can change a game in an instant, as evidenced by his consecutive pick-sixes -- and kickoff returns for a touchdown -- in Duke's win over NC State earlier this month. But the versatile 5-foot-9 redshirt freshman was not done for the month, as he made it a November to remember by returning a kickoff 99 yards for a score and then coming up with the game-sealing interception in the Blue Devils' 27-25 win at North Carolina to clinch a spot in the ACC title game. Coach David Cutcliffe was carried off the field after the win, Duke's record 10th of the season. It will now take aim at the Seminoles as it goes for its first ACC title since 1989.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 14

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
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The 2013 regular season is officially in the books, and if you had Florida State and Duke playing for an ACC championship way back in August -- well, you’re probably lying. But both the Seminoles and the Blue Devils finished strong in Week 14, and they weren’t alone in wrapping up the regular season on a high note.

Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin: In the last five seasons, 44 teams haven’t mustered as many yards through the air against Florida’s defense as Benjamin racked up by himself Saturday. The FSU sophomore caught nine passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the first Seminoles receiver to crack the 200-yard mark in 11 years. What’s more astounding is that Benjamin might’ve had an even bigger day. He dropped two passes that could’ve gone for big gains and QB Jameis Winston narrowly overthrew him on a third that appeared a sure touchdown.

Duke CB DeVon Edwards: The redshirt freshman has been astounding in 2013, leading Duke’s defense all year, but Saturday’s performance was a perfect finishing touch on a historic regular season. Edwards returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown (his fourth TD of the year) and picked off a pass from UNC quarterback Marquise Williams to secure the win -- the 10th of the season for the Blue Devils, who will now advance to the ACC championship game against Florida State. Edwards finished with eight tackles in the game.

Maryland QB C.J. Brown: In the final game Maryland will play as a member of the ACC, Brown provided a spectacular send-off. In sending NC State to a winless season in conference play, Brown was dominant, completing 13 of 25 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns through the air, while adding another 138 yards on 15 carries with three more touchdowns on the ground. Saturday marked Brown’s fourth 100-yard rushing day this season and the third time he’s tallied at least four TDs in a game.

Miami WR Stacy Coley: The Hurricanes played on Friday, with lingering Coastal title hopes still on the line, and Coley put on a show. The freshman receiver hauled in a pair of touchdown receptions and added a 73-yard end-around for another score. For the game, Coley racked up 171 all-purpose yards as Miami edged Pitt for its ninth win of the season. Coley finished the regular season with 1,428 all-purpose yards, the third-most by any true freshman in the country.

Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt: With bowl eligibility on the line and Syracuse trailing by 4 points with six seconds to play, Hunt hit tight end Josh Parris for an 8-yard touchdown pass -- just his third TD pass in conference play this year. Hunt wasn’t perfect Saturday, but he turned in his best ACC game to date, completing 29 of 43 passes for 270 yards -- hooking up with nine different receivers -- with two TDs and an interception. He added another 90 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Takeaways fueling FSU's dominance

November, 18, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The play unfolded just as Jeremy Pruitt might’ve dreamed it up back in spring practice, with the lone exception being the personnel on the field. Florida State’s defense has been so dominant that the starters were already resting comfortably on the sideline by the time Dan Hicks became the 15th Seminole with a takeaway this season.

Syracuse quarterback Drew Allen takes the snap and fakes a handoff. Tight end Josh Parris comes over the middle, and Allen tosses a spiral in his direction. Hicks jumps on it, diving in front of Parris at the last second, swiping the ball from midair for the interception.

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AP Photo/Nell RedmondThe Seminoles have six defensive touchdowns, including this interception by Nate Andrews.
The sideline erupted, and Florida State’s offense marched back onto the field and, once again, the Seminoles’ defense was making it look easy.

"They're playing extremely well," Jimbo Fisher said. "They're very disciplined, flying to the ball, creating turnovers. We've got a lot of athletic guys that are being very physical and very disciplined."

When Pruitt arrived as defensive coordinator in January, his to-do list was extensive — evaluate personnel, adjust the scheme, shore up fundamentals. At the top of the list though was the one crucial variable that past Seminoles defenses had failed to master: Takeaways.

“As good as Florida State played defensively last fall,” Pruitt said upon arrival, “one of the things where we really could improve is getting turnovers."

Indeed, FSU’s defense had been among the best in the country two years running under former coordinator Mark Stoops, but it was hardly a turnover machine. In 2012, the Seminoles’ pass defense ranked tops in the country overall, but was tied for 65th in interceptions. FSU had one of the most disruptive defensive lines in the nation, but 103 other teams finished with as many forced fumbles as the Seminoles did.

A large portion of the formula for creating turnovers is luck, and that would even out, Pruitt believed. What he hoped to do was fix the rest of the formula by putting his best athletes in position to make more plays and instilling a mind-set to get after the football every chance they got.

Through 10 games this season, that formula is working perfectly.

“Once again, execution is the key," linebacker Reggie Northrup said. "We’re making sure everybody’s where they need to be, and we make stops like that.”

Florida State leads the nation with 19 interceptions. The FSU defense creates a takeaway once every 27 plays, the sixth-best mark in the nation and a marked improvement over last season's rate of once every 42 plays. In the Seminoles’ last five games alone, they’ve secured 18 takeaways -- a tally that would rank in the top 50 nationally for the entire season.

All that defensive success has helped key Florida State’s offensive explosion, too. For the year, FSU has scored 135 points off turnovers, tops in the nation and more than a quarter of all points the team has scored this year. The defense has already scored six touchdowns of its own, two more than it mustered during the entirety of Mark Stoops’ tenure. FSU's defensive efficiency rating -- a measure of a unit's contributions to opponent-adjusted scoring margins -- is tops in the nation, better even than Pruitt's former team, Alabama.

"It's crazy," tailback James Wilder Jr. said. "We joke around with them like, 'Y'all getting those interceptions, but stop scoring. You're keeping us off the field.' It's great. They're doing a great job. That shows how mature the defense is."

Of course, what has been most impressive about the aggressive approach to takeaways is that it hasn’t come at the cost of fundamentals. FSU is allowing 18 more yards per game than last season, but 3.5 fewer points. The secondary has been dominant, and the rushing defense, which struggled a bit early, is rounding into shape.

This was the plan all along, but the speed with which Pruitt’s formula yielded results has surprised even his players. Still, it has been fun to watch it all click into place.

“It’s something exciting to see," tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "I love watching those guys make plays behind us.”

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