Florida State Seminoles: mark stoops
Overlooked part of evaluation
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2. If you congratulate No. 3 Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher for voting his conscience on his USA Today ballot -- he sounded as if he voted Alabama No. 1 -- and if you applaud him for sitting his starters in the second half against North Carolina State after leading 42-0 at halftime, you may as well congratulate him for getting his team on the field for the opening kickoff. That’s how a coach should act. As the saying goes, Fisher is acting as if he has been there before. Which he has, as an assistant under Nick Saban.
3. Kentucky is 1-6, 0-4 in the SEC, and Wildcats first-year head coach Mark Stoops is trying to remain patient. Only the 48-7 loss to No. 1 Alabama could be considered a blowout. “I think we all see us resembling a good football team from time to time,” Stoops said at his press conference Monday, “but that’s not going to cut it and win you a lot of games in the SEC. You’ve got to be good top to bottom, and you’ve got to be good in critical situations, and most importantly when you’re under pressure situations, our habits, bad habits, come right to the surface.”
1. Alabama (1-0; LW: 1): OK, Alabama isn't perfect. Contrary to what AJ McCarron said, the offensive line looked ugly for most of the night in Alabama's win over Virginia Tech. It has to get better in a hurry. But when your defense and special teams are clicking like they were on Saturday, who needs offense?
2. South Carolina (1-0; LW: 4): Two players I've been saying to keep an eye on since the spring: Mike Davis and Shaq Roland. Both looked pretty good, especially Davis, in that opening win, and both will be fun to watch this weekend. The defensive front looked great, but can someone please give Jadeveon Clowney some vitamin C and an extra Gatorade?
3. LSU (1-0; LW: 6): Don't sleep on these Tigers. They're undervalued, but were very impressive in their 37-27 victory over a ranked TCU team in their own backyard. The defense still looks fast, and the offense racked up nearly 450 yards behind some explosive plays. The return of running back Jeremy Hill should make this team even better.
4. Texas A&M (1-0; LW: 2): Johnny Manziel looked good when he was actually playing football Saturday. He went through his progressions and didn't think "run" first. But his antics have to stop (just ask Kevin Sumlin), and that defense has to get much, much, MUCH better before Alabama rolls into town in two weeks.
5. Florida (1-0; LW: 5): It doesn't look like the Gators will miss much of a beat defensively after they suffocated Toledo and that uptempo offense. The offense? Well, it did look more polished and the passing game actually moved down the field, but the Gators were very vanilla. Expect that to change against Miami.
6. Georgia (0-1; LW: 3): We knew the defense would struggle against Clemson's high-octane offense, but the Bulldogs looked really bad in the tackling department. This group has to go back to the basics, and that isn't a good thing with physical South Carolina coming to town this weekend. Also, that offensive line has to protect Aaron Murray better because Todd Gurley can't do it all himself on offense.
7. Ole Miss (1-0; LW: 8): The future certainly looks bright in Oxford, Miss., but this program is hoping the present is just as bright. The Rebels kicked off the college football season with an electric, back-and-forth win over Vanderbilt. This offense looks built to go the distance, but depth is still a major concern. Health is key.
8. Vanderbilt (0-1; LW: 7): The Commodores lost a heartbreaker to the Rebels at home, but this team still looks as explosive as it was last year. The defense has some things to clean up, but defensive coordinator Bob Shoop should make sure that happens. Jordan Matthews has star status, but not having Chris Boyd on the other side of him hurts the offense.
9. Auburn (1-0; LW: 9): The Tigers had quite a fun opener. Both the offense and defense were up and down, but it had to be nice for Gus Malzahn to see his running game put up 295 yards on Washington State. The pass defense has some work to do and injuries won't help.
10. Missouri (1-0; LW: 11): The 58-point, 694-yard performance from the Tigers' offense looked more like what people in Columbia, Mo., expected to see more often last year. Granted, it was against Murray State, but that sort of outing will build some confidence within this group. It was good to see James Franklin and Henry Josey on the field and healthy again.
11. Arkansas (1-0; LW: 13): By looking at the box score, you'd think Bobby Petrino's offense was back in Fayetteville, Ark., after the Hogs put up 522 yards on Louisiana-Lafayette. The Hogs could run and pass, and the defense held the Ragin' Cajuns to just 274 yards. The Hogs still have a couple of cupcakes to face before things get interesting at Rutgers.
12. Tennessee (1-0; LW: 12): We really don't know what to take from Tennessee's thumping of a very overmatched Austin Peay team, but the Vols looked to have some real legs in the running game. How long that will last is a mystery, but it was a good start. Things get tougher this weekend when Western Kentucky and Bobby Petrino visit Rocky Top.
13. Mississippi State (0-1; LW: 10): That was a bad offensive performance by the Bulldogs in their 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State. Mississippi State was 2-for-16 on third downs and Tyler Russell threw for only 133 yards against a defense that ranked 113th nationally in pass defense last year. The Bulldogs held the Cowboys to just 146 passing yards, but allowed nearly 286 rushing yards.
14. Kentucky (0-1; LW: 14): That was not the opener Mark Stoops wanted or needed. The Wildcats looked overmatched against Western Kentucky and are still struggling mightily to find playmakers in the passing game. What had to really upset Stoops was that his defensive line, which was supposed to be this team's best unit, didn't get enough pressure up front and allowed the Hilltoppers to rush for more than 200 yards.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher discusses the QB competition, TE Nick O'Leary's recovery following a motorcycle accident, the depth at tight end and expectations for the defense following the departure of coordinator Mark Stoops.
First up: The defense.
Fact or Fiction: Under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Florida State's defense can expect even more production in 2013 than it had a year ago.
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Jeremy Pruitt had come from Alabama, fresh off consecutive national championships, and in spite of Fisher's claims that it would be business as usual on defense at FSU, it was clear that a whole lot of change was coming.
And that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to enthusiasm about Pruitt's scheme.
The overriding theme of the spring on defense was pretty simple: Florida State would no longer be boring but consistent. This was going to be an aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach that promised to pay big dividends for the Seminoles' athletic defenders.
"I love this defense," safety Terrence Brooks said. "It's amazing. A lot more blitzing, a lot more chances to make plays, moving guys around."
And, Brooks said, a lot more chances for takeaways.
Add it all up, and it sounds pretty good. The only problem, of course, is that Pruitt is at FSU because the Seminoles' last coordinator, Mark Stoops, was so successful that he landed a head coaching job.
The fact is, all that boring consistency on defense might have actually helped disguise just how successful Stoops' unit was during his tenure at Florida State.
The Seminoles finished second in the nation in total defense last season, sixth in scoring defense, third in rush D and first in passing defense.
But even with those gaudy totals, there was some criticism, which often started with takeaways.
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Sure, new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt would bring a few new wrinkles from his old stomping grounds at Alabama, but in the big picture, Fisher assured, Florida State's defense would still look much as it did for the past three seasons under Mark Stoops.
By the end of the spring, however, it was clear Fisher had downplayed the impact his new coaches would have. The Seminoles spent weeks watching tape of the Crimson Tide. Pruitt installed new verbiage, new calls, new schemes and a whole lot of new blitz packages. And when a rather vanilla spring game ended, even Fisher was ready to ratchet up the expectations.
If the quarterback battle was all the buzz among Florida State fans this spring, it's the defense that created the most excitement inside the locker room. Pruitt's approach completely restructured the simplified scheme Stoops had used with such success the past three seasons, and that meant new opportunities for the Seminoles' defenders and plenty of confusion for the offense.
The only problem was that FSU had just four weeks to master it before the long summer began.
"That's the hardest part, because at some point we were trying to relate last year's calls to this year's calls, and you really can't do that," safety Terrence Brooks said. "You've got to forget all that. It's learning a whole new defense."
The large-scale changes were bound to occur given the three new coaches on defense. But shaking things up also brings risk.
Stoops' unit was immensely successful, finishing second in total defense in 2012 and fourth in 2011. And the beauty of Stoops' approach was in its simplicity. He asked his defensive backs to cover, asked his linebackers to stop the run and asked his front four to generate pressure. Blitzes were the exception, not the rule.
"Stoops made it really, really simple," Brooks said. "I feel like he was a genius for that, getting the defense to be that good, but so simple."
Maintaining that simplicity might have been difficult regardless of the coaching changes, though. With the loss of five defensive linemen and one of the nation's top cornerbacks to the NFL, changes were inevitable. Ends Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine had been immensely successful in generating pressure without blitzing, but that's a luxury Pruitt won't get a chance to enjoy.
Instead, Pruitt's scheme takes some of the responsibility away from the defensive front and opens up the game plan for the athletes off the line of scrimmage -- and that's an exciting proposition for players such as new starting safety Karlos Williams.
"I feel like we will be way more aggressive than we have been because we're just doing a lot more -- we're a lot more active," Williams said. "But you all can watch it and see what happens."
Blitzes come from all over the field, and Pruitt has created dozens of new looks. Linebackers creep up to the line of scrimmage, ends drop into coverage, defensive backs are blitzing routinely. It's chaos for the offense -- but it's not entirely simple for the defense, either.
"We all felt overwhelmed at some point, but all those little things and calls, it really helps a lot because it gives us a chance to make so many more plays," Brooks said. "It's amazing to see on film how Alabama did it. They had guys dropping into coverage, all the different calls they had, but they all made a lot of plays off those little calls."
But picking up all those new calls was crucial. As a new crop of freshmen arrive this summer and a handful of veterans return from injuries, it will be the responsibility of FSU's veteran defenders to pass along what they learned from this spring's four-week crash course.
Truth be told, linebacker Christian Jones said, they could've used a few more weeks to prepare. But all things considered, Jones is confident the summer will prove to be a productive time even without Pruitt's immediate oversight.
"This spring, we pretty much put in the whole playbook," Jones said. "The guys have done a pretty good job of picking it all up, but it's a lot of stuff. It's a lot of checks, change the fronts a lot."
The new defense presents some pressure, but Jones isn't complaining. It might take a while longer to get everyone on the same page, but when it all comes together, this new defense could be awfully fun to watch.
"It's spring, so they've got to throw all that stuff in so we can know it in the fall," Jones said. "Once we get to the fall and can game plan, I think we'll have a real scary defense."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher said he's eager for spring practice to begin because it offers the first incites into the personality of this upcoming season's team. For the first time in four years, however, his players might be able to say the same about the coaching staff.
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WHO TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch leads the nation in total yards (4,733) and ranks third in total yards per game (364.08) behind Baylor’s Nick Florence and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel could become just the second quarterback to win four straight bowl games, joining former West Virginia quarterback Pat White. In just his second season as a full-time starter, Manuel is FSU’s career leader for completion percentage at 66.8 percent -- which is significantly ahead of No. 2 Charlie Ward (62.3).
WHAT TO WATCH: Florida State’s defensive line vs. NIU’s offensive line. Florida State defensive line coach D.J. Eliot was hired at Kentucky as Mark Stoops’ defensive coordinator, but Eliot stayed in Tallahassee to help the Noles prepare for Lynch. FSU’s defensive line has been one of the best in the country, despite season-ending injuries to star defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Tank Carradine, who tore his ACL in the loss to Florida. FSU is No. 26 in the country with 2.54 sacks per game. NIU is tied for No. 16 in the country in sacks allowed with 1.08 per game, a total of 14 all season. FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner leads the ACC and ranks seventh nationally with 13 sacks this season.
WHY TO WATCH: Because No. 13 FSU might actually lose. The Noles are the more talented team, but the No. 15 Huskies will be playing to prove they belong in a BCS bowl. This will be the first BCS bowl game for a member of the Mid-American Conference. It is also the first bowl game between the ACC and MAC. NIU is the only program in the country to win 21 of its past 22 games, and joins Oregon as the only schools with three straight 11-win seasons. The Huskies' seniors are the winningest class in school history with 41 victories. FSU is 1-5 all-time in BCS bowls since playing in the first-ever BCS national championship game (1999 Fiesta Bowl).
PREDICTION: Florida State 31, Northern Illinois 17: The Huskies will come out fired up and ready to prove they deserved their title as BCS Busters, and they’ll keep it uncomfortably close in the first half. FSU fans will prematurely panic, an upset watch will look possible, but then reality will set in. Florida State has too much talent and speed, and the gap will continue to widen in the third quarter. The Noles will win the battle up front, and the defense will fare well in its first game without former coordinator Mark Stoops. The Noles will finish with 12 wins, including an ACC title and a BCS bowl win -- not a bad consolation prize for a team that had hoped to win a national title.
Florida State’s defense began life without former coordinator Mark Stoops one day early.
In preparation for the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech on Dec. 1, defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot was in charge of the game plan and called most of the plays because of his knowledge and familiarity with the Jackets’ spread option, according to FSU coach Jimbo Fisher.
“It’s been very easy,” Fisher said. “D.J. has been back running the defense and doing everything. … He’s been back here, the staffs are in place, they’ve been intact and we’ve announced Sal Sunseri was hired as defensive ends coach. He’s been out there with us, so we feel very comfortable with where we’re going.”
FSU safety Karlos Williams said Eliot was a tremendous help in the game plan for Northern Illinois, and that he and Stoops have traded text messages a few times. Williams said that instead of lamenting Stoops’ departure, the Seminoles have celebrated the hire with him.
“We were very proud of him,” Williams said, “very happy he’s moving on, getting that head coaching job he’s been working so hard to get. He’s still been talking to a couple of us, keeping in contact, making sure things are getting handled the way they’re supposed to be getting handled down here. Overall we’re just happy for him.”
Under Stoops, FSU’s defense was one of the best in the nation. This year, FSU was No. 5 in the country in rushing defense, No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 2 in total defense and No. 3 in pass defense. The Seminoles’ main priority will be containing Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, who leads the nation in total yards (4,733) and ranks third in yards per game (364.08).
Williams said the defense has already been prepared to handle a quarterback like Lynch.
“We’ve played quarterbacks like him already this season, the quarterback from Virginia Tech [Logan Thomas], Tajh Boyd, [Stephen] Morris from Miami,” Williams said. “A lot of quarterbacks we’ve played this year can run around, move, scramble in the pocket and throw the ball in the run. It’s just another one of those games. We’re going to have to lock in, be prepared to play the zone read, option read and the pass and the run. It’s going to be a challenge, of course. But like we always do, we lock in and play good football.”
They have to do it one more time, this time without Stoops.
Now Eliot is trying to pay Fisher back for that opportunity with a win against Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl, the last game Eliot will coach with the Seminoles before joining former FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ staff at Kentucky.
Eliot still has a job to do -- his biggest yet -- but he has already had some on-the-job training for it.
In preparation for the ACC title game against Georgia Tech on Dec. 1, Eliot was in charge of the game plan and called most of the plays because of his knowledge and familiarity with the Jackets’ spread option.
Florida State’s defense was once again the difference down the stretch, as the Noles held off Georgia Tech for a 21-15 win and the school’s first ACC title since 2005. One day later, Stoops left to become the head coach at Kentucky, and he hired Eliot as his defensive coordinator. The Seminoles were left to prepare for Northern Illinois without their top two defensive assistants, but those within the program say it has been a smooth transition during bowl practices. Eliot came back to campus to lead the defense, and Fisher hired two new assistants, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri.
For Eliot, it was a no-brainer to stick with the Noles through the bowl game.
“My players mean a tremendous amount to me, so I want to make sure that I finish this thing off for them,” he said. “They bought in early to what we were doing, and they've been very successful, and they've always respected me and done exactly what I've told them to do. So I want them to know that I was going to be here until the end for them, as well.”
Under Stoops, FSU’s defense was one of the best in the nation. This season, FSU was No. 5 in the country in rushing defense, No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 2 in total defense, and No. 3 in pass defense. FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner said the Noles won’t miss a beat with Eliot leading the defense instead of Stoops.
“I always knew he wanted to be a defensive coordinator, and I’m so happy for him that it worked out,” Werner said. “I’m so happy he didn’t go with coach Stoops, because they were really close. I’m so happy for him and I’m happy that he’s staying. He coaches exactly the same way as coach Stoops, so it wasn’t a big change for us. They play the same technique and all the same stuff. I’m happy for him, and I can see that he’s happy for us that we’re doing so good. He’s going to leave on a good note.”
That’s Eliot’s game plan, anyway.
Officially announced as Mark Stoops' replacement on Dec. 20, Pruitt arrives in Tallahassee as one of the young stars in the college football world. Both on and off the field.
As a tireless recruiter, Pruitt has done nothing but help his own stock. At his previous stop with Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa, Ala., he dominated the I-10 corridor in Alabama all the way to Jacksonville, Fla.
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Eliot coached defensive ends the past three seasons at Florida State. His work this year was simply phenomenal when you consider Bjoern Werner was selected ACC Defensive Player of the Year; and both Werner and Tank Carradine were first-team All-ACC selections. The way he was able to get Carradine to truly shine once Brandon Jenkins got hurt truly is a testament to the job he did this season.
Jenkins, by the way, won All-ACC honors in 2010 and 2011.
"D.J. is one of the brightest young minds in college football," Stoops said in a statement. "He has a relentless work ethic and is extremely detailed. I'm very pleased he has joined the Big Blue Nation."
On Saturday, the Seminoles lost a heartbreaker to rival Florida in the final game of the season on their home turf. On Sunday, they lost their leading tackler and star defensive end, Tank Carradine, to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. And on Tuesday, they lost their beloved defensive coordinator, Mark Stoops, to Kentucky. Never mind the constant swirl of rumors about head coach Jimbo Fisher following Stoops into the SEC for another head-coaching gig.
“There were a lot of distractions this week,” FSU athletic director Randy Spetman said.
With a 21-15 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday in the Dr Pepper ACC championship game, the Seminoles knocked any perceived distractions over like bowling pins. There was no sign of a hangover from the Florida game as FSU jumped out to a convincing 21-6 lead at the half. The news about Carradine and Stoops inspired the defense to a game-changing finish in the fourth quarter, as an interception by Karlos Williams sealed the ACC title with about a minute remaining. For a fleeting moment late Saturday night, as confetti scattered in the air and the Seminoles celebrated their first ACC title since 2005, the rest of the college football world was forced to pause and finally let the Noles enjoy themselves.
They earned it.
“We are still ACC champions, and that is one goal,” FSU safety Lamarcus Joyner said. “We had a lot of goals and we met one of them. We have another one in front of us. That makes greatness, grasping opportunities in front of you.”
In order to do that, they had to forget the missed opportunities behind them -- the loss to NC State, the loss to Florida.
There’s no question there was a sense of relief from within the program Saturday night. This is a team that began the season ranked No. 3 in the country. The loss to NC State knocked the Noles out of the national title conversation and will continue to haunt them long after this season ends. Five turnovers in a loss to Florida was another statement opportunity squandered. And with Georgia Tech in position to put together a game-winning drive late in Saturday's game, NC State 2.0 looked like a very real possibility.
It was almost as if you could hear the entire city of Tallahassee exhale all the way in Charlotte when Williams snagged that pick.
“Oh man,” defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. “Oh, man. We’ve been trying to get here for a long time. That’s why I thank God for letting us win this game and I thank the seniors for helping this program get back to the top and get back into the national title conversations and winning these ACC championships and Orange Bowls and those types of games. We’re Florida State. That’s what’s supposed to happen. It wasn’t nothing miraculous. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t matter.
Give 'em a break. In the end, Florida State is right where almost everyone predicted this summer it would be: heading to the Discover Orange Bowl. While many will continue to lament what could have been, Florida State is staring down what is: the possibility at a 12-2 season with an ACC title and a BCS win.
Not exactly a five-loss Rose Bowl team, now is it?
“I’m extremely happy for our players because I know how hard it is and how much flak they’ve taken: ‘When are you going to be back, when are you going to win a championship, when are you going to do this,’” Fisher said. “... There’s a point in time you point back and you look at it and you say, ‘That was it.’ That’s the time that you got over the hump and you got there and you didn’t let the circumstances blur your vision, and they did that.”
It doesn’t always have to be about playing in the shadow of the SEC or comparing what’s happening in Charlotte to what’s happening in Atlanta. It wasn’t time to ask whether Fisher was the right man to replace Bobby Bowden. For once -- just once -- it can be simply about putting a trophy in the case and letting a group of players -- kids -- who have been through a lot enjoy it.
“I’ll be extremely proud of it 10, 15 years from now,” quarterback EJ Manuel said. “I’ll be able to say I helped our team get back to where we needed to be as far as the BCS conversation, the national championship conversation and things like that. I want to see greatness from here on out. We have a lot of great players, a lot of great young players, and guys understand what it takes to get to this point, so I don’t see us going back to where we used to be. I think Florida State is back in the conversation.”
Thanks in large part to the defense, which held Georgia Tech and the nation’s No. 3 rushing offense to just 183 rushing yards.
“You didn’t want to work this hard for three years and not be able to finish this,” Stoops said, “because our program, Coach Fisher and the players deserved this win.”
And they deserve to celebrate it -- without any distractions.
Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
TBD Wofford Georgia Tech TBD Clemson Georgia TBD Boston College Massachusetts TBD James Madison Maryland TBD Elon Duke TBD Georgia Southern North Carolina State TBD Liberty North Carolina TBD Delaware Pittsburgh TBD UCLA Virginia TBD William & Mary Virginia Tech 8:00 PM ET Florida State Oklahoma State