- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A win at Maryland is all that stands between Jimbo Fisher and his second ACC championship appearance in three years. Regardless of lofty preseason expectations, that alone represents an accomplishment.
"It’s important with what we want to do and it’s always on our goals at the beginning of the year, to be the ACC champion," Fisher said. "But to get there we need to focus on Maryland and play a great game against Maryland. That’s the only team in America right now."
It's the familiar refrain of Florida State's 2012 campaign, and it's a particularly resonant one this week.
Indeed, Maryland is all that stands in the way of the ACC championship game, and it would be easy for the Seminoles to take the 4-6 Terrapins lightly. After all, Maryland is down four quarterbacks already, and converted linebacker Shawn Petty will get his third start at QB on Saturday. Add a host of other injuries, including an ACL tear for top linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, and Florida State will be a heavy favorite for good reason.
But the road hasn't been particularly kind to the Seminoles, and regardless of any offensive shortcomings, Maryland might be the best defense FSU has faced this season. So Fisher has been quick to remind his players once again that looking ahead opens the door to failure, even if the Terrapins appear to be an easy adversary just a week ahead of a top-10 matchup against rival Florida.
"We just have to go out and prepare for Maryland," EJ Manuel said. "They have a great defense. I know they have some injuries on offense but we can’t look down upon them just because of that, they want to win. They are going to have their home crowd just like Virginia Tech did. I’m sure it is going to be cold, and we just have to go out there and be ready to play.”
Noles to watch:
It's hard to believe, but Saturday marks the last regular season conference game Manuel will play, but a win would ensure he takes on at least one more ACC opponent in the championship game Dec. 1. Manuel has averaged 319 yards passing per game in his last four, and in his last two contests he's completed a whopping 76.5 percent of throws 15 yards or longer -- nearly double his success rate from the first eight games of the season.*
2. The running backs
Florida State quickly realized it could't run the ball against Virginia Tech last week, and as a result, James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman barely touched the ball in the second half. That will need to change this week, but how the carries will shake out remains a mystery. Fisher favored veteran fullback Lonnie Pryor down the stretch against the Hokies, but Wilder came through with the game's biggest run, a 7-yard rumble to convert a fourth-and-1. The biggest question mark may be Freeman, who failed to escape the end zone on a run in the fourth quarter that resulted in a safety.
While the bulk of the attention has gone to Bjoern Werner this season, Carradine has proven he's every bit as capable as his teammate when it comes to rushing the passer. Carradine led FSU with 11 tackles last week, and he's now tied for the team lead with 64 tackles this season. That's the most by any defensive lineman in the ACC, and he's chipped in with eight sacks, 10 tackles for loss and eight QB hurries.
Terps to watch:
1. Stefon Diggs
As if all the quarterback injuries weren't enough for Maryland's offense to overcome, last week the Terps played without their biggest weapon in Diggs. The freshman receiver is among the ACC leaders in receptions (43), receiving yards (721), and all-purpose yards (1,574) but sat out last week's game with an ankle injury. He's been limited at practice this week, but could be ready in time for Saturday.
2. Brandon Ross
The freshman tailback racked up 100 yards on 16 carries last week in place of injured starter Wes Brown. Ross figures to get a decent number of touches this week regardless of Brown's health status. While Ross saw just 25 carries in the first eight weeks of the season -- including six games in which he didn't have a single touch -- he's added 166 rushing yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry in his last two.
3. Joe Vellano
The senior defensive end leads the ACC with 14 tackles for a loss this season and has solidified himself as one of the conference's most productive defenders. Vellano is third on the team with 58 tackles (third-most among ACC DL) and is tied for the team lead with six sacks.
By the numbers:
112.6. That's the average rushing yards per game Maryland has allowed, second in the ACC behind FSU. Only Georgia Tech's run-heavy option offense has averaged better than 4.0 yards per carry against Maryland this year, with the Terps' other nine opponents combining for just 84 yards per game and 2.43 yards per rush against them. Meanwhile, FSU is coming off its worst rushing performance of the season -- and fourth worst in program history -- against Virginia Tech, finishing with minus-15 yards.
53. That's the number of three-and-outs forced by Florida State's defense this season, tops in the nation. Florida State leads the country in total defense, allowing just 242 yards per game. That's all bad news for Maryland, which ranks 123rd out of 124 FBS teams in total offense this season. The Terrapins have failed to top 260 yards of offense in four of their six ACC games.*
5. The number of times Manuel was sacked last week against Virginia Tech, a season high. The Seminoles' offensive line has allowed just 18 sacks all season, but 13 of them (72 percent) have come in four road games. Maryland ranks second in the ACC with 24 sacks this season.
(*Courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info.)