- Jared Shanker, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher likes to poke fun at the media, but it’s clear the Florida State coach has an affinity for prose and an artfully crafted metaphor. He’s likened to special teams to debt, reading defenses to driving and, most recently, team dynamics to the sociology of a family.
Maybe he isn’t channeling William Shakespeare, but Fisher got his point across when asked what he’s learned about his 2014 team so far, which has yet to emerge out of the shadow of the 2013 team that spent a January night making confetti angels on the Rose Bowl turf.
“How many people in here have kids, raise your hand,” said Fisher, short a chalkboard and yard stick after passing on the lectern. “You have that first kid and you’ve got [parenting] down. Well, here’s the second one, it’s going to be just like [the first kid]. Errr wrong.”
OK, land this plane, Jimbo.
“It’s similar to that. You train it the same, I’m doing the same things I did with No. 1 but the results aren’t the same. [The second] doesn’t think or do the same. That’s kind of how a team is. A lot of coaching and success comes from judging the personality of the team and getting to know it. You don’t just get it and plug it in.”
Translation: Fisher is not entirely sure what he is coaching yet, but he knows this isn’t the 2013 team. It isn’t a slight to the current group either. That’s Fisher’s roundabout way of saying even he’s still sizing up his team entering Week 6.
The good news is the Seminoles remain undefeated even if their three FBS wins have come by an average of nine points. That’s far fewer than the average of victory of the other three teams to receive a first-place vote in the AP poll and more than 20 points fewer than their own margin of victory through the first three FBS games of 2013.
Through preseason camp, the fifth-year Seminoles coach harped on finding an identity for his team. He felt he had a finger on the pulse of his team, but top-ranked FSU has been a mixed bag through four games. This isn’t the balanced offense it was last season. This isn’t the top five defense that has been a Tallahassee tradition under Fisher. It’s not a team built on forcing turnovers while limiting its own.
What the heck is the 2014 Florida State team? Better yet, who are they?
“Great competitors [who] don’t flinch,” Fisher said, “but I think it’s evolving offensively and defensively to how we can play.”
The Seminoles deserve the credit for winning close games in which they were tested late in fourth quarters, which did not happen at all during the 2013 calendar year. But they’re walking a tightrope over shark-infested waters. Maybe it is more like mutated, ill-tempered sea bass with the nature of the remaining schedule, but the point still stands: An identity will have to crystallize over the final two months.
Right now, the Seminoles' identity is a team relying on an elite passing attack buttressed by arguably college football’s top quarterback and receiver. Maybe that will be its identity all season, and it very well might be good enough to repeat as national champion, but history suggests either a complementary rushing attack or defense will need to materialize.
Fisher isn’t worried yet, though, and that’s the benefit of gutting out wins even when a team is not playing up to potential. It’s equally frustrating and promising, Fisher said. The confidence in Florida State from pollsters, the Football Power Index, and Las Vegas has waned each week, but Fisher realizes only under the wildest scenario would an undefeated Florida State be left out of the four-team College Football Playoff. So he is keeping weekly stock reports of his team instead and, despite outside doubts, he contends FSU’s arrow is trending up. The Seminoles did in fact have a 100-yard rusher and a defense that allowed only 123 yards in the second half Saturday.
“I don’t worry. You take how it goes and play well enough to beat your opponent and you want to see it gradually going in that direction, and, as crazy as it sounds, I do,” he said. “We’ve improved tremendously from that opening game. I start to see it in my mind.”