DAVIE, Fla. – Florida State put a wrap on its penultimate practice before Tuesday’s Discover Orange Bowl showdown with Northern Illinois at Sun Life Stadium, and Seminoles’ coach Jimbo Fisher is quite happy with the way his team has gone about its business.
“It was a good Florida day today; a bit warmer than we’ve had the last couple of days,” Fisher said, at the conclusion of Saturday’s workout on the Nova Southeastern campus. “The kids responded very well. I love our conditioning, the tempo of practice was excellent, the execution has been very good. I’m very anxious to watch us play. I hope we play close to the way we’ve practiced. I’ve been extremely pleased. We haven’t practiced like this for a while.”
With bowl week winding down, the 13th-ranked Seminoles (11-2) will hold their final full workout Sunday morning, then have a walkthrough Monday at the stadium.
When asked why he thought the ‘Noles have been sharp throughout the first three workouts in South Florida, Fisher didn’t hesitate with an answer.
“I think it’s time to play,” he said. “You haven’t played for a while. You have a chance to play in a BCS (game). You understand your opportunity and you want to do well, represent yourself, your school and your family well. I just think they’re excited about being here; excited about winning a championship.”
Saturday’s practice also included the drone of crowd noise being pumped over the loudspeakers at the field. That made the crisp and precise practice even more impressive.
“Sometime when you do that (practice with crowd noise) … it actually makes you concentrate more,” he added. “Sometimes they focus more because they know you’re doing that and so it locks them more in a game mode and sometimes their execution really goes up on days like that.”
With the 16th-ranked Huskies (12-1) anxious to make their mark as the first MAC team to reach a BCS game, Fisher was asked what was left in terms of preparation for the game.
“The last 48 hours is very critical, that we really dot I’s and cross T’s and understand what we’re going into the game with; how we’re going to call it and when we’re going to call it,” Fisher said. “We’ll have the kids totally prepared, so there are no surprises. … Hopefully they’ll relax, execute and don’t get nervous about it.”
Players moved by former ‘Nole Smith’s testimony
For the majority of the team, Saturday began with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Breakfast at Miami’s Jungle Island, where former Seminole great Sammie Smith shared his testimony with players from both FSU and Northern Illinois.
After starring at tailback from the Seminoles from 1986-88, the Miami Dolphins selected Smith with the ninth overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft. Smith was out of the league after four seasons and ran into legal problems, serving a seven-year prison sentence for drug possession and distribution. With the help of former FSU coach Bobby Bowden, he won restoration of his civil right from the state of Florida in 2010 and since then has spoken openly about his troubles and his faith.
Smith shared his life’s struggles and testimony.
“His ability to relate to us as players that actually play the same place he did, makes his testimony even stronger,” said FSU senior All-American kicker Dustin Hopkins, who also participated in the FCA event. “Given the struggles he had with his drug situation when he was in the league and how troubles in athletics … can affect a player and his psyche for years after when you are confronted with adversity. When he mentions things like that you can relate to it. He speaks truth and it means that much more.”
Eliot anxious to finish job before moving on
FSU assistant coach D.J. Eliot’s final game with the Seminoles will also mark his first serving in the capacity of defensive coordinator, a position he will hold at Kentucky under former coordinator Mark Stoops, who accepted the job earlier this month.
Eliot, who has spent the past three seasons as FSU’s defensive ends coach, told the media at Saturday morning’s press conference that he is anxious to see the ‘Noles through Tuesday’s Discover Orange Bowl date with Northern Illinois.
“The last three years have been tremendous for me at Florida State,” Eliot said. “I have such great memories and worked so hard, and my players mean so much to me - and the opportunity that Coach Fisher gave me - I really wanted to finish this thing off on a high note. And I wanted to do everything I could for the program, the coaches and the players, to make sure that we finish this season with a win and continue to do what I can throughout the rest of this week to get us there.”
Eliot joked that he’s probably “broke a record on airline miles” over the past few weeks, bouncing back and forth between Kentucky and FSU.
“I've had a lot of responsibilities on both ends, and there hasn't been much downtime at all,” he said. “I've still got a task at hand, so I'm still in that mode, that work mode. You know, it's been exciting, but it's also been challenging to manage two jobs, but I'm fully committed, fully focused on winning this game.”
FSU’s defensive ends, unanimous All-American Bjoern Werner and All-ACC standouts Cornellius Carradine and Brandon Jenkins, have flourished under Eliot’s mentoring. Over the past three seasons the Seminoles have boasted one of the nation’s most ferocious pass rushes, which has been pivotal to the overall defensive improvement.
As a result, FSU has rekindled the long-standing reputation it once held for producing NFL-bound defensive ends, just as they did under assistant coach Jim Gladden throughout the 1990s.
“I always looked at Florida State as a place where they weren't lucky to have me, but I was lucky to have Florida State, and that's the way I approached work every day,” Eliot said. “Coach Fisher took a chance on me. I was a young (defensive) line coach at Rice that did a good job in an interview, so I’ve tried to repay him every single day with my work.
“My players mean a tremendous amount to me,” he contineued. “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.
Quotes from Saturday’s defensive press conference
Senior MLB Vince Williams on preparing for NIU and its explosive offense:
“We just want to show we can be dominant in every phase of the game. We want to be consistent on offense, special teams and defense; put together a complete game and give everybody a great show.”
Williams on what drives FSU’s second-ranked defense:
“We want to be great. We have the complete understanding at every level of this game that we want to be amazing. All of our guys are vying to be the best at their position in the nation. When you’ve got a collective group like that you’re going to have a defense together that’s going to be amazing.”
Williams on preparing for prolific NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch:
“We’re going to do what we do. I don’t think we’re going to vary away from what we’ve done all season. We’ve had tremendous success at doing whatever we’re doing to be successful. I think we’re going to keep that same attitude about this game.”
Senior DT Everett Dawkins on the expectations that accompany playing for FSU:
“Unless you go undefeated and win the national championship a lot of people are not going to be satisfied, but they’ve got to understand that there are 120 other teams that can go to the championship game and compete, so the possibility is very slim. ...
“Our fans want to see us do the best and we understand. It’s hard to win the national championship. It’s hard to go undefeated. We’re still in a BCS bowl game and we have a possibility of being 12-2, which is great.”
Dawkins on how he will look back on FSU’s growth over his five seasons:
“Just seeing the progress, it’s just not something that happens overnight with any team. There’s a process to it, and just looking back on the process – where we came from and how we’ve developed as a team – I’m going to be happy to leave here Tuesday with a win and be satisfied with what we’ve accomplished as a team.”