Jimbo Fisher said Friday the key to the Seminoles winning another Atlantic Coast Conference championship and clinching an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl is shutting down Georgia Tech’s triple option offense.
The 13th-ranked Seminoles (10-2, 7-1 ACC) are two-touchdown favorites over unranked Georgia Tech in tonight’s matchup. Still, Fisher knows defending the Yellow Jackets’ deceiving offense can be a monumental task if you’re not properly prepared.
The Yellow Jackets (6-6, 5-3) averaged 40 points per game during ACC play and their running game ranks third-best in the nation, averaging 323.3 yards per game.
Fisher said his staff has devised a good game plan to stop it.
But he’s quick to point out it’s difficult to simulate the speed of Georgia Tech’s offense because it’s so unorthodox.
“It’s hard to simulate,” Fisher said during a news conference Friday in Charlotte. “It’s one thing to do it in practice when you have your assignments, but we have to get used to the speed of it and how well they execute it. So it will be a huge challenge for us, no doubt.”
Whatever happens, both teams could be heading for a bowl game.
The NCAA on Thursday granted Georgia Tech a waiver to ensure it would be bowl eligible even it loses and drops to 6-7 on the season.
The Yellow Jackets hope they don’t need the waiver. Whether they do or not, could depend on the Seminoles’ defense.
Florida State ranks fourth in the nation against the run, allowing just 85.08 yards per game and a mere 2.7 yards per carry.
But the Seminoles’ task could be a little more difficult without defensive end Tank Carradine, their leading tackler, who’ll miss the final two games of the season with a torn knee ligament. He led Florida State with 80 tackles and was second on the team with 11 sacks.
Even without Carradine, Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson said Florida State has the best defensive line his team has faced this season. They are led by Bjoern Warner, the ACC defensive player of the year.
“They’re huge, and they’ve got a lot of them,” Johnson said of Florida State’s defensive line rotation. “So they roll them and they play a lot of guys. It’s going to be a huge challenge. ... Georgia is awfully good at linebacker and safety, and so is Florida State, but Florida State is really good on the defensive front.”
Georgia Tech’s leading rusher Orwin Smith did not play last week and Johnson said he’s doubtful for tonight, which could put more pressure on quarterback Tevin Washington. Washington has only thrown for seven touchdowns this season, but he leads the Yellow Jackets with 18 rushing TDs.
Florida State and Georgia Tech have spent the week trying to forget about last Saturday.
Both teams suffered losses to in-state rivals.
Florida State’s loss was particularly painful as the let a fourth quarter lead slip away and lost to in-state rival and fourth-ranked Florida 37-26. But Fisher believes his team has bounced back with a good week of practice.
“I think it hurt them, but I think they’re ready to flush it because they understand what they have to accomplish and that’s win a conference championship and still have a phenomenal year,” Fisher said. “I look forward to them doing that. I expect them to do it.”
Georgia Tech was blown out by No. 3 Georgia 42-10 last Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets’ defense has had its problems all season and Johnson said he’s concerned about his special teams, which has given up a number of big plays.
He said that has forced his offense to “outscore our opponents.”
Florida State comes in with some high-powered weapons, including quarterback EJ Manuel, the third-most accurate passer in ACC history.
Fisher said Manuel is the team’s unquestioned leader and the sets the standard for his team.
When he got hit in the jaw and fumbled last Saturday against Florida and briefly causing him to leave the game, Florida State’s momentum slipped away — and so did their tenuous fourth quarter lead.
“You take the mentality of your quarterback,” Fisher said. “Other positions are great, but when that quarterback is tough and he’s a competitor and he represents the right thing it sets the tone across the board. You can influence the other guys. And to me that’s what a great player does. His effect on the other players, as people, students and as athletes is as much as I’ve been around. And to me that makes him a great player.”
Johnson compares Manuel to Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.
“He can hurt you not only throwing the ball, but he’s athletic, can pull it down and run with it, and he gives them a lot of flexibility to do a lot of things,” Johnson said.
For Manuel, this game is about some personal redemption after turning it over four times in the loss to the Gators last Saturday.
Manuel said he spent Sunday hanging out with his parents on campus and they helped cheer him up and get him focused for challenge ahead.
“You don’t want to lose to your in-state rival,” Manuel said. “It’s tough, but we understand that we have a huge game, basically an even bigger game this week coming up versus Georgia Tech being our conference championship. We have to be ready. We can’t allow that game to linger on.”