|Florida State Preview: Speed And Big-Time Football||10.01.09 at 12:26 pm ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — Big-time football is coming to Alumni Stadium this Saturday.
It is not just because ESPN’s College GameDay crew is heading to Boston College this weekend. That just adds to the level of intensity. It’s also the football team paying a visit.
Florida State is the kind of college program that needs no introduction. The Seminoles are always good, they are always fast and opponents know that if they are going to bring down the behemoth they have to play their best. Nothing else will satisfy.
“The whole stadium picks up a little bit,” Eagles senior captain Mike McLaughlin said of the GameDay atmosphere. “You can feel it in the air. It’s tough to describe, but you can tell. It’s big time. It’s big-time football. It’s what you sign up for, and you can definitely feel it on Saturday, no question about that.”
The Seminoles — unranked at 2-2 and looking to make a comeback statement after a 10-point home loss to South Florida — bring speed to the field unlike many other teams in the country. They have it with their wide receivers, they have it with their defensive backs, they have it on with their defensive ends. If Boston College thought Clemson was fast, it has a whole different level coming this Saturday.
“It is definitely the top speed in college football,” McLaughlin said. You can’t match that speed that we are going to see on Saturday in practice. ”
The best coaches in college football know speed kills, and there are not many coaches in college football history better than Seminoles leader Bobby Bowden. Year in and year out he stacks his teams with the fastest players he can get his hands on. The success is evident. Since the advent of the Bowl Championship Series, Florida State has six BCS game appearances (behind only Oklahoma, USC and Ohio State, with seven apiece).
The question becomes: How can the Eagles (3-1) prepare for the type of speed that the Seminoles will bring when there they have no equivalent on their own squad?
“You have to kind of fake like it,” McLaughlin said. “Like coach [Frank Spaziani] says, ‘chasing rabbits,’ so, every play I will try to run through the ball and past the ball. You are trying to do your best to make like it is going to be on Saturday because nobody is going to be quite as fast as those guys will be.”
“When you chase a rabbit,” Spaziani said. “You have to cut off all their escape routes, that’s what it means to me.”
There is no one aspect of Florida State that stands out where someone might say, “This is the fastest group.” Every unit has its own peculiar brand of quickness. It goes from quarterback Chris Ponder to wideouts Rod Owens and Bert Reed to cornerback Greg Reid to the bookends on the defensive line — Kevin McNeil and Markus White.
“It’s Ponder, it’s the offensive line, it’s their stable of running backs, it’s their receivers as a whole that we are concerned about on defense,” BC junior free safety Wes Davis said.
The BC defense has played well this year, despite the mad-scramble comeback that Riley Skinner and Wake Forest made last Saturday. The Eagles hit hard, they cover well and they track the ball efficiently. One of the only deficiencies Boston College has had has been getting pressure on the quarterback. If it hopes to force Ponder into mistakes and create turnovers, it will have to be in his face all day. Yet, that may prove to be a difficult task this week against a Florida State offensive line that has grown together into a much more mature unit than a year ago.
“This may be the best offensive line we have seen before in terms of their experience and their maturity,” junior defensive end Alex Albright said. “They come back, they hit hard, they stay low as opposed to last year when they stayed high. … So, just their maturity in general has grown astronomically. They are a much better cohesive unit.”
The Seminoles defense creates headaches as well, starting with their Butkus Award candidate, senior Dekoda Watson, at middle linebacker. Watson leads Florida State in tackles for loss (5.5) and sacks (4.5) through the first four games of the season. It does not end there, though, with McNeil (6-foot-2, 257 pounds) and White (6-4, 261) challenging offensive lines all across the conference from their defensive end positions.
“They are definitely a fast team,” BC junior right tackle Rich Lapham said. “They have some real twitch guys on defensive end. They have some guys who can fill in. They have some of the bigger, taller bodies, different kind of build than we have at defensive end. When you have some guys who are 6-3, it is different than blocking somebody who is 6-1.”
The Eagles are ready for the next big challenge of the year. As the season progresses there is a feeling around the program that this team can do far better than the last-place predictions of preseason prognosticators. Hence, the approach to Florida State is no different than anything BC has done already this year. Just ask quarterback Dave Shinskie.
“Just going to approach this game like we do every other game,” Shinskie said. “We have to run the ball every week. They are fast on defense, they’re athletic, they hit hard. It’s going to take all of our ability, all of our strength and, you know, we are going to work hard and come in on Saturday ready to play.”