Albany native Rashad Greene leads the Seminoles into the ACC title game tonight with a penchant for making big plays in the biggest games.
Want To Watch?
WHO: Florida State (10-2, 7-1 ACC) at Georgia Tech (6-6, 5-3 ACC)
WHAT: ACC Championship.
WHEN: 8 p.m. today.
WHERE: Charlotte, N.C.
LINE: Seminoles by 14 points.
AT STAKE: Winner gets BCS bowl.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Florida State has no option but to stop the option — if the Seminoles want to win their 13th ACC title, that is.
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 Saturday night, 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.
Smith’s absence last week before the Georgia game had many thinking that former Deerfield star and Albany Herald Player of the Year Tony Zenon would see more reps. But Zenon, who — at 5-foot-8 and 173 pounds — is often described as the fastest guy on the team, was barely used by Johnson. He returned Georgia Tech’s first kickoff for 14 yards and carried the ball once for nine yards. For the season, Zenon, a sophomore, has just 25 carries for 191 yards and a touchdown. He has also caught seven passes for 195 yards.
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, on 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, and leading receiver Rashad Greene of Albany. Greene, a sophomore, has caught 43 passes for 614 yards and five TDs this season one year after leading FSU as a true freshman. Greene also has a knack for coming up big in big games, like last year when he was named the MVP of the Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame when he almost single-handedly willed the Seminoles from a 7-0 hole at halftime to an 18-14 win thanks to Greene’s five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown — all in the second half.
“Rashad has had a great past four or five weeks,” Manuel told the Palm Beach Post recently. “He’s been playing very consistently. He’s coming on as the year is getting on. He’s getting stronger. He’s getting faster.”
Fisher said Manuel is the team’s unquestioned leader, and he sets the standard for his team.
When he got hit in the jaw and fumbled last Saturday against Florida, 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 affect 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.”
“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 re-focused.
“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.”
Herald sports editor Danny Aller contributed to this report