Following its disappointing loss to Clemson on Sept. 24, Florida State used the bye week to get healthy, get better, and, well, talk.
It hasn’t quite been the strong start the Seminoles (2-2, 0-1 ACC) had hoped for, and it certainly hasn’t lived up to the preseason billing of a top-10 team. Florida State’s national title hopes were dashed by Oklahoma on Sept. 17, and one week later the Seminoles’ ACC title hopes took a significant hit from Clemson.
Now, as the Seminoles prepare for their Atlantic Division matchup at Wake Forest, they do so knowing their previous mistakes have made all of their remaining games must-win situations. The Noles need Clemson to lose twice in order to get back into the ACC race, but meanwhile, they can’t afford any more letdowns along the way.
Quarterback EJ Manuel said the team got together last week to talk and “handled a lot of stuff … a lot of mishaps with us handling stuff on and off the field.
“With us losing two games, you can either go south or you can go north -- as far as your attitude and your season,” he said. “We have a lot of football left to play. We told ourselves that we are just going to take care of Wake Forest, then take care of Duke ... then take care of Maryland, and so on and so forth. We’re not too worried about the losses. We just need to go out and win.”
That might be easier said than done on Saturday, as Wake Forest is a surprising 2-0 in the Atlantic Division standings. At 3-1 overall, Wake Forest is off to its best start since matching that four-game mark in 2008. That was also the last season the Demon Deacons opened with a 2-0 ACC record, defeating Florida State and Clemson.
“We are confident in our abilities but at the same time, we know that we missed a few opportunities and that is disappointing,” said kicker Dustin Hopkins. “We know that we have to come back this week. Wake Forest has beat us in the past, so we can’t let down.”
FSU is 2-2 through four games for only the second time since 1990. The Noles were also .500 at this juncture in 2009.
“Obviously we’re hungry,” said offensive lineman Zebrie Sanders. “Those two losses, I feel like we probably had a better chance than we actually played. … We’re going back to the basics now, back to the fundamentals. Coach [Jimbo Fisher], he told us, throw all of the other hype out the window, the rankings and all that. Just play ball every day, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
In order to win their first ACC game, though, they’ll have to do it better. Florida State is 108th in the country in sacks allowed, and the rushing offense is 115th. Manuel returned to practice in full pads for the first time this week since injuring his shoulder in the Oklahoma game. There hasn’t been any guarantee that he’ll return to the starting lineup, but Manuel is expected to be prepared and to start. Manuel said his range of motion and strength have returned this week, and he’s looking forward to playing on Saturday.
“I think my teammates are really looking forward to me getting back out there, as well,” he said. “When they saw me coming in after practice from the training room, all the guys asked, ‘Hey man, how’s your shoulder doing?’ All the guys were asking how I was feeling. That means a lot -- guys still believing in me, and wanting me back out there. I think it will be very good, very positive for our team. I think it will give us a boost … give us a lift.”
FSU could certainly use one right now.