Florida State is No. 15 in the country and No. 2 in the ACC in rushing offense with 389.14 yards per game. The Seminoles’ offense took a hit this week, though, when leading rusher Chris Thompson suffered a season-ending injury. Thompson’s 7.5 yards per carry will be tough to replace, but there is no shortage of talent at the position. In the past two games, sophomore Devonta Freeman has led FSU with a combined 140 yards on 18 carries. Freeman’s two fourth-quarter touchdown runs sealed the win against the Hurricanes last week. I spoke with Freeman on Thursday to get his take on the situation heading into Saturday’s game against Duke. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
Tell me about what happened from your perspective in the game when Chris went down.
Devonta Freeman: Basically when Chris went down, I knew one of us had to step up. Actually, I wanted to be the guy to step up. I was just preparing myself when I wasn’t playing. When he went down I knew this could be my opportunity so I couldn’t take it for granted. I had to go out there and make something happen. I tried my best to contribute.
How has Chris responded? I’m sure it’s been devastating for him, but how has he been in terms of being a part of the team as a leader and trying to help you guys?
DF: He’s a strong kid. He’s been through a lot. He just continues to grow and learn. He’s not complaining or nothing like that. He just knows that’s God doing his job. All he’s doing is praying knowing God has a plan for him at the end of the day.
How much pressure are you feeling now that he’s out to step up and be the guy?
DF: There’s no pressure, nothing like that. Once upon a time I was the guy, I was a starting running back. I’ve played in a lot of big games, so these games, every game I play I just think of it as a regular game. I don’t look at it as, ‘Oh I need to prepare different than any other game.’ I just look at it as the same game. No pressure.
What’s it been like this week without Chris practicing?
DF: When somebody goes down like that, you’ve just gotta move on. When we’re on the field, we have to focus on our jobs and stuff. When we’re off the field, we’ve got to try to encourage him the best way we can. It’s been a little awkward he hasn’t been out there, but we know our part. We know what we’ve gotta do. We know what time it is. We just have to contribute.
Have you and [James] Wilder [Jr.] been splitting reps with the first team? How has that been working?
DF: Yes, actually we’ve all been rotating. Lonnie Pryor has been getting in there at running back, Debrale Smiley has been getting in at running back. All of us have been rotating. Me and Wilder have been splitting the carries. We’ll get, like, two plays apiece with the ones. I’ll even get two plays with the twos, he’ll get two plays with the twos.
The running game has been so much better than it was a year ago. What’s the biggest difference?
DF: The biggest difference is the offensive line and the coaches. They’ve prepared them for this year in getting them where they need to be. They’ve been so dedicated to the team this year. They knew last year we were struggling in running so they went harder this summer. They’d be here early in the morning, every day, like 6 in the morning. They were here before everybody. And the running backs, we knew we had to make better reads, better cuts. We just got more patient and all of us got better.
Do you guys feel like you can keep it up without Chris in the lineup?
DF: Yeah, of course. We can keep it up without him. We wish the best for him, wish he was healthy, but we’ll try our best to average some good yards per game.
Are you taking these guys seriously, or is Duke still Duke to you?
DF: I take them seriously. They put on one pants leg at a time, just like us. Anything could happen. Every team we play, I treat them like they’re the No. 1 team in the nation. We’ve got to give it our all. We’re not taking nothing for granted.
What have they done that leads you to believe they’re better this year?
DF: They’re bigger, faster stronger. They look more technically sound. They’re throwing the ball better, they’re running the ball better and tackling. They’re big up front, they have some great athletes on their team.
Is it hard for you guys to not look back at the NC State game and wonder what could have been?
DF: I mean, we always look back at it and say, ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda,’ but it’s something we had to learn from and move on from. Life is about learning and moving on. We just feel like we can’t lose no more games.