August 21, 2013

FSU works to end short-yardage struggles

James Wilder, Jr., wants to put fear into opposing defenses. He wants players at Pittsburgh or N.C. State or Boston College to call their friends at Miami or Clemson or Florida and warn them about the FSU running backs. He jokes that he wants to put defensive coordinators on the hot seat.

"That's the mentality we want to have going around," Wilder said. "We want to be respected in the right way where people fear us. … We want that edge on other teams."

There's plenty of reason to think FSU's backfield will be formidable. But for the Seminoles to inspire the fear they want, they'll have to prove they can out-muscle opponents in short-yardage situations. To do so, they've added weight, new jumbo packages and a specific short-yardage section of practice each day.

FSU's offense was ruthlessly efficient in 2012 in every measure except one: converting on third down and in short-yardage situations. FSU converted just 42 percent of all of its third-down attempts in 2012, good for 48th in the FBS, per NCAA stats.

Those struggles persisted in short-yardage situations. Florida State averaged 7.01 yards per play, but converted just 48 percent of its chances from third-and-five or shorter, and just more than half of the time (51 percent) from third-and-three or shorter.

Freeman is aware of those struggles, and he says the missed chances from last season still bother him.

"Some games last year you look at it we missed like third and inches, third and 1's," Freeman said. and it kind of cost us. … It affected us a lot because that could have been a touchdown drive."

Wilder's running mate, Devonta Freeman, said rectifying that issue has been a point of emphasis for FSU during fall camp. The Seminoles have done a period of short-yardage work every day so far. Freeman said that's helped get everyone on the same page.

"I'm getting more comfortable when I'm out there and staying focused," Freeman said. "A short-yardage situation it's third and 1 there's so much going on at one time, but now that Jimbo out the period in in practice it's let me be patient and comfortable."

It also helps that Freeman has added weight and now tips the scales north of 210 pounds. Adding even more muscle is FSU's packages with defensive linemen Jacobbi McDaniel and Mario Edwards, Jr. featured as fullbacks for extra heft.

The Seminole defenders have even noticed the difference. Safety Karlos Williams said he encountered McDaniel the fullback on one play and did not enjoy it.

"It didn't end up well on my end," Williams said. "He got to me before I got to him and I ended up 20 yards behind my alignment."

While the added weight of McDaniel and others could help swing some moments, FSU will rely more frequently on a veteran offensive line to clear the path in short-yardage situations. Last season the Seminole offensive line had five penalties and gave up three sacks in short-yardage situations.

Freeman said he's seen growth in that unit as well.

"Last year they were young," Freeman said. "I think the same thing went on with them: it was pressure, gotta get the first, get the first. I don't really know but all of us need to be on the same page and connecting at the same time."

The hoped-for result, Freeman said, is the joke between him and Wilder about costing defensive coordinators their jobs becomes a reality.

"I want defensive coordinators to know coming into the game that we're going to run and we're not going to get stopped," Freeman said.

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