On the cusp of what will be perhaps FSU's toughest task to date—facing Kentucky in the Music City Bowl without 25 scholarship athletes lost to suspension and injury—Seminoles players were confident and upbeat following Sunday’s practice in Nashville.
“Honestly, this is a great opportunity for our team,” FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford said. “There is a lot of adversity and you can’t have a great win unless you have adversity. This is really exciting for a lot of guys to have an opportunity that they haven’t had previously.
“It’s something that we really can’t control, but the one thing that we can control is our attitude under these circumstances. We are just excited to be here and looking forward to the game.”
According to starting strong safety Myron Rolle, the most difficult part of the post-suspenion experience was the plane ride to Nashville.
“It is tough when guys you played with all season are not here,” Rolle said. “Especially when you get on a plane to come to Nashville and a lot of seats are empty—then it becomes reality. It has been pretty difficult to cope with but our coaches have done a great job of preparing our younger guys.”
While the Seminoles have often rallied around Bobby Bowden’s pregame speeches, players say they won’t need any extra motivation in this one.
Sophomore defensive end Everette Brown, whose only backup in today’s game will be 218-pound walk-on linebacker Benjamin Lampkin, says winning is motivation enough—not to mention the fact that Florida State enters the game as a 10-point underdogs.
“Florida State is Florida State,” Brown said. “We didn’t come out here to take a week off. We came out here to win a ball game. We are going to go out there, strap it up and play Florida State football.”
Players expected to step in and fill vacancies in the starting lineup include nose guard Kendrick Stewart, freshman linebacker Kendall Smith, senior walk-on tight end Josh Dobbie, and redshirt freshman O-lineman Evan Bellamy.
“It’s too bad that some of our players did not make the trip but it’s a great opportunity for the younger guys to come in and showcase their skills,” Stewart said. “For the players that are here, we are trying to win this game. We miss those players that are not here but we have to go out and do what we can for the team and show everybody that we are still Florida State.”
“Not many freshmen get the opportunity that I am getting right now,” Smith added. “I talked to my friends and family and they keep asking me if I am going to play and I keep telling them that yes, I am playing.
“I am just glad that the coaches trust me to go out on the field and be part of the first team. I have to take advantage of this opportunity.”
With kickoff set for 4 PM and the game televised on ESPN, only time will tell if the depleted Seminoles really have what it takes to keep up with Kentucky, who will be missing several key players of their own.
The Wildcats are expected to be without leading receiver Keenan Burton and second-leading rusher Derrick Locke due to injury, while starting right guard Jason Leger was suspended Saturday for a violation of team rules.
“We are thankful for the (Music City) Bowl taking us,” a humble Bowden said Saturday. “They didn’t know what was happening and to be honest, we didn’t know either when we accepted this bowl.
“We just hope that we can make a good show of it and give them a great game.”
FSU’s Keys to the Game
Weatherford has been a leader on and off the field for the Seminoles all season, but a lot of weight will be on the quarterback’s shoulders coming into Monday’s contest.
For Florida State to be successful, Weatherford must lead the Seminoles down the field, not only to keep up with Kentucky on the scoreboard, but also to eat time off the clock and give a depleted defense a chance to rest.
To do that, he must continue to take care of the ball, but also take more chances to convert key third-downs—which FSU has done just 32 percent of the time this season—and get into the end zone.
Hayes was no where to be found in FSU’s humiliating loss to Florida, but if anyone can provide the thin Seminoles with some much-needed energy, it’s him.
Hayes leads the team with 17.5 tackles-for-loss, and Mickey Andrews' defense plays to the beat of his drum.
Score touchdowns, not field goals
Senior kicker Gary Cismesia is the Seminoles’ leading scorer, but the team will fare much better Monday if that’s not the case.
Florida State must find ways to convert in the red zone, whether it’s 6'6" jump-ball specialist Greg Carr, playmaker Preston Parker, or a healthy Antone Smith in the backfield.
Limit Kentucky’s opportunities
If one thing’s for certain, it's that the Seminoles simply cannot afford to hurt themselves.
Everything from the turnover and field position battles to keeping penalties to a minimum will be absolutely crucial to FSU's efforts.
For the Seminoles to win, they must be creative on both sides of the ball.
Expect a number of unique looks from Jimbo Fisher on offense, including a smattering of trick plays. More importantly, however, FSU must be creative in finding ways to pressure UK QB Andre' Woodson, who could pick apart a tired Florida State defense.
The Wildcats will have a decisive advantage in numbers, so for the Seminoles it will have to be more brains, less brawn, and a lot of luck.