TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The eighth-ranked Florida State Seminoles have one last opportunity to clean up their pass rush before Atlantic Coast Conference play begins when they host Bethune-Cookman on Saturday in the first meeting between the two programs.
The Seminoles (2-0) have just three sacks in 2013 after recording 36 in 2012 — 14th in the nation among FBS schools last year. But six defenders from that squad were selected in the 2013 NFL draft and took 27.5 sacks with them.
The Florida State defense has allowed just 20 points in two games, but it needs to an improved pass rush to be serious national championship contenders. The Wildcats (3-0) present some challenges with three mobile quarterbacks in the rotation.
"We had a huge emphasis on that last week when we played Nevada," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "There's no doubt. We have to tackle well in space and get the quarterback on the ground. The problem is, which one is going to play? All three of them are good athletes."
Bethune-Cookman has started three quarterbacks - Jackie Wilson, Quentin Williams, Brodrick Waters - in three games. All three have double-digit rush attempts as Wildcats quarterbacks have been sacked just three times this season.
Still, Florida State's front-seven should dominate the line of scrimmage — even short-handed. Senior linebacker Christian Jones and sophomore defensive end Eddie Goldman have been suspended from Saturday's game for a violation of team rules. Junior defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr. will be held out with a hand injury.
"Just make sure we go out and dominate once again," defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan said. "Like coach Fisher says, 'Our opponent doesn't have a face.' It doesn't matter who we're playing. We're going to go out and treat Bethune as if it's Miami, as if it's Florida, as if it's Clemson. As if it's a big game for us."
Here are five things to watch when Bethune-Cookman takes on No. 8 Florida State Saturday:
STILL ROLLING: The Jameis Winston Show is set to garner rave reviews for a third consecutive week. The redshirt freshman quarterback has completed 40-of-45 pass attempts for 570 yards with six touchdowns and one interception. Winston completed the first 11 passes of his career against Pittsburgh and is now on a run of 13 straight. Bethune-Cookman has the No. 1 total defense in the FCS, allowing 219.7 yards per game, but the Wildcats have not seen a quarterback the caliber of Winston.
QB SHUFFLE: Bethune-Cookman has started three quarterbacks in three games and coach Brian Jenkins said game No. 4 will be a game-time decision. Wilson and Waters are seniors while Williams is junior. "We open that spot up every week," Jenkins said. "We'll see on game day who we decide to take the first snap, how many snaps they'll take and who'll be the next one to come in." All three can run the spread and are active in the run game. The Wildcats have rushed for 755 yards and thrown for 318 yards passing.
THREE THE HARD WAY: Florida State broke out its new triumvirate of running backs against Nevada — Devonta Freeman, James Wilder, Jr. and converted safety Karlos Williams. Freeman has 1,400 career yards rushing. Wilder, Jr. is 102 yards shy of 1,000 career yards rushing. Williams went 65 yards for a touchdown on the first attempt of his career and finished with 114 yards on eight carries. "I see a lot of speed and explosion," Jenkins said. "Make no bones about it; we know we're up against three of the best running backs in the nation."
JUMP BALL: Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin was a heel shy of making what would been one of the most impressive plays of the Seminoles' short season. The 6-foot-5 sophomore caught a pass above the field goal crossbar in the back of the end zone against Nevada, but his heel landed out of bounds. Few in college football have the size and ability to go get that pass. Winston should be able to utilize Benjamin's size as only one of the Wildcats' top four cornerbacks measures 6-foot-0.
DEEP ROTATION: Fisher has put 74 different players on the field during lopsided wins against Pitt and Nevada. The same should happen against Bethune-Cookman. Fisher has been thrilled to work younger players in, but Saturday may be the last time some of them get action with seven consecutive ACC games on the horizon.