Florida St.-Georgia Tech Preview
(AP) - At the midway point of the season, Florida State's improved run defense has gone mostly under the radar. That progress will be put to a big test Saturday night at Georgia Tech.
The ninth-ranked Seminoles (6-0, 4-0 ACC) are 19th nationally in run defense, allowing 113.5 yards per game. That is a marked improvement from last season when they allowed nearly double that at 226.8. Five of the top 20 worst run defense games by the program since 2000 happened last season, including 331 yards allowed in a 37-35 win over Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game.
The Yellow Jackets (2-5, 0-4) have three of the top six rushing games against Florida State since 2000.
Despite losing five straight, the Yellow Jackets lead the ACC at 286.6 rushing yards per game. During his weekly press conference, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said the biggest challenge isn't with the backs, but with Georgia Tech's blocking scheme.
''You've got to play those cut blocks and that's what this offense is based on, and years ago that's what football was across the country (with option and wishbone offenses),'' Fisher said.
Adding to the challenge is that Georgia Tech is not a yearly fixture on the schedule. Due to being in different divisions, this is the first time the two have met in the regular season since 2009. The previous two matchups have been in the ACC championship game. Fisher said that during the bye week last month, they did practice a little bit against the triple option and had more cut blocking drills than usual.
Florida State has allowed one touchdown rushing this season, which came in the second quarter of the opener against Texas State. The Seminoles also haven't allowed a run of more than 30 yards and only two over 20. Last season they allowed 17 runs of 20-plus yards.
For the third straight week the Seminoles will be facing a back that is among the ACC leaders as Georgia Tech's Marcus Marshall is eighth. Louisville's Lamar Jackson was held to 32 yards in a 41-21 win last week and on Oct. 10, Miami's Joseph Yearby gained 33. Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas ran for 104 yards in last year's game but is averaging 44.6 this season.
This will be third running quarterback that Florida State has faced this year. Fisher said Thomas does have some similarities to Jackson and South Florida's Quinton Flowers.
''You've got to have leverage on the ball. You've got to tackle well and you've got to get people to the ball,'' Fisher said.
With their highest ranking since the preseason poll, Fisher is pleased that his team is starting to get more recognition. But he also knows there is a lot of football to be played, including a key matchup at No. 6 Clemson on Nov. 7.
''I am very pleased where we're at. Now we just have to keep evolving. We just keep getting a little better in execution, keep getting better and adding little packages,'' he said.
Florida State is trying to match the ACC record for consecutive conference victories at 29. The Seminoles set the earlier mark from 1992-95.
Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson, meanwhile, is looking for just one win.
Georgia Tech returned to practice Monday looking to focus on correcting mistakes that are magnified each week.
Last Saturday's three-point loss to Pittsburgh had it all - 31 points allowed, poor pass protection, missed assignments, a critical late penalty, a blocked field goal and terrible field position.
Georgia Tech has lost five in a row to opponents who are a combined 27-4.
''We knew it was going to be a tough schedule and we haven't won any of the close games,'' Johnson said. ''I would venture to say every game but Clemson we've been right in the game in the fourth quarter.
''We just have to find a way to win a game, make plays when we have to.''
Georgia Tech didn't make so many blunders last year, winning the Orange Bowl to finish 11-3.
Now, suffering the longest losing streak since the 1994 team went 1-10, the Jackets will find it difficult to reach a bowl for the 19th consecutive year.
They'd need to go 4-1 against Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia to have a chance.
''You've got to put it behind you,'' Johnson said. ''You have to move on because the challenge is getting bigger. I mean it ain't getting any easier this Saturday. So you've got to dial in and focus, look at the tape, how can we fix it, you put in a plan and you go play.''