There have been humbling defeats, followed by player-only meetings.
Now, a hint of optimism has returned to Florida State (3-3, 1-2 in ACC), which plays its first home game in five weeks Saturday when hosting an equally struggling Maryland Terrapins team.
"We know they are going to be ready," said quarterback E.J. Manuel. "We know they will come in here and try and make it their Super Bowl, try to knock off our season like everyone else has done, so we have to focus and keep working."
The return of Manuel into the starting lineup has buoyed spirits, as has his return to form prior to a shoulder injury sustained Sept. 17 against Oklahoma that sent the season into a tailspin.
A potential sign of progress with FSU's rushing attack also has caused optimism. Using newcomers and shuffled starters, the Seminoles generated their best offensive balance of the season in the win against Duke last Saturday. If the running game can continue to develop, this team may start to resemble its preseason expectations.
"It was good watching Devonta [Freeman] and all the backs break down the field, and we're hoping to add on to that," senior left tackle Zebrie Sanders said. "It really helped [our confidence], and the game plan that coach [Jimbo] Fisher and [offensive line] coach [Rick] Trickett had was golden. [The win] is something you can put under your belt and just look forward to that. Definitely feels a lot better coming into a week off a win than a loss."
This is FSU's chance to change the season. The Seminoles have four of their next five games at home, all against struggling teams in the ACC. This is their chance to get a win streak together and salvage the season heading into a finale against Florida in late November.
While the loss at Wake Forest, especially, will haunt the Seminoles all season, they can ease some of the feeling with a strong finish. It may depend on having a strong running game.
NOTES AND QUOTES
The Seminoles and their fans used to bemoan the lack of a deep-threat passing attack. They used to be a bubble screen, flanker screen, short flare pass team. But that has changed. Even with the injury to Manuel that caused him to miss action in part of three games, FSU already has produced more 40-yard pass plays this year (12) than it had the previous two years combined (11). What has happened?
"I don't know," Manuel said. "I just feel like we have more opportunities now. The line has been giving me time and we've had opportunities to take a shot, and we've taken advantage of it."
Five FSU receivers have caught at least one 50-yard pass, which bodes well for the future. ...
The Seminoles recorded a season-high five sacks last week vs. Duke and have now posted six or more tackles for loss in all six games. That puts them No. 3 nationally in tackles for loss at 8.67 per game. ...
Florida State has never scored fewer than 24 points against Maryland in the 10 previous games at Doak Campbell Stadium and scored at least 30 points in eight of 10 matchups. ...
This will be a clash of the ACC's leading passing offense -- FSU is averaging 311 yards per game -- against a Maryland defense that his yielded just five passing touchdowns. The Terrapins, however, have given up 15 rushing touchdowns, which is the worst in the ACC.
SERIES HISTORY: Florida State leads 19-2.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Even though it was Duke, the Seminoles believe an important step forward was taken last weekend. They had their best day of the season with a balanced offense, a near-equal split of rushing and passing yards (242-239) and solid performance by their reshaped offensive line. They also are hoping Manuel is back to his former self, prior to his shoulder injury. The Seminoles have thrown the ball well this season -- they rank No. 12 nationally in pass offense -- but it's the running attack that will make a difference in whether this team puts a win streak together.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The same scenario as with the offense. Duke entered last week's game with a respectable passing attack, but the Seminoles smothered the short routes and the flare routes that have plagued them in the past. They also may have tackled better than they have all season. That has fueled hope the group is regaining its stifling personality that showed up in the first three games. This defense ranks in the top 30 in the four major categories (pass defense, run defense, score defense, total defense) and helped itself last week by not committing the drive-sustaining penalties. The Seminoles still rank near the bottom (No. 113) in turnover margin.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We weren't going to have any more nonsense on our team, as far as guys not holding each other accountable. That was a huge step for us. This might have been a good thing in the long run, us losing these three games in a row. You never want it to happen, but we handled it and moved on and we're going to handle business from here on out." -- Florida State QB E.J. Manuel on how a team meeting prior to the Duke game may have changed the team's mindset.
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