Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher spoke with the media Monday about the Seminoles' victory over Miami, the play of Christian Ponder, the playmaking ability of Taiwan Easterling, looking for a balance on the offensive side of the ball, and much more. Here is a transcript of that conversation.
Q: Did Jermaine Thomas get hurt? After he had those two big runs, we didn't see him again.
Fisher: Like I said, we have to continue to keep putting him in. Deuce was running well and the weather got so bad that some guys were used to handling that situation and being in the big game, so I think we wanted to make sure we just got them in. I wouldn't have had a problem getting him in the game. I really wouldn't have and we have to continue to get him in there because the guy is running the ball really well. We will continue to. He is a freshman and we will continue to get him out there. Deuce was, in a game like that when it gets hairy and tight, we wee getting him the ball and he had been playing pretty well so that is just kind of the way it went.
Q: What do you do in regards to the fumbling issue Antone Smith has had?
Fisher: He has put it on a bunch. Jermaine may be getting a lot more if he keeps putting it on the dadgum ground. No, it is something we have to work on. You can't worry about it, you have to go out. It is a fundamental thing. If you look at everyone of his fumbles the ball is not high and tight, the tip is down at the end of his belly, it is flat, which is conducive to getting it ripped out. He has to get the ball high and tight and take care of it. It was wet the other day too which makes it doubly tough but hey, they are carrying it to. That is something we have to address. I think this is a good week for us coming off five games, three physical games in a row, an emotional game. We have got to go back. When you look at the film you see how many plays we left on that field. When you play good football teams that happens a lot, that is a credit to them too. It is about how much better we can get if we will address our fundamental issues of blocking, ball security, penalties, precision on routes, drops, all of the little things. There is so many little fundamental things that we must continue to get better at.
Q: That offensive line has to be playing better than you expected them to?
Fisher: Yeah, they played well. I don't know if they played exceptionally. I thought they played pretty dadgum well though. They are getting hats on hats, we are making runs, and the tight ends are doing a good job and the backs are cutting. It is a combination of things and we are running well. They are doing a very good job. They are a good group because they are not only tough and you know how (Rick) Trickett coaches them and the way we get them. He is as good as there is in the business but there is also some intelligence up there, there are some smart guys. They are picking up the little nuances and changes we make and defenses make during a game and getting a hat on a hat. They are doing a very good job.
Q: How much does he play the game where he messes with them just a little bit in order to motivate them?
Fisher: That is what it is always about. We didn't really play that well a week ago. We blocked but we left a lot on the table. What is funny is you look at this game, and they did a great job, but there is still a lot left on the table. We left a lot on the table as an offense in that football game. A tremendous amount at every position. I am tickled to death that we won and we did good things with the ball but at every position, from quarterback to offensive line to running back to tight end to receiver, there is so much we are leaving on the field still. Which is very encouraging that we are having some decent success and we are still leaving a lot of plays on the field. We are leaving a lot of them out there. We just have to continue to grind and fix.
Q: Would it be fair to say that there were more big plays from your offense Saturday than any other game since you have been here?
Fisher: I don't know our number but probably so, more big runs, play-action passes, scrambles, yeah, I would say that.
Q: Also getting out of third and longs.
Fisher: Well understanding what we are trying to do. We are hitting passes. That is what I was happy with, the things we did well in the game. We controlled the line of scrimmage pretty decently. We converted on third downs. Touchdowns in the red zone, that is something that everybody forgot, we kicked five field goals last year and this time we were 5-out-of-6 for touchdowns. Converting touchdowns in the red zone. Now, we still had a couple of turnovers that we didn't need to have. That is the thing we have to continue to work on. But when you call the game aggressively sometimes those happen. We felt like we had to call it. Still they are all fixable and there are still a lot of things out there.
Q: In recent years, third down conversion and red zone offense had been disappointing around here but this year you are ranking among the best in the conference.
Fisher: Well, I want to be that at the end of the season. We have only played five games. Let's don't get to crazy but we are being efficient. We emphasize it. We work it. We try to plan it very well and our kids are understanding it better. I think things you emphasize they do better because those are things that change games – your third down conversions and your red zone opportunities when you are down there, controlling the line of scrimmage and turnovers. Now the thing we have to continue to do is keep that and address penalties and turnovers and continue to reduce those.
Q: How close are you to making this emphasis on the run game pay off in the passing game?
Fisher: Well a couple of times it has been protection, couple of times it has been bad routes, and a couple of times it has been bad throws. We have to continue. I think the conditions helped out a little bit Saturday, throwing the ball. He had some instances where the ball just kind of squirted out of his hand on some throws. We had some protection issues two or three times. We had a couple routes that weren't run properly. We have got to continue in our passing game. I hope to get our balance back like we did. This week we have to continue to keep the running game and fix the passing game to a point where we can be more efficient like we need to be.
Q: If you establish the run, it makes certain things available in the passing game. Are you seeing that on the film?
Fisher: Like Play-action pass. Oh yeah, they are there. That is exactly right. How you set the protection up to get them is also key. It may be harder for young linemen to pass block than it is to run block at times because you can't come off the ball and you have to set and do things. So we have got to be careful what we get into but those plays are there and we need to improve that part of our game, that facet of our game.
Q: How much more aggressively are you calling plays this year compared to last year?
Fisher: A lot more.
Q: Is that just about a comfort zone?
Fisher: Comfort zone and that is what we have to do to be successful. I think we are playing well.
Q: You also have more playmakers, don't you?
Fisher: More players, more guys in space. More guys understanding. You know at times, the quarterback is doing a very good job. He had a 144 yards rushing, 58 of those 144 didn't come on called runs. They were on plays in which coverage-wise they covered down field but we got protection and he stepped up and made a run, made a scramble. Sometimes when your quarterback has agility and things, you can be more aggressive knowing that you wont get sacks, you wont get bad, negative plays, and he can sometimes turn pass plays into positive plays. That also helps you. He is making very good decisions in that regard.
Q: Those 58 yards were not off designed running plays?
Fisher: They were scrambles. They were pass plays that were covered.
Q: They were not plays he checked to?
Fisher: No, they were decisions he made. They played two-man coverage. In other words, in two-man the guy people don't account for is the quarterback. Because you are manning everybody up with coverage over the top with two guys so you are kind of double covering everybody. The guys that you have a hard time accounting for when you do that is the quarterback. In recognition, he is recognizing by looking at his first option and then his second and didn't have it, well the next option when you are in two-man is running the football. He did that a couple of times and made some big runs. On that crucial 3rd and 12, they definitely took the pass away, they had a good defense but he fortunately just found a little seam and scrambled and made a play at the right time. We were very fortunate that he made the play. Him making decisions that way too, not forcing balls down the field, tucking it and going and seeing options, and a couple of times he threw the ball away the other day. There are nothing there and he got rid of it, 2nd and 10, I can live with that. We can get five yards and then go 3rd and 5 and play football.
Q: He found a second option on the touchdown pass that got called back to Greg Carr, didn't he? Wasn't that a check.
Fisher: Well no, he had the option of going to the other side and then he saw Greg singled on the other side. He got it back to him. It was a check in his mind as far as where the original option was. He found Greg 1-on-1 with a 5-foot-10 guy and we had the catch and then of course we had a penalty. We were fortunate to come back.
Fisher: Very consistent. Blocking, toughness, he has toughness and competitiveness. He is doing the little things inside that make a difference. Catching the bubbles and catching the outs and blocking on the bubbles. That conversion on third down was a big one, momentum was changing, 3rd and 12, and hit a big seam route in there, he went in and got it as a freshman. That guy made a lot of big plays in that game.
Q: It is tough to knock him down.
Fisher: No, he has great balance. He is strong. He is a lot stronger than you think he is. He is a lot stronger than he looks.
Q: One of his biggest blocks was on Antone's run.
Fisher: Oh yeah, our receivers did a pretty good job. The other one was five (Preston Parker). I just re-watched the film. I missed two blocks, he had a linebacker one time on a bubble screen, that 235-pound linebacker, he put him straight on his back. That is why I love what he is doing. He is being physical. He made a couple plays where he blocked one guy and went on down the field and blocked another. You are talking about a guy who has been your superstar as far as getting the ball, he is getting the ball some but you never hear him complaining and you see him blocking his tail off for his teammates. Him, 82 (Easterling), and one (Corey Surrency) had some real nice blocks on those bubbles, out there on the edge.
Q: I know you'd like to see Christian slide occasionally, but he brings some toughness to the team, doesn't he?
Fisher: He does. They feed off of it. Like I tell him, toughness without intelligence is toughness I don't want. There are times you get caught up in the game and I respect that, but sometimes you have to be careful that you don't take a couple of shots and get banged up.
And as the games go on, that happens.
Q: That was a calling card of your offenses, the toughness.
Fisher: When you go into somebody's house, you can be finesse and edge. You have to line up and hit them in the mouth and they're going to hit you in the mouth. When they hit you in the mouth, you have to respond and that's something I thought we did in the game as well as any game I've been in here. The momentum changes they got, we seemed to answer every time. We'd come back with a drive or a field goal or even change the field position. We had answers for momentum changes and played with poise instead of panicking and did it a lot better than we have in the past.
Q: Christian said you guys went back to a lot more basic sets. What's the balance in running your basic stuff and still being creative?
Fisher: You still game plan for what you think you can get away with and what you have to do to win. It's all based on what you have to do to win each week. And the other thing is, they're retaining more, so things are becoming more basic to them that always weren't basic to them. Their library of plays is becoming greater because of just use and time.
Q: You've put up a lot of points and yards against Miami in your last few games against them. Is there something about the match-up that works well for you?
Fisher: We've been successful and I think it's a case where you know you're playing a great football team with great athletes and you have to bring your "A" game to the table. Fortunately, we've been able to do that with the team's we've had the last few times. Florida State's always going to compete hard (against Miami) and when I was at LSU, we were 9th and 10th in the country and it was a big game and we knew we had to compete. I think Miami brings the best out of you because of its reputation, the caliber of player and the way they play. We were fortunate to hit plays at the right time.
Q: In the last two weeks, we've seen Christian play the whole game and Drew move up to number two. Is that the way they're going to stay?
Fisher: Right now, until we get to practice and something makes the change. It's (Christian's) first two college football games that he's ever played the whole way through, so it was important for him to do that. And Drew's played well, too, so we'll stay with that until we re-evaluate.
Q: Do you think the expectations could get too high for Christian?
Fisher: I think he understands. In that game, Florida State hadn't probably come out like that and played with that kind of lead in a while. I think that was another growing step we had to go through.
They responded to it. We're starting to have a little success, but we're five games in. We haven't won anything. We haven't done anything. What they have to remember is why they have success. If you remember why you have success, and understand you're not bigger than this game ... if you think you have all the answers as a coach or a player, this game will bite you right in the tail so bad it's ridiculous. So we have to remind the players why we've had success, how they have success and to just play the game. Don't predetermine the game. Don't force the game. Play the game, good or bad, and fight your way through it.
Q: Do you think that'll be an issue for Christian?
Fisher: He doesn't seem to have it in his personality, but it's something we still have to reinforce as coaches. At the same time, you can't take away his confidence, because the guy is making plays.
That's what you learn as guys grow. Can they handle success, can they handle failure? All that is part of a player defining himself and that's the next challenge for him and our team. This is an emotional game, which is why I'm kind of glad we're off this week. Like I said before, I'm happy because we won, but I'm also happy, in a weird way, that we had a lot of mistakes. That means there's a lot we can have them look at and fix and get better. As a coach, you have to build confidence and show them how much better we can be.
Q: Did you call Ponder on Sunday?
Fisher: No, I left him alone (laughs). I said, "Forget it. Just enjoy yourself." We talked after the game and it was good. I said what I thought about where he was and what he did. He's probably sick of hearing me. They don't always want to hear from me all the time.
Q: How dangerous is it to put a governor on a kid like that?
Fisher: I'm not going to make a big thing out of him running or not. I want him to play the game. If you try to predetermine this game, you can't play it. Football's a game of knowledge as far as what you do, how you do it, what the defense is doing and reacting to it. You can't coach instinct and you shouldn't take it away. I don't want him to get hurt, just be intelligent, but that's who he is and what he is.
Hopefully, in time, he'll make some smarter decisions because you have to look at the big picture of your team. At the same time, our team feeds off of it, so we'll roll with it.
Fisher: A lot better, not to talk about any of the other tight ends.
But he has a presence at 6-foot-7, 270. He can block like an offensive tackle not just in the run blocking but also in the pass. He takes the pressure off one of those young tackles. You bring him over and have him block that end and let them double down on the guard, it takes pressure off the tackle. And then he gives a presence with the pass.
He's a pass-catching threat, a run-blocking threat, a pass-blocking threat, he brings a lot of versatility to the table. And he's also moving even like a fullback. His game is growing every day.
Q: You guys went to Corey Surrency a couple of times and he made the catch, but made it out of bounds. Was Christian's pass off, or was Surrency not going where he should.
Fisher: Christian's throwing fine. I wish he'd keep it in bounds a little bit, but Corey, at times, he drifts instead of pressing on that DB and pressing on his hip. You want to be on the outside, but you want to press that DB to give the quarterback room to put the ball on the outside. It's a combination of both. People ask why we don't get the ball to Corey more. We had seven or eight balls called for him.
Like that one we had to Carr, it was going to Corey first. They doubled him a couple of times and we got an interference call on him.
We'll continue to work on our route running. If we continue to work on that, an inch or two in the passing game could mean big things, 40- or 50-yard gains instead of going out of bounds.
Fisher: If he gets healthy. I think he could have played, but I'm hoping that after this off week, we'll get him back and get Jermaine going. If we fool around, we're going to beat Antone up and we have a lot of physical games coming up.
Q: Can you redshirt him?
Fisher: You can, depending on how that injury goes and lingers, but I'm hoping he comes out. We need the body and he's a good player.
Q: Do you have to change your philosophy when you have a big lead at halftime?
Fisher: You do, but that's another thing I say. For an offensive coordinator, that's the hardest time to call. Do you play to your defense? Then they say you get too conservative. But if you get too aggressive, you turn it over. When you have that much time left, you still have to play like it's a seven-point game or a three-point game or tied up because you've got to keep momentum. When they did get momentum, when they threw that right hand and staggered us, we regrouped against the ropes and fired our way off and battled right back. When you're calling it, you have to be careful you're not sending that message to your kids, also. We have to learn how to play with a lead. We haven't done that a lot and that's part of learning to win. You have to play aggressively and with intelligence. I think that's a good part of our growing process.
Q: You talked about staying aggressive. You called a couple of reverses on that last drive.
Fisher: I was worried about the momentum of the game. ... That's the best way I thought we could go down and score points. We had to get the ball in our playmakers' hands, get the ball in Preston's hands – actually, Preston or Taiwan in the slot. I didn't care which one was there. Miami was being aggressive, chasing the ball pretty hard. I think we got two reverses and a naked [bootleg] on that last drive. And I thought that was a big throw, from him to the tight end. You know, college football is so much different from pro football, in that the clock, it can stop in so many ways. So five, six, eight, nine minutes – that's an eternity in college football. I would rather try to be aggressive and win than not go at it. When momentum changes, you have to step up as a player and as a playcaller to try and [respond]. And it don't always happen. Sometimes it leads to disaster. Sometimes the momentum goes. We were fortunate – our kids just executed in those situations. They carried us as coaches. They executed.
Q: What was the play you had called from the end zone when Ponder got hit and had it intercepted?
Fisher: A deep corner route on the left side with a flat route. We had the play blocked, and he got through. [Ponder] assumed he was blocked, and I did too. See, coming off a play-fake is different than dropback. And here's the other thing -- you can never, ever, ever look at a rushing guy. If you play quarterback and you look at the rush, you'll never be an effective quarterback. You feel rush, read coverage. Your eyes can't come down. And when a guy blitzes and you know he's blocked, you can't worry about it. You have to feel him. And when you come off a play-fake, it's harder. You come off a play-fake, set ... then when he felt him, he started to get rid of it and the guy was already on top of him. They made a play, and we didn't. They executed the play, and we didn't.
Q: Was it a corner blitz?
Q: Was the pass open?
Fisher: It had a chance. He had about a step lead on him in the corner. He had to make a great throw. We had a chance. It wasn't wide open.
Q: Who all is involved in the decisions on kickoffs? Where to kick it and what kind of kick it will be?
Fisher: Hey, I'm the coach in waiting, I'm not the head coach. (laughing) No, that's Jody [Allen] – the special teams coordinator. That's his thing.
Q: Is he still working today?
Fisher: Yes, he is. Hey, I'm still working after the Wake game, aren't I? Nothing's as bad as it seems, nothing's as good as it seems. That's what happens.
Q: You've been talking a lot about toughness and being aggressive. How much is that helped by having a quarterback who plays as physical as Ponder did on Saturday?
Fisher: If the quarterback's tough, the team's tough. If the quarterback's competitive, your team's competitive. They take the demeanor of their leader.
Q: Is that the first time he's really established that?
Fisher: In a big-time game, in a crucial situation, that's the first chance he's ever had. I think they saw what he's capable of doing. I've always said that. When we won World War II, we had [Gen. George] Patton. We were tough, weren't we? When your leader's tough, you're tough. That's the way it is, because he doesn't accept anything less. And when they see him doing all the little things, sacrificing his body, taking shots, and him not letting adversity bother him ... and that's something he didn't do in the Wake game. It was his first chance. Like I say, good football players learn from their mistakes.
Q: Did you have any quarterbacks at LSU or Auburn run for that many yards?
Fisher: Yeah, Marcus Randall did that. Matt Mauck had a couple big games. Dameyune Craig had some big games running the football at Auburn. Not saying they're better or worse, but we had some guys that could do that. Matt Flynn had a lot of big runs against Miami that time in the Peach Bowl. He was a tough old bird. Still pretty good in pro ball.
Q: In the last two wins, you guys have put together long, time-consuming touchdown drives to kind of put the game away. How important is that?
Fisher: Crucial. Because you're controlling what happens in the game. You're not hoping that they don't make plays on offense, or hoping that your defense wins the game all the time. I think it's crucial, for you not as an offense, but as a football team. That the defense knows that the pressure's not on them so much, that if they don't get a stop, we lose. If we're scoring too, if we can help them out and keep them off the field and keep them fresh, that's what I see is going on right now. You see our defensive players feeding on the offensive players, and the offensive players feeding off the defensive stops. I see us becoming a better team, and I think that's crucial.
Q: What was Ponder's best play the other night?
Fisher: You're going to say the third-and-12 scramble was a big one. I think that one. I think the third-and-14 vertical that he to Taiwan that helped change momentum.
Q: The 48-yard run wasn't bad.
Fisher: Nah, and he audibled to that. That's the thing about him. He had some mistakes, but he was able to come back and make big plays after the mistakes. The thing I liked was when the game was on the line, his decision-making was very good.
Q: Does Taiwan seem a little like Preston Parker to you? Just a football player?
Fisher: He does. Very instinctive and tough. Has toughness like that, and he's instinctive. And the ability to catch, run, make you miss. Some of those things. And I think it's good having Preston as a role model for those guys in that avenue – how to be a complete tough guy, blocker, all those things. Yeah, I agree with you.
Q: You guys play next week on Thursday night, and some teams have hard times playing in those games because it's different from Saturday. How do you approach that?
Fisher: I think you've got to approach them and tell them and not make too big a deal out of it. Like if you say, "Don't turn it over, don't turn it over, don't turn it over, don't turn it over." Guess what happens? You turn it over. Give them the rules, play the game, they line up, it's a 100-yard field, the lights will be on, the TV will be on, it will be the same thing you played somewhere else. I know it's a great environment at N.C. State, I know they've got a great fan base, they're playing better. They were in a dogfight this week. Had a great game – their quarterback's back making plays. It's going to be one heck of a challenge going up there to play. But control what you can control. How I prepare, how I get my mindset to play, and how I play.
Q: Is that easier for you to say since coming from the SEC, you didn't have a lot of Thursday games?
Fisher: We had a few of them, early in our careers we did.
Q: But is the prep different compared to a Saturday?
Fisher: I think it is if you're coming off a short week. Now, going back, we had some Friday games too. We always had a Friday game against Arkansas every year. We always had a road game at Ole Miss, and it would always be a 9 o'clock game. We'd fly back and get home at 4 in the morning. Then have that day-after-Thanksgiving game every year. That was the week I hated the worst. I think it's very tough in a short week. ... But 10 days and 12 days, I think it's an easier thing to manage in my opinion.
Q: How are you guys doing physically?
Fisher: Seem to be pretty good.
Transcribed by Ira Schoffel, Derek Redd, and Chris Nee