Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot less pissing and moaning from jaded Penn State fans about the quality of our post-season matchup. Nittany Lions fans are apparently getting the message that the Florida State Seminoles, despite their four losses, are dangerous Orange Bowl* opponents. Not only do they have nothing to lose and a lot to prove but also they have a broad array of talent that can win big football games. In this article I’ll focus mainly on their linebackers.
This Turkey does not want to sit here preaching gloom and doom for the Lions. The Old Birdbrain just wants to issue a reality check. The guys must show up and play hard to win this game.
Already, there have been two very significant upsets in this nascent bowl season. On Wednesday, unranked Nebraska upended #20 Michigan in the Alamo Bowl 32–28, and last night, #5 Oregon fell to unranked Oklahoma in the Holiday Bowl 17–14. With respect to the latter game the 10–1 Ducks had been grousing about being snubbed by the BCS in spite of their #5 BCS ranking. They felt that they deserved better opposition than a four-loss Oklahoma team.
The parallels between that Holiday Bowl upset and Penn State’s Orange Bowl situation are glaringly obvious. Quoth Oklahoma Sooners coach Bob Stoops in an interview during the days leading up to the Holiday Bowl:
“Playing a team that’s 10–1 gets your attention big-time,” he said. “Our players recognize it as a major challenge. It does excite them. You can tell just in looking at their faces and the way they practice. They understand it’s a big challenge.”
No doubt, our worthy opponents are feeling the same way. They understand that it’s a big challenge and they’re playing a 10–1 team. They’re disappointed in their season and they want to redeem themselves by beating #3 and taking home the Orange Bowl trophy.
JoePa was his usual cautious self at Thursday’s press conference:
“…Iâ€™m concerned and I think they are a heck of a football team. Itâ€™s hard to believe theyâ€™ve lost some games, but you have to remember how young they are. A lot of the guys that made mistakes early, didnâ€™t make those mistakes against Virginia Tech. If they donâ€™t make them against us, itâ€™s going to be a long, long night.”
One guy who made a mistake early—early in the wee hours, that is—was Florida State Senior linebacker A.J. Nicholson, who was accused of sexual assault by a 19 year-old woman in Hollywood, Florida. Nicholson was suspended for this upcoming bowl game and was sent home to Winston-Salem, North Carolina for a violation of a team rule, according to Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden. At Thursday’s press conference, Bowden was asked about the impact of losing this large quantum of senior “leadership” [the quotes are mine –TNT] for a big game.
“Well, you learn lessons from other people’s mistakes,” said Bowden. “That’s the biggest thing. You learn from other people’s mistakes. Somebody’s got to step up.”
Uh huh, Bobby. Bowden is the Chairman and CEO of Florida State Seminole Football, Inc. After a few remarks at the press conference and after pretty much stonewalling the Nicholson questions, he turned the podium over to his underling, Executive Head Coach and Vice President of Football Operations, Kevin Steele. (All right, all right so I’m inflating titles and injecting a humorous corporate metaphor, but Steele’s title really is Executive Head Coach!) He was asked about how the Seminoles would compensate for Nicholson’s absence.
“We move guys around and interchange, kind of cross-train guys. Of course, Geno Hayes, the freshman, can play there very easily and Buster Davis has played there and Ernie’s (Sims) played there. In fact, they played a whole year there when they were younger so they’ve rep’d them there all the time. Buster had reps this week so we are going to be okay there.”
Nicholson’s younger brother Derek, a freshman linebacker, is also available, assuming that he can keep his spear sheathed. He had playing time in all 12 of the Seminoles’ regular season games and wound up with 20 tackles.
Although the elder Nicholson’s leadership qualities are debatable, the Seminoles are losing their fiercest defensive warrior. Nicholson wound up the season with 100 tackles, including 10 for loss, 1 sack, 12 hurries, and 2 interceptions. The aptly named Buster was second with 81 tackles. Even without heap big Chief Nicholson, the Seminoles’ linebacking corps is a lot for the mighty Nittany Lion offense to worry about. These guys are all athletic and quick. Some pundits have opined that FSU has the best all-around linebackers in Division I-A. Before it was known that Nicholson wouldn’t play, Paterno commented about the FSU linebackers.
“…they have a lot of kids in there that donâ€™t get a lot of ink. Number 7 [Buster Davis] is one heck of a football player, as is Number 34 [Ernie Sims] and Number 54 [A.J. Nicholson]. I just think they have great overall speed.”
Well, Nicholson is now getting a lot of ink—not the good kind. Nevertheless, this Turkey is also worried about the remaining ‘backers, as well a pair of senior defensive linemen, all-ACC defensive end Kamerion Wimbley and nose guard Brodrick Bunkley. Michael Robinson will face an excellent pass rush as well as a quick reacting rushing defense. In spite of their #22 ranking and their four losses, the Seminoles’ defense is ranked 15th in Division I-A.
Back to the main point of this rant, don’t underestimate this opponent. Even without their star linebacker, they’re going to be a handful. We’ll need some excellent offensive line play as well as some punishing running by Tony Hunt to keep this defensive front honest.
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A Little Comic Relief from the Paterno Press Conference
JoePa was asked why he was so upset with Seminole mascot Chief Osceola and his horse coming out on the field in the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl in the most recent meeting between Penn State and Florida State football teams.
“Ohâ€¦that darn horse,” replied Paterno. “Is he going to be on the field? I ought to make Bobby ride him. Well, when I first started to coach we played Army, and Army used to have a mule and that thing would go up and down the sideline. You know, they are not housetrained and neither are horses. And I stepped in something that the mule dropped. Well, I told the president, ‘we’re not going to let that mule on the field anymore.'”
*sometimes referred to as the FedEx Orange Bowl, but not here, unless FedEx would like to make a donation to the Home for Aging Turkeys (are you listening, Janet?)