FSU running backs look to get defensive coordinators fired
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s a boastful statement. And they consider it a joke.
But at the same time, watching them run, Florida State running backs James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman may be creating more than just headaches for ACC defensive coordinators.
“We’re going to get a lot of defensive coaches fired this year, which means them not doing their job or them doing their job but we are breaking through their defensive scheme and making them look bad,” Wilder said. “That’s something we joke around with but at the same time use for motivation because it’s not a joke. That’s our mentality. That’s what we want to do.”
Said Freeman: “I just want us to be great and be able to run on whoever. I want defensive coordinators to know coming into the game that we are going to run – we ain’t going to get stopped.”
Their stand-up routines may not be ready for Comedy Central. But they will be hitting the big stage on Saturdays this fall with their own brand of physical comedy.
Freeman ran for 660 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, a 5-foot-9, 200-pound wrecking ball that averaged 5.9 yards per carry.
Wilder added 635 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s a far different running back, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound bruiser that welcomes contact and often needs multiple tacklers to bring him down.
When Chris Thompson suffered a season-ending knee injury last season in the first half at Miami, Freeman and Wilder immediately earned extra carries. They combined for 119 yards in the win over the Hurricanes, Freeman had 100-yard games against Duke and Maryland and Wilder had 69 yards and two touchdowns in the ACC championship game win over Georgia Tech.
EJ Manuel threw for 3,392 yards last season, but Florida State also ran for 2,882 yards. The Seminoles had a school-record 40 rushing touchdowns and averaged 5.6 yards per rush.
Those rushing numbers are often overlooked because Florida State coaches choose not to give most of the carries to one rusher, and in turn it doesn’t give a national name to a featured tailback. Instead the Seminoles opt to split carries — amazingly Freeman had 111 rushes and Wilder 110 last season — in an effort to keep them fresh late in games and healthy late in the season.
The interesting thing about Wilder and Freeman is that they see themselves as a dynamic duo. They are better because of each other. There is little to no selfishness.
“I think it’s easier with us because those guys that take those 35 carries when they get to the middle of the year, toward the end of the year, they’re banged and bruised up compared to the two running backs that get 12, 14 carries each,” Wilder said.
It’s hard to argue with the results. Florida State went 12-2 last season, won the Atlantic Coast Conference title and routed Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.
But doesn’t a runner want a 1,000-yard season?
“We’re both unselfish people,” Wilder said. “Every running back has a goal to get to 1,000 yards. That’s usually the goal. But we keep our team goals first and try to keep our rushing average up. If we do our job as a running back, the (NFL) scouts will see it.”
Florida State hasn’t had a 1,000-yard back since Warrick Dunn in 1996. Thompson had 687 rushing yards in 2012 before he was injured in the eighth game, and he could have reached the mark with five games left.
This season, Thompson is off to the NFL (a fifth-round pick of the Washington Redskins). Florida State has talented redshirt freshman Mario Pender and true freshman Ryan Green, both of whom have impressed coaches and players this August.
But as Thompson showed last year, even with the split carries, it’s possible to put up big rushing totals in the Florida State offense.
Dunn has watched Wilder and Freeman play the past few years and he admires their varied skillsets.
“Wilder is a big, big guy,” Dunn said. “Shows some flashes of big plays. He can break a lot of tackles. Freeman is trying to get to daylight but is a tough inside runner.”
It remains to be seen if either will reach 1,000 yards or come close. Wilder and Freeman, or as they have nicknamed themselves, “Wild and Free,” don’t have a preference as far as rushing totals. Just wins.
A 1,000-yard rushing season is a rarity in Tallahassee. Since 1955, just seven times has it happened – including three straight seasons (1994-96) by Dunn.
The former Tampa Bay Buc and Atlanta Falcon sees talent in both backs but it remains to be seen if Wilder or Freeman will get the carries to hit 1,000.
“Who knows who has the opportunity,” Dunn said. “I wish both of those guys luck.”
Wish the ACC defensive coordinators luck, too.
Contact Bob Ferrante at firstname.lastname@example.org
or on Twitter @bobferrante.