TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Devonta Freeman is on the verge of rushing for 1,000 yards, a feat only five other Florida State players have accomplished since the football program began in 1947.
The second-ranked Seminoles have leaned on the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, but he’s benefited from the balance afforded by a run game featuring Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams.
Opponents can’t consistently drop eight defenders in coverage or risk being gashed on the ground by the national championship contenders.
Whether Winston will continue to lead the balanced attack is unclear.
Winston is one of the central figures in an ongoing sexual assault investigation. State Attorney Willie Meggs has said it is unlikely that a final decision will be made before Thanksgiving on whether to charge the 19-year-old quarterback.
But the case hasn’t affected the Seminoles’ performance on the field.
Florida State (11-0) is undefeated thanks in part to its depth in the backfield, and Freeman has established himself as the primary rusher.
The junior from Miami is 192 yards shy of 1,000 this season and his 131 carries are seven fewer than Wilder Jr. and Williams combined. Florida State has only had seven 1,000-yard rushing seasons in school history. Warrick Dunn was the last to reach the milestone in 1996, and he did it three times.
Freeman gets a chance Saturday against struggling Florida (4-7).
“If it happens it happens and if it don’t happen, it don’t happen, but I’d love to get it,” Freeman said. “If it don’t happen, I won’t be upset.”
Freeman reaching 1,000 yards certainly won’t be a concern for coach Jimbo Fisher. He’s consistently shrugged off the value of individual statistics and refused to chase those sort of accolades in 2013. Winston could have better numbers for his Heisman Trophy campaign, but he hasn’t taken a fourth-quarter snap in three games. Freeman has 131 rushes and only 21 combined in the last three games.
“If it’s in the context of us winning and being successful, I think it’s a great accomplishment,” Fisher said. “Still, 1,000 yards is 1,000 yards. That means a lot. That’s a plateau that’s been set in this sport.
“If he gets it, I’m happy for him. That means we were able to run the ball, which I’m all for.”
Freeman has proven just as effective running inside as outside. The Seminoles love to attack the edge with the toss play, but aren’t afraid to pound between the tackles. Freeman, at 5-foot-9 and 203 pounds, is smaller than Wilder Jr. and Williams, but isn’t designated as the outside runner. He’s difficult to locate in the hole behind 300-plus-pound linemen, and has the lower-body strength to break arm tackles or move a pile of tacklers.
“I think he’s a better inside runner maybe than he is an outside runner,” Fisher said. “Very low center of gravity, creates holes and can bounce off leverage and (is) very strong.
“Just because he’s short doesn’t mean he’s (little). He’s powerful.”
Freeman simply searches for open space.
“I’m starting to learn how to run outside,” he said. “I like to run inside because it’s more downhill between the tackles. I can make a cut real quick between the tackles.”
Freeman isn’t one to let something like size slow his success. He made it out of the violent Miami projects to star for a national championship contender and, barring unforeseen circumstances, has an NFL career waiting. That dream of playing professional football may have to wait until another is realized.
“I really want to graduate because nobody in my family graduated college,” he said. “That’s one of the main things that I’ve been telling everybody who asks me if I’m leaving, checking out early.”
Freeman spends some of his free time scouring the Internet for different motivational speeches. Before bed, he listens to one given by two-time Super Bowl-winning linebacker Ray Lewis to his alma mater at Miami.
“Just telling them how persistent he was,” Freeman recalled. “He was the first man on the field. He was the last man off the field. … He said he came in as a two-star (recruit).
“I feel his pain and I know what it took. I just want to do the same thing, just go out there and grind. Don’t stop. Just keep grinding.”