FSU taking USM, Independence Bowl seriously

FSU taking USM, Independence Bowl seriously

SHREVEPORT, LA. (WDAM) - Just in case anybody was wondering if Florida State University would show up at the 42st annual Independence Bowl disinterested and complacent, FSU running back Jacques Patrick did his best to set the record straight Tuesday.

"Most people think we're going to (lie) down because it's the Independence Bowl and it's not the way it is," Patrick said. "This bowl game right here is to show our determination. The circumstances we had this year, and everything that we've overcome, it's made us a better team. We're going to go out there and, hopefully, get that victory."

The Seminoles (6-6) will meet the Golden Eagles (8-4) at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at Independence Stadium.

FSU's 2017 football season did not come close to meeting the expectations set by and for the Seminoles.

The nation's third-ranked Football Bowl Subdivision coming into its August opener with top-seeded Alabama, FSU lost sophomore starting quarterback Deondre Francois to a season-ending leg injury in the fourth quarter of a 24-7 loss to the Crimson Tide.

Inclement weather postponed FSU's next two games, disrupting the schedule. When the Seminoles finally got back on the field, they proceeded to fall out of the national rankings on their way to losing five of their first seven games, including a stunning 35-3 loss at Boston College University on Oct. 27.

FSU rallied to win four of its last five games, but the day before a rescheduled, regular-season finale on Dec. 2 with the University of Louisiana-Monroe, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher left to take over at Texas A&M University.

Long-time assistant coach Odell Haggins was named interim head coach, and the Seminoles rolled past UL-Monroe 42-10, closing the season with three consecutive victories to qualify for its 36th consecutive bowl game, the longest current streak by an FBS program.

The following week, FSU announced the hiring of Oregon University's Willie Taggart as its new head coach, though Haggins would remain at the helm during bowl preparations and would lead the team during the game.

Haggins, a standout defensive lineman who was on four FSU teams that played against USM from 1986-89, was emphatically uninterested in talking about the past.

"As I've said before, everybody tries to talk about me, but this is about the players," Haggins said Tuesday morning. "It's not about Odell Haggins. It's about the team and Florida State University. That's my concern —make sure our players have a good time, practice well and go out and perform well in the game. That's what it's about."

USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro, who spent five seasons in Tallahassee, Fla., over two stints as a graduate coach and then quality control coach with the Seminoles, said any thought that Wednesday's game might not have the Seminoles full attention was bunk.

"By any stretch of the imagination they are not overlooking us," Pecoraro said. "They're going for a win for sure."

A victory Wednesday would extend FSU consecutive streak of winning seasons to 41.

Haggins said streaks and records were not being used as motivation.

"You just said something about winning streaks, and I haven't even thought about it," Haggins said. "My main concern has been about these guys right here, the whole team."

USM senior receiver Isaiah Jones played in Tallahassee, Fla., during the Seminoles' 2013 national championship season before leaving following FSU's 2014 spring practice.

Jones said he had talked with some of his former teammates before the matchup was announced, but since then has not had any conversations with them.

"You know how it gets talking with old teammates," Jones said. "You might say something. They might say something. No advantages.

"I pretty sure they weren't hoping to play us, but we were hoping to play them. I feel like we really deserve it. We might have lost a couple of conference games, but I really feel like we have the talent to play against anybody."

FSU sophomore defensive end Brian Burns said the Seminoles were determined to continue their late-season surge.

"A win is a win," Burns said. "Basically, going through this season, it's shown our character and determination, to finish the season strong. We've had a of problems and injuries that we've had to deal with, but winning those last three games and becoming bowl eligible, and now that we are here, we are to win.

"We've got to dig down deep and get that win."