TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—After all that talk about quarterback Christian Ponder, it turns out that a trio of tailbacks has been at the center of No. 16 Florida State's resurgence.
Juniors Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones and sophomore Chris Thompson have combined for 1,089 yards and a dozen touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards a carry. Each has broken off long runs. Thompson's 90-yard touchdown scamper at Miami last week was the fourth longest in school history. Thomas has a 70-yard run and Jones one for 57 yards and a touchdown.
Running behind a veteran offensive line, the tailbacks have taken the pressure off Ponder and helped give first-year coach Jimbo Fisher the highest scoring team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"I'm never surprised at anything that Florida State does," Boston College coach Frank Spaziani said Wednesday. "They've got a veteran quarterback who can get them in the right place. Their backs are just exceptional."
Fisher prefers having a stable of back over just one stud.
"It's better for your football team because if one of them gets nicked ... it doesn't drastically change what you have to do," he said. "We'll keep that three-back system going. Lasting throughout a whole season helps our football team."
Florida State ranks second in the ACC with 223.5 yards rushing per game. The Seminoles haven't averaged more than 200 yards a game on the ground in 15 years and haven't had a back reach the 1,000-yard mark since Warrick Dunn did in three straight years in the mid-1990's.
"In order for us to be successful this year, we were going to have to run the ball a lot better than we did last year," said the 5-foot-8 Thompson, the smallest and fastest of the trio. "And it was going to come from all of the running backs."
The next challenge for Fisher's tailbacks comes Saturday when Florida State (5-1, 3-0 ACC) hosts Boston College (2-3, 0-2) and its league-leading run defense.
The Eagle defense will have to contend with the ACC's most experience offensive line, anchored by senior guard Rodney Hudson, a three-time all conference pick and two-time winner of the league's annual award for the best blocker.
"I do believe in my offensive linemen," said Thompson. He added that he was surprised "that some of those holes opened up the way that they did" against Miami.
Thomas, a 190-pound junior from Jacksonville, is already moving up the career charts at Florida State despite being used on a part-time basis for most of his career. He said he doesn't mind sharing playing time.
"We just try to keep motivating each other week after week," said Thomas, who has responded to running backs coach Eddie Gran's admonishments to run tougher inside. "If you just run straight at them, you're most likely going to break an arm tackle or something. It's really true."
Thomas' 18 career touchdowns are ninth on Florida State's career charts and at his present rate he'll crack the school's top 10 in yardage as well by the season's end.
The biggest of the Seminoles' three tailbacks is the 211-pound Jones, a diabetic who returns Saturday for the Boston College game after missing two games because of an ankle sprain.
"For a couple of years he didn't do a great job being responsible and taking care of himself," Ponder said. "Now that's he's changed his mindset he's playing extremely well. I think he's probably the most talented back we have."
Considering that Jones most likely returns as the No. 3 man in the rotation, that's quite a statement.