RALEIGH — Bobby Bowden is trying to stay positive after Florida State's first 0-3 start in the ACC.
Coming off a third consecutive loss, to Georgia Tech on Oct. 10, the 79-year-old Seminoles coach used a bye week to refocus his team for tonight's national showcase against North Carolina (8 p.m., ESPN).
But even Bowden couldn't put a positive spin on his team's defensive problems. In five games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, the Seminoles have given up 30 plays of 20 yards or more. Seven of those have gone for 50 yards or more.
Twelve nights ago, FSU scored 44 points against Georgia Tech but still lost because the Jackets ripped off plays of 73, 69 and 60 yards.
"Don't remind me," said Bowden, FSU's coach since 1976. "We've had more big plays this year than I can ever remember."
Although tonight's game matches the ACC's best offense (FSU) against the ACC's best defense (UNC), it's more likely that the flip side for each team will determine which team gets its first ACC win.
The Tar Heels (4-2, 0-2 ACC) rank last in the ACC in total offense (282.2 yards per game) and scoring offense (22.5 points per game). The Seminoles (2-4, 0-3) rank last in the ACC in total defense (426.7 ypg) and 11th in scoring defense (28.2 ppg).
FSU's defense, long its strong suit in 12 ACC titles and two national titles, has given up 10 touchdowns of 20 or more yards, seven of those touchdowns have been through the air.
"We've had some touchdowns this year where you would think it was a holiday, [the receiver] was so open," Bowden joked Wednesday.
Bowden said he knew the secondary would be a soft spot with three new starters and a combination of 12 freshmen being used in pass coverage. Making matters more difficult, senior corner Patrick Robinson (ankle) is listed as questionable for tonight's game, and linebacker Dekoda Watson (groin) is unlikely to play, Bowden said.
"[Freshmen] are a liability for mistakes," Bowden said. "The only way we're going to get better is if those guys know exactly what they're doing and do it."
UNC's offense has had its own problems generating big plays. In four games against FBS opponents, the Heels have only 10 plays of 20 yards or more, and none from the running game. Receiver Jheranie Boyd has the longest run (18 yards) against a major Division I program this season.
Tar Heels coach Butch Davis said just because FSU has given up big plays in the past, doesn't mean the Seminoles will continue to do so.
"As the season goes along, you would suspect that they're going to coach kids through some of those issues," Davis said. "They've got evidence on film of how good they can play."
The big question tonight is how good can each team's "bad" side be.
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