TALLAHASSEE — Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews paused as he contemplated the question, the images of Clemson's do-it-all senior C.J. Spiller racing in his mind's eye.
What do you do when he gets the ball?
"You hold your breath," Andrews finally said.
That's if you're on the sideline or in the stands or lounging in front of the television. If you're on the field trying to stop him, you're more apt to be out of breath.
This season Spiller has seven plays of at least 60 yards, and six of those have gone for touchdowns.
He has hit 100 yards as a running back (112 against TCU, 106 against Wake Forest), a receiver (104 against Miami), a punt returner (119 against Boston College) and a kickoff returner (125 against Miami). He set a school record with 310 all-purpose yards against the Hurricanes.
"There's a lot of fast guys who play football, but C.J.'s explosive fast," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "And then he's dynamic in that he does it at running back, he does it in the return game, and he does it as a receiver. That makes him hard to contain for four quarters because you have to account for him in all three phases of the game."
That doesn't bode well for FSU's defense come Saturday when the Seminoles (4-4, 2-3) visit Clemson (5-3, 3-2) in an ACC Atlantic Division game. It has allowed big plays with alarming regularity and is 109th in total defense in Division I-A.
"I don't know if we've faced many people who can do as many things to hurt you as (Spiller) can," Andrews said. "You think they've got three or four (No.) 28s out there playing."
And don't think he hasn't been contemplating another question as he watched film this week: What might have been if Spiller, a star at Lake Butler's Union County High, had signed with the Seminoles in 2006?
FSU coach Bobby Bowden and his staff thought Spiller would be a Seminole. Florida, however, believed it had won an intense recruiting battle for Spiller. Instead, as Bowden joked of his son Tommy, "that crook up there at Clemson" lured him away.
"It was close," Spiller said. "Florida State was my first football scholarship offer. Growing up and watching those guys, they were really my childhood team, so that meant so much to me. They were probably harder to turn away than Florida.''
It's a decision he doesn't regret. And it's a decision that helped prepare him for a tough one he faced after last season: Stay at Clemson, or enter the NFL draft a year early?
"It's been the best decision I've made so far in my life," he said of staying, citing the fun he's had with his teammates and nearing his goal of graduating (which he's set to do in December).
"There seemed to be a lot of pressure for him to go, and I figured he probably would," Swinney said. "But then again, I'm not surprised, because C.J., if you know him, he's an against-the-grain kind of guy. He really beats to his own drum. He's not afraid to make tough decisions. He's his own man.
"And I think he really wanted to be the guy. I think he wanted to show a lot of people he could be an every-down player. He'd split time with James Davis for three years, and I think he wanted to show people, 'Hey, you know what? I can do it.' "
Well, he's done that.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Spiller has used his track-star speed (he's a three-time track All-American, with best times of 6.58 seconds in the 60-meter dash, 10.22 in the 100 and 20.91 in the 200) to stamp himself as one of the ACC's best players and solidify his NFL credentials. (He's No. 12 on Mel Kiper Jr.'s draft board.)
He has done that despite defenses zeroing in on him.
"That comes with the territory,'' Spiller said. "I knew that coming back that there was a good chance teams were going to really target in on me. But that's nothing but fun. That only makes me raise my game to a whole other level.''
He has put himself in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy.
"I'm not going into this game thinking, 'If I have a good game, my Heisman (chances) will go up,' " he said. "That's not on my mind at all. My main thing is trying to come out with a win and getting closer to landing in Tampa for the ACC Championship Game."
And there's no question that for him, the Tigers and especially their fans, getting to the title game for the first time and perhaps winning the league crown for the first time since 1991 would be, well, breathtaking.
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.