TALLAHASSEE — As Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher sees it, the issues that have slowed his team's return to national prominence have nothing to do with the players' dedication or desire.
Nor has it been simply an ill-timed mishandling of the football near the goal line or a mis-hit field goal — plays that punctuated last-minute losses to North Carolina State and North Carolina, respectively, the past two games and plays shown repeatedly on SportsCenter and rehashed angrily on message boards.
"It's focus," Fisher said. "You have to learn to focus and do things right all the time."
If a player does X-Y-Z on a given play the precise way he has been coached, then he will make the throw or the catch or the block or the tackle or, yes, the kick. The focus must be on steps needed to execute and not the possible implications.
"The athletes who are successful at a high level, that's how they think," Fisher said.
The Seminoles (6-3, 4-2), who play host to Clemson (5-4, 3-3) on Saturday night in a game they must win to have a shot at reaching the ACC title game and playing in a Bowl Championship Series game, have had lapses of concentration.
And not just in the final moments of games.
Consider: On the opening series of the second half Saturday against the Tar Heels, Fisher said a receiver broke off a route "that we ran four times in the first half and executed." That led to quarterback Christian Ponder getting sacked and, eventually, a punt.
"Why do kids do what they do sometimes?" Fisher said, adding there also have been dropped balls, penalties and gaffes on defense and special teams. "We have to learn to play 60 minutes. It's hard for any football team. But the guys who can do it are the guys who win, guys who have success consistently."
"Not doing things right kills us," said sophomore running back Lonnie Pryor, who had a pair of short touchdown runs against North Carolina but also was called for an illegal block that helped derail a third-quarter drive. "It's little, simple things, and it's something we've got to fix."
Sophomore cornerback Greg Reid, who had a couple of missed assignments Saturday, said he still has a bit of his old "high school mentality" that he is so much more skilled than his opponents that he can make every play.
But he has found himself out of position at times. And that has led to some big plays such as when North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates hit receiver Dwight Jones, who had run by Reid, for a 67-yard touchdown. Yates set a school record of 439 yards passing in the 37-35 win while Jones set a school record with 233 yards receiving.
"You want to be out there. You want to make that play; that special play. But at the same time, you have to do your job and do your assignment," redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. "It's something that's hard, but I think we can get there. We have the players to do it."
"It's just a matter of time before we get everything rolling and before we get everything down pat and start playing like we can play," Reid added.
That was the message Fisher delivered like a sermon to his team at 6:45 a.m. Monday. Although disappointed, he sees a group that has the work ethic and want-to, the togetherness (there hasn't been finger-pointing) and the willingness to learn or, more precisely, unlearn some old habits.
"Like I told them, 'If you make the two plays and you're 8-1, we're the same team as far as what issues we have,' " Fisher said. "Now we're happy and the world's happier and no one's asking all the questions.
"But in real life, for us to get the program where we want to get it to, we have to make some changes. … It's still the same issues and you have to get them fixed. We have to get better. You have to get the foundation of the organization in place to make sure that in the future we can do the things we want to do."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347. Follow his coverage at seminoles.tampabay.com.