October 26, 2013

FSU defense continues dominant run

Four weeks ago, Florida State's defense was suspect. The Seminoles had struggled with slow starts, struggled to stop the run and were fresh off giving up 34 points to Boston College.

In the month since, Florida State's defense has morphed into the aggressive, turnover-producing, suffocating defense it was billed as heading into the season.

In its past three games, Florida State has held opponents to 177.3 yards passing per game with four interceptions and six fumbles forced. The Seminoles are giving up just 10.3 points per game in that stretch.
"I think they're playing outstanding," head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They're really grasping things, doing a great job keeping leverage. I think we've got guys in the right spots now and really seeing them grow and emerge."

Saturday's game against N.C. State was the most dominant example of what the FSU defense has become. The starters only played in the first half, but in those two quarters FSU completely suffocated N.C. State's spread offense.

The Wolfpack was able to score 17 points and pile up rushing yards in the second half, but in the first half when the game was getting out of hand, NCSU's offense was left flailing. NCSU put up just 85 yards of offense in the first half and crossed midfield once in the opening two quarters.

That's a common theme in this run of ACC opponents. All three - Maryland, Clemson and NC State - run versions of the spread offense. And all three have been stymied by Florida State.

"Our defense matches up with the spread pretty well," linebacker Terrance Smith said. "We have good speed all across the board, our DBs can go out and cover anybody, and our linebackers and D-line we handle the run pretty well so I feel like our defense is kind of made for the spread."

The Wolfpack even tried to throw a monkey wrench in FSU's scouting report by bringing back starting QB Brandon Mitchell for Saturday's game after Mitchell missed the past six weeks with injury. Mitchell finished with just 128 yards passing and two picks on 33 attempts, and didn't complete a pass longer than 14 yards.

"A guy come in injured throughout the season and pretty much he choose the wrong defense to start against," defensive back Lamarcus Joyner said. "My hat's off to that guy, he came out and competed and played the whole game."

The turnaround stems from that Boston College game, players said. After watching the Eagles run the ball down Florida State's throat, FSU had to regroup and become more physical within the new system.

"We had a whole different mindset after that Boston College game," Smith said. "We kind of took that as a little bit of disrespect that they tried to out-physical us. So we just changed that up and tried to stop the run game and make people one-dimensional."

Smith added that the adjustment wasn't physical as much as it was mental as FSU defenders continue to feel more comfortable with new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's system.

"It was different at first," defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "But we bought in to what he was saying. … I felt like we did a great job of adjusting and adapting to his style of coaching. I felt like it was a real good move for us. Coach Pruitt has done a great job of making us believe in what he is saying and getting everybody ready to play."

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