Florida State's defense finally seems to be rounding into form. Over the past month -- through their last three games -- the Seminoles' first team defense has been stifling.
They shut out then-no. 25 Maryland, held then-no.3 Clemson to just a touchdown and shut out NC State in the first half. While FSU's defense has given up a total of 31 points in the month of October -- 24 of them came after they had pulled their starters.
So in effect, through three games in October -- two against ranked opponents -- FSU's first team defense has given up just seven points.
That can largely be attributed to two things. First of all, this defense is much better suited to defend against a spread offense -- as they've seen their past few games -- than a traditional one.
Breaking that down more, facing the spread gives FSU a definitive advantage by virtue of the speed they possess in the back-end of their defense and their ability to create pressure up front.
“Thanks to Timmy [Jernigan] and all those guys down there, they’re able to just really create pressure and really get those quarterbacks flustered and when they do that, our linebackers are able to roam and we’re able to just cover all day so that right there just speaks for itself," said safety Terrence Brooks. "I love it, it’s really working together, we’re all playing for each other and it’s going good.”
Florida State's defensive front has been good enough lately to get pressure without FSU having to blitz. Without the offense having extra blockers, the Seminoles' line has been able to win most of their matchups. That frees up guys like Brooks and Lamarcus Joyner to go out and make plays, specifically force turnovers. At this point in the season (just half-way through) Florida State is already one interception short of their total from all of last season.
"You create a lot more opportunities for yourself and it definitely is crazy -- our coach actually said that today -- that we don’t even have to send a rush because those three guys are down there just creating havoc on the quarterback," said Brooks. "I feel like that’s just everybody doing their job and doing a little bit more with effort. and I mean it’s a matter of want-to with those guys, we go out there and play for each other and that’s what’s getting us by to tell the truth."
In addition to being better-suited to defend the spread, the Seminoles are also benefiting from their level of acclimation to Pruitt's new system. This is a complex defense, much more so than the one these same players ran under Stoops. That's not a knock on Stoops' scheme either, it's just worth noting that Pruitt's scheme is calculus to Stoops' algebra.
“Instead of just having one defense like we did last year, we have a multiple defense so a lot of different guys can have different opportunities," said LB/DE Christian Jones.
Now that FSU's defense has really started to pick the concepts up, it's opened the door for them to disguise more and become more exotic in the looks they show opposing offenses.
“We have a lot of different stuff," said Jones. "When the offense checks and we give a call we usually have another check in there so that when we see them change, we change right into another defense and we usually stuff them then.
"And I feel like we can disguise more [now] -- Jalen [Ramsey], he’s played corner too and he’s our safety -- he knows what the corners are doing and he knows what he’s doing so they complement each other. He can disguise more and he knows the corner has a third or something so he can disguise it and come up and they can just switch off. He understands that and we’ve been doing a good job of that so far."
Added Brooks: "He’s really learned the defense, he’s applied himself very well to it. He’s just been playing with a lot of confidence, that’s what I like about him, he’s still being aggressive. I make sure he knows his calls, knows where to line up and now what we do -- now that he knows the plays and what to do -- we try to disguise a lot more and just have some personality about the defense."
Ramsey is not the only player that's true for. As everyone has gotten more comfortable and confident in the Seminoles' new defensive scheme the entire unit has gained more flexibility -- become more versatile.
“We’re having a little bit more personality, you know coach Pruitt loves personality, he doesn’t want you out there looking like a stiff guy," said safety Lamarcus Joyner. "If you’re outside leverage, just flirting with coverage and everything, it’s been pretty fun.”
For a bit of different perspective I also asked Florida State Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Jones Sr. (Christian's father) about the progress this defense was making last week. He has had a unique perspective -- both from talking to his son and from his experience playing and coaching college football -- and offered this assessment:
"What we’re seeing now is just a glimmer of what we’re going to see as far as the greatness in that system," said Jones Sr. "There is a learning curve and I’ve seen Christian -- and I’ve seen some of the other guys -- struggle early on to pick it up. But they’re good enough athletes to make some mistakes and still come off pretty good.
FSU currently ranks 4th overall in scoring defense, 8th in total defense and have the top-ranked passing defense in the entire country.
"But as time goes on I saw -- starting with the Maryland game -- a big turnaround there. And I saw glimmer of greatness in the Clemson game. But still, they’re under construction -- put it like that -- that defense is still under construction.
“[They're] always trying to adjust and match what the [opposing] offense does and that’s the beauty of the Pruitt system, they match up defensive personnel with offensive personnel so as we evolve and move forward from this point on I think they’re going to get better and you’re going to see more guys make bigger plays and greater plays. That’s going to translate on into overall team success."
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