Tallahassee, FL - Florida State’s pass rush and improved coverage in the secondary have been instrumental to the tremendous defensive strides the Seminoles have made in 2010.
One season removed from finishing at or near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference in virtually every statistical category, the 16th-ranked Seminoles boast the league’s top-rated scoring defense and No. 2 total defense.
That should only serve to heighten next Thursday’s Atlantic Division showdown with NC State at Carter-Finley Stadium. The Wolfpack, led by quarterback Russell Wilson and a veteran receiving corps, lead the ACC in scoring offense and total offense.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher’s squad wrapped up its third consecutive day of practice Thursday in preparation for the highly-anticipated match-up in one week. The Seminoles have enjoyed three solid days of early work in preparation for the Wolfpack, but will take a day off Friday, before they begin refining their plan for Wilson & Co. on the practice field Saturday.
Wilson, the ACC’s top-rated passer, has the tools to test an FSU defense which is allowing only 16.1 points and 308.1 yards per game.
“He’s got a lot of physical ability and he plays with a lot of poise,” Fisher said of Wilson. “He’s as good as anybody we’ve faced. … He’s a heck of a player; he’s dynamic. He’ll put a load on his back. Last year he and Christian [Ponder] had a heckuva shootout here, 45-42., with both of them going up and down the field.”
Wilson won the statistical battle in that game with five touchdown passes and 349 yards through the air, connecting three times with wideout Jarvis Williams for touchdowns and one each to Owen Spencer and tight end George Bryan. That receiving trio returns for the ‘Pack, having already amassed 81 receptions for nearly 1,110 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Yet instead of facing a porous unit, they will have to contend with a defensive group which has allowed only seven touchdown passes. FSU’s efficiency against the pass has been aided by a pass rush that leads the nation in sacks (30) and a secondary that has already broken up 34 passes and intercepted six others. Both the sack and pass break-up totals by the ‘Noles have exceeded the season total from a year ago.
“Our rush has a lot to do with that ball having to come out quick,” Fisher said. “There’s two things that are going on. When you rush the passer it helps the secondary, because they know the ball has got to come out in a certain amount of time Two is, when you cover well, which we’ve done ... a lot of our sacks have came because we’ve covered guys on the back end and made them hold the ball at times. They’re feeding off each other and doing a very good job of that.”
Sophomore defensive end Brandon Jenkins leads the rush unit with seven sacks, but is just one of 13 Seminoles who have found a way to get the opposing quarterback on the ground this season. Of course, getting the big-armed, but elusive, Russell on the ground is no easy feat.
“Mobile quarterbacks are the most dangerous,” said Jenkins. “He [Wilson] can run the football and throw the football. It will be important to stay in our rushing lanes.
“It’s like playing a Michael Vick, basically. He’s very dangerous. That’s why we have to focus on the basic stuff: the technique, wrapping up, the rushing lanes. … The biggest thing is keeping him in the pocket.”
The Seminoles have spent the past three days working on those fundamentals in preparation for a showdown which could well decide the Atlantic Division representative in the ACC Championship game.
Confidence is certainly on the Seminoles’ side, especially in the secondary, which recorded 10 pass break-ups in Saturday’s 24-19 victory over Boston College. Junior safety Terrance Parks sees the secondary segment improving each week.
“From week to week, things are slowing down, and with this defense it allows us to use our eyes,” said Parks, who had a career-high three break-ups against the Eagles. “With that, everything is becoming more clear. We recognize certain routes, we recognize certain route combinations within the defense and we’re able to get our hands on the ball. …
“When something goes good for you, your confidence shoots up. … Our confidence for our whole team has come up, but at the same time we know we have another game to play and we have to continue to work hard.”
That process will continue Saturday, when the Seminoles reconvene on the practice field.