I don't even need to see the film to be able to write this reaction confidently. Just looking at the box score of the game should give you some indication of how the game went for the defense. The D allowed just under 200 total offensive yards, barely cracked the double digit point mark for points, 3.3 yards per pass attempt, 2.2 yards per rush attempt and a horrid third down ratio of 4/15. The defense did other great things, such as getting in passing lanes and deflecting balls (one deflection of which led to an interception), sacking the opposing quarterback on an astonishing 8 occasions!! and holding the BYU team to 2.7 yards per play on average. The defense did so many thing right in fact, that it is hard to find criticism and almost makes writing a review pointless - but I'm going to do it anyways.
Bend but don't break. That is exactly how I would describe what this defense must have been striving for in this game, because that is EXACTLY what they did - and that should excite you because that is the point of Stoops scheme (and most zone schemes in general), ESPECIALLY so early in the process of learning the zone. Competency before proficiency is being thrown around here like beads at Mardi Gras and that finally happened. There were very few blown tackles, there were few alignment errors, there were few (if any) blown coverages, there were NO balls allowed deep, there were no guys running free after a catch and no runners got very far after getting through the first level. If you want me to find something negative to say to keep us humbled, I guess there was one minor critique I have. The sack stat is a beauty, yet there were still stretches of the game where the pressure was noticeably non-existent and it showed in BYU's ability to move the ball in their few sustained drives. I'm not expecting sacks or hurries on EVERY play, but at least a good push once every 4 dropbacks hopefully. On their touchdown drive, the pressure wasn't there and they marched right down the field (although starting at the 40 due to a bad kickoff and another stupid penalty didn't help). But the sacks came at good times, so I won't fault the D too much there. Overall, guys caught the ball and got tackled, the defense forced the BYU offense into a lot of precarious situations including many second and longs and low-percentage long third downs. In total, BYU punted six times, so the defense made stops and didn't allow scores. The D also forced the Cougars into two turnover-on downs, holding them to 1/3 on fourth down conversions. The coverage and rush units all did their jobs. I'll now get to the individual units:
Inside D-lineman: Played great, simply put. Dawkins and McCloud combined for 3 tackles for loss (for 21 yards) and 2 sacks, while those two combined with McDaniel for 6 tackles (all solo), (and throw in a hurry for McCloud). This unit got good penetration towards the quarterback and I saw a lot more stunts and twists than in previous weeks (probably due to the fact that BYU's splits make it hard to get pressure. This is a smart coaching staff, seriously do not doubt them or undermine their intelligence. If you think you know something, odds are they knew it 3 weeks ago. If you see something that needs to be corrected, odds are they knew it and worked on it (doesn't always show up right away because they aren't physically moving the players, it's a give/take thing with coaching and actually doing. These guys performed well, and they did a good job of stuffing the middle on a lot of runs. One thing that I did see was some runs that got past this unit untouched (even though they didn't get very far after that). It seemed like an all-or-nothing kind of thing, with this line beating BYU's run blocking more often than not, but getting blocked well by the Cougar lineman at times. You're not going to stuff every run though, right? It is easy to point out that BYU averaged 2.2 yards per rush, but that includes 52 yards worth of sacks. If you take that number out, BYU backs combined for 129 yards on 26 carries for about 5 yards per rush - a little different of a figure. Competency was achieved by this unit, and they did so against an offensive line that pass protects well, yet their quarterback(s) were running for his(their) life(s), with Heaps (most of the snaps) going just 15/31. Haggins had his guys ready, now lets see how they do in the ACC slate.
Defensive ends: Wow. I mean wow. Before the year, I remember reading from certain individuals that we should just recruit guys and promise them immediate starting positions on both sides of the line. Those who believed so and who for some reason still do should really reconsider that notion until these guys have some times to learn the system and showcase their talents. Consider this: FSU defensive ends combined for the following statistics in this game - 11 total tackles, 5 sacks (for 33 comb. yards), 5 TFL, FOUR forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery for White. That alone should tell you what this unit accomplished. Like I said, at times, the BYU lineman stalemated the ends for extended periods of times, so this unit bended, but they responded and did NOT break when they needed to. The sacks were well timed sacks, these guys were twisting and stunting a lot more than I saw in the Oklahoma game, and even when they weren't bringing BYU QB's to the ground, they were right there making a push to the QB and forcing the play perhaps before it was optimal. They not only got good pressure, but they hit the quarterback forcing fumbles. The unit also held up against the run well, as I did not see many successful outside runs for BYU. If this performance continues, you can really start to get your hopes up, because of the players recording sacks, two are freshman (Werner and Hicks) and one is a sophomore (Jenkins). Jenkins had a monster day, recording two sacks, 4 tackles (3 solo) and a forced fumble. Werner is becoming a sensation as he seemed to generate a strong push toward the quarterback every time he got into the game. Hicks also got great pressure towards the quarterback and this performance, along with the performance of the interior lineman, allowed the secondary to have an easy day and made them look good. Credit the line, because I have no complaints about this unit at all in this game.
Linebackers: This group, on paper had a decent day, accumulating 16 tackles and one tackle for loss. I didn't see anything great with the linebackers, rather I just saw competency (a theme here). Bradham registered 6 tackles (4 solo) and his performance this year gives me a glimmer of hope that he might return next year (since he hasn't blown the lid off this year). Kendall Smith registered 7 tackles (5 solo), Mister Alexander registered 2 tackles and the lone TFL for this unit and Telvin Smith continued to make his way onto the field and made a tackle. Like I said, the LB's didn't record a sack and the lone TFL went for a loss of 1, there were no PBU's and no INT's, but then again, they played their zones well, BYU did not break much from the passes over the middle and in all honesty didn't challenge the FSU backers very much. Like I said earlier, the DT's did allow a few runs to get through the first level, but they didn't make it much further, as this unit did a good job cleaning up and hitting gaps/plugging holes, as BYU's longest run went for 21 yards. It would be nice to see this unit make some more plays (especially with someone like Bradham in there), maybe tip some passes or get some better pressure on zone blitzes, but you can't complain when they are keeping everything in front of them.
Cornerbacks: Not taking anything away from what these guys achieved, but when you lineman record 8 sacks and a QB hurry, it makes your job a LOT easier. All of the football savvy readers here know that a good defense starts up front and no matter HOW good your secondary is, if a quarterback has enough time to throw, he will find open receivers. Fortunately, these guys did not have to cover forever and it showed. I would like to start by giving Greg Reid credit. He got called out by
a lot everyone on his defense (I heard a lot of "he should be relegated to nickel corner") and flat out responded. Reid finished second on the team in tackles with 6 (although after finishing 1st last week, this stat doesn't say much), but did not miss a tackle to my recollection. He wrapped up really well and simply shut guys down and if I remember correctly, in the first quarter, BYU ran a bunch right screen and I believe it was Reid to read it correctly and spear the guy (maybe it was Rhodes and if so, credit to him). But regardless, Reid recorded a mindblowing THREE pass breakups. That is as many PBU's as the rest of the team combined. Credit Reid for working hard in practice and bringing it to the field. Xavier Rhodes had a monster game, recording an interception on a tipped ball and recorded a pass breakup in addition to a sack and two solo tackles. This zone scheme is starting to do what it should, which is giving secondary players opportunities to make plays on the ball and not allowing anything to beat you deep - BYU's longest pass went for 16 yards. Joyner played a ball in the endzone really well, recording a pass breakup. In an interesting note, Joyner received a persona foul penalty, creating a tumultuous streak of 3 straight games with such a penalty to start his career, but he plays hard and he hits harder, so as much as you want to discredit, I can't blame him for his fire. BYU receivers (not running backs) combined for a measly 69 yards on 11 catches (6.27 YPC) and overall achieved 115 yards on 16 catches (7.2 YPC). Mike Harris looked good out there in coverage and recorded two tackles and I'm hoping to see more of him this year (I hope he is alright because I feel so bad for the young man). It's hard to say anything bad about this unit either - a good trend in this game. Here's a good formula to remember: Good line pressure + Good coverage = Success.
Safeties: I didn't see anything special out of this group, but I believe the team receives an IMMEDIATE lift by Moody starting. Moody is clearly the superior safety to Jenije and his presence on the field I'm sure is felt. Moody and Parks combined for 8 tackles (4 a piece) and Harley threw in another solo tackle. Again, this unit kept everything in front of them as the longest pass of the game went for 16 and the longest run went for 21. The safeties did well in deep zone coverage and again were not under very much pressure as Heaps and Nelson had little time to let things develop downfield. Moody stepped up into the box often and obviously provides a much more able body in run support than any other safety option on roster. These guys did their job... and I hate to be cliche here but competency was again achieved.
If you got anything out of reading this, I'm sure it was that our units were competent. That is exactly what I'm sure the coaching staff was going for after the debacle in Norman and they did a damn good job having these guys ready. They did not line up wrong on any single play (although perhaps a product of not being a no-huddle, but regardless), did not blow any coverage and achieved good coverage and pressure. Perhaps most importantly, these guys tackled well, and I'm sure that was stressed in practice after Oklahoma, and it showed on the field. Credit the players for working hard and responding like this, because they could easily have gotten down on themselves, but instead they worked hard, listened to their coaching and executed. Things may not go this well every week, but as players work, learn and adapt more in the system, process will turn into results. In this game, the process yielded results, but it is still in its' premature stages, so don't go and grow a big head. Our guys were clearly just more talented than BYU's, so when we play teams like Miami, Florida, Clemson, etc. with comparable talent, it will be a better gauge of where our guys are at. The good news is that all of those games are later in the season, so our guys will have had more time in the system. Regardless, this game was a big statement, so don't expect dominance like this week in and out on a weekly basis just yet - but hopefully what you CAN expect is that guys will continue to tackle and line up right and the scheme will give guys opportunities to flourish.
I'll leave you with this little tidbit: The last time Florida State help an FBS opponent to this few points was a 37-3 victory against Maryland (AWAY) in November of 2008. The last two times before that were vs. Duke in 2007 (25-6) and 16-6 at Colorado also in 2007. The point is, Florida State defenses haven't done this against good teams often, and this one was certainly a great defensive stand against a good team. Hope you enjoyed!