This isn't the first time I've addressed the Florida State defense and Jeremy Pruitt this season.
Whether it was during the preseason, the mid-way point or here today, I've believed one thing: this is one hell of a coach, and this is one hell of a scheme. Both are now evident.
First year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt made his way to Tallahassee during the off-season via Tuscaloosa, and the Florida State family couldn't be happier. Pruitt brought a mentality and a scheme eerily similar to what has driven the University of Alabama to such high regards, and he now finds himself as a finalist for the Broyles Award, honoring the nation's top assistant coach. And he's also a finalist for Football Scoop's Defensive Coordinator of the Year.
Before the season began, I had a couple, straight forward expectations for this defense and expressed those in our preseason staff predictions.
1.) Finish as a top 3 defense.
2.) Score more frequently in 2013.
Safe to say that both of those have come true, and yet, have even somehow surpassed those expectations.
The Florida State defense wrapped up the 2013 regular season as the nation's top defense. It now has a school-record eight defensive touchdowns, topping the previous record of seven held in 1988. And seven different Florida State defenders have seen the end zone, five of which coming on interceptions and the other three on fumble recoveries. The defense is also allowing just 11.0 points per game, which is the lowest since the 2000 team allowed 10.3 points per game.
It's the pressure, the mixed fronts and the pure athleticism on the Florida State defense that leads to this capability.
"It's just fun out there," Florida State safety Terrence Brooks said. "The pressure allows us to do so many things and take advantage of mistakes."
The pressure comes from, well, everywhere.
Senior corner Lamarcus Joyner leads the team with five sacks, which is the most by a member of the Florida State secondary since former safety Bill Ragans also had five in 1990. Joyner, who made the decision to return for his senior year because of this scheme's possibilities, has really been able to showcase his explosiveness from the nickel position under Pruitt's defense, and his draft stock will reflect that.
But the defensive line can bring the ruckus, too. And maybe the most important move this season was Pruitt's decision to move Christian Jones up to the edge to replace a struggling Dan Hicks, allowing Terrance Smith to fill the void at linebacker. Jones has proven to be a menace with his speed rush opening things up for the others on the line. And when the big guys up front are creating chaos, Pruitt can send the blitz. And he does just that. The Florida State defense has 31 sacks on the year, along with 86 tackles for a loss.
The Florida State Seminoles have the best pass defense in the country, allowing just 153 yards per game. Jeremy Pruitt couldn't have asked for a better group of defensive backs to work with when he arrived in Tallahassee - it's almost laughable the amount of talent that graces the defensive backfield, or even the bench. Even after the unfortunate loss of Tyler Hunter to a season ending injury, the secondary hasn't lost a step. They have accounted for 15 of Florida State's 23 interceptions, which happens to be just two interceptions short of the school-record 25 set in 1968 and 1991.
Anchored by seniors Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks, this secondary has become the best in the country.
The youth has showcased some ridiculous talent, too, and FSU fans are in for a show in the following years. True freshman Jalen Ramsey has started every game for Florida State in 2013, and was the first to start at corner for Florida State since Deion Sanders. After FSU lost Tyler Hunter to injury, Ramsey made the move to safety - something that I expect Pruitt was planning for 2014 anyways. And from the looks of things, Ramsey could end up being the best safety in Florida State history when it's all said and done. Whether it's putting fear in the opponent by de-cleating any receiver ballsy enough to catch a pass down field or being a sure tackler, this kid is obviously a star.
Nate Andrews, another true freshmen, has taken over the role as the dime back, and has done an incredible job in doing so. He leads the 'Noles with four interceptions, one of which went for a score. Andrews seems to be almost an exact replica of Terrence Brooks when he got to campus, and this is a great thing. After being recruited by Pruitt to go Alabama, Andrews was turned away and was seemingly headed to...Minnesota? Well, Pruitt got the job at Florida State and Nate Andrews made the switch. A guy with great instincts and a knack for the ball, Andrews looks to be just another player to look forward to in coming years.
Ronald Darby is the definition of a "no fly zone." Nobody throws his direction - they know better. The sophomore corner has only recorded nine tackles this season, due to this fact. And also has two interceptions on the year. When you run a blitz heavy defensive scheme, it helps to have a lock-down corner, and this is what Ronald Darby provides.
Against The Run
The Seminoles have allowed only four rushing touchdowns on the year, and these only came against the second team defense. Allowing only 118.0 rushing yards per game and 3.1 yards per rush, the Florida State defense has taken away just about any option you might have when game-planning for the Seminoles. And these numbers are skewed, too. The defensive starters for the Seminoles rarely played full games in 2013, and this has kept them fresh and healthy.
The All-ACC team was released this week and the nation's #1 defense found only one defensive player on that roster - Lamarcus Joyner. While Lamarcus Joyner absolutely deserves every award he has coming his direction, it's an complete joke that there weren't more players from this Florida State defense selected to the All-ACC team. This is due to the previously mentioned lack of time on the field. This defense averages about two quarters every game, not enough to rack up the numbers that these voters found in their stat books.
If the ACC has a doorstep, I've heard of something consisting of a brown paper bag, a lighter and something called poop. And I here a horse can provide some really flammable stuff.
There were still skeptics about this defense mid-season, but I assume most of those have either been turned or have disappeared. The defense continues to get better every time it steps on the field and the guys continue to grow as a unit. Florida State will make their way to Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game against Duke as the top defense in the country, and I don't expect that to change as they make their way back to Tallahassee.
Turns out Jeremy Pruitt was the perfect hire this off-season, maybe the best hire in college football.