All season long Jameis Winston and the the Seminole offense has carried Florida State to victory. The script was flipped against Virginia as it was the Seminole defense who stepped their game up leading Florida State to a 34-20 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers.
"Our defense I thought really stepped up tonight", head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They got some points off our turnovers but for the most part defense played a pretty good football game."
The Seminole defense limited the Cavalier offense to just 257 total yards on 67 plays. The 3.8 yards per play allowed was the defense's second best effort of the season with only the Wake Forest game (who's offense would struggle against some FCS teams) having a better mark. Virginia's offense came in beat up, missing two offensive linemen, and Florida State forced UVA's worst effort of the season.
After some struggles in the first halves of games recently, Jimbo Fisher made a point of telling his defense to start fast against the Wahoos and they did just that, creating a turnover on the first play of the game as Mario Edwards Jr. caused a fumble of a Kevin Parks carry.
"Coach Fisher said we needed to quit playing from check to check and put money in the bank" , Edwards Jr. said. "So we really worked on starting fast this week in practice and we did that tonight."
The Noles cashed in on the Virginia turnover as the offense quickly scored a touchdown in three plays to put FSU ahead, a classic case of the defense aiding the offense. However, the offense didn't return the favor, turning the ball over three times on the night, constantly putting the FSU defense in bad positions. It was the second straight game in which FSU had three turnovers.
"That's scary, and that's something we've never done around here a lot is turn the ball over," Fisher said.
Luckily for the Seminole offense, the defense caused three turnovers themselves forcing two fumbles and getting an interception. Florida State seemed to open its defensive playbook a bit showing different blitz packages and defensive alignments throughout the game. It helped lead to nine tackles for loss and four sacks, the most since the game against NC State back in week four.
"We decided to open up the playbook a little more," Tyler Hunter said. "It adds a lot of variety to the defense and hopefully we can cause more turnovers from here on out."
The odd fronts and exotic blitz packages allowed the Florida State defenders to routinely have free paths to the quarterback. In some cases defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. was used standing up, blitzing through the middle on stunts. The freakish 290 pound Seminole lineman finished the night leading the team in tackles with nine, had four tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and a sack. Edwards attributed his play to improved health the past few weeks.
"It’s the healthiest I’ve felt all season" Edwards Jr. said. "I feel quick, light, and fast, I feel good."
Once again the Noles put together a strong defensive second half performance holding Virginia to just seven points on 126 yards of total offense. For the second straight game it seems as if the defense grew stronger as the game went on.
"They're growing and they're understanding each other better", Fisher said. "The corners are playing much better right now, everyone is coming into their own. They're just gelling and playing better together."
"We get more comfortable as the game goes along and start seeing what their offense does", Hunter said. "We can start predicting what they do and stop them."
As Florida State prepares to travel to Miami next weekend it will be important for this defense to build on its strong performance. The Hurricanes are playing a great brand of football on the offensive side of the ball and will present a challenge to FSU's defense. The players say they are turning the corner as a defense in what will be a an important stretch of games for the Noles to remain safely in the play off picture.
"We’re finally starting to click as a defense", Edwards Jr. said.
"I think we’re putting everything together and getting more comfortable", Hunter agreed.
As the saying goes, defense wins championships. Florida State's will be key, if they are to make a serious push at winning a second consecutive national championship.