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What we learned about the Florida State defense vs. South Florida

Some observations about the Florida State defense against the Bulls

Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this week's matchup with the University of South Florida Bulls, the script seemed to read that Florida State would be facing a superior defense compared to the one that the Seminoles faced in their season opener, as evidenced by the defensive pressure that the Bulls were able to force throughout the game.

However, USF was widely considered to have a worse offensive unit than that of Texas State. Most felt that the game against the Bulls was the chance for this FSU defense to better showcase their pressure of the quarterback, one of FSU's weakest points in 2014.

Although there is always room for improvement, the pressure was much improved in Florida State's win over USF. Giorgio Newberry, who continues to the surprise story of the FSU defense this season, sacked USF QB Quinton Flowers on the very first series of the game. In the end, Florida State ended up with three sacks, up from one in the Texas State game, with the addition of multiple other tackles of Flowers in the backfield that were ruled as non-sacks due to the plays being determined as QB runs. The Seminoles ended up with six tackles for loss, matching last week's total.

With Marquez White still fairly untested as the starting cornerback opposite Jalen Ramsey, White used a pair of key plays in the first quarter to demonstrate why he started the season in the lineup. In the middle of the first quarter, South Florida earned the first first down of the game for either team and were quickly approaching midfield when White read a bubble screen perfectly, delivering a Jalen Ramsey-esque hit to force fourth down and a punt, stunting the Bulls' progress.  Later in the first quarter, USF trailed 7-0 but used a lengthy punt return to start a drive at the FSU 11-yard line. However, White read the lofted, back-corner pass thrown by Flowers on the ensuing third down and went airborne, coming down with the interception to keep the Bulls off the board.

White, who was very complimentary of both Ramsey and himself during preseason when he said "Jalen is the reason why I will get 8 or 9 interceptions this season", was more humble when talking to the media after the game, stating "I was just doing my job."

Although White's performance was impressive, back-up linebacker Ro'Derrick Hoskins may have had the most surprising day for the Florida State defense. Hoskins, who saw  more playing time due to Reggie Northrup's continuing recovery from the knee injury which has kept him from playing full minutes, took advantage of his moment, racking up 7 tackles (5 solo, 2 tackles for loss), which tied him with Jacob Pugh for the most by a Florida State defender in the win.

Fifth-year senior Lamarcus Brutus' presence and leadership, as well as his handling of the pre-snap calls and adjustments, was seemingly missed in the secondary after his first-half ejection on a targeting call. After Brutus' dismissal, Trey Marshall was moved from the star position to Brutus' safety spot and Tyler Hunter entered the game in the star spot that Marshall left.

The Brutus-less secondary struggled, at times, with a lack of awareness of who was responsible for which USF players or zones. Flowers, who finished 12-24 for 125 yards with two touchdowns and a pick, took advantage of some miscommunication to hit running back D'Erne Johnson on a 71-yard wheel route for a touchdown, the longest play from scrimmage allowed by FSU this season. In reality, Florida State was fortunate that the Brutus ejection occurred in this game as Flowers had more opportunities than he took advantage of, missing multiple wide open receivers throughout the game.

In the end, Florida State allowed an average of 4.6 yards per play. Although 4.6 is a step down from Texas State last week, the average is skewed fairly heavily by the 71-yard touchdown that the Seminoles allowed. Without that play, the average drops all the way down to 3.4 yards per play, a much more reasonable expectation.

With the two-game homestand to kick off the season in the rearview mirror, there are still a number of questions with this defensive unit. However, there have also been a decent amount of unexpected contributors and pleasant surprises. With the ACC opener only six days away, we will assuredly know more about exactly what this defense is capable of in the near future.