Saturday, October 5, 2013
FSU defense dominates overwhelmed Terps
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- After the onslaught was over, Jameis Winston relaxed in a folding chair in front of a throng of reporters eager to sing his praises yet again.
Florida State's quarterback had been dazzling, throwing five touchdown passes in a 63-0 victory over No. 25 Maryland, and one of his inquisitors pushed him on the offensive juggernaut. Winston wouldn't take the bait.
"The defense was clicking," he said.
He was pressed again on the offense.
"No," Winston said. "The defense kept giving us the ball."
Telvin Smith (22) and the Seminoles held Maryland to 33 rushing yards.
Winston was superb, no doubt. He completed 23-of-32 passes for 393 yards and his day was done before the fourth quarter began. He's thrown for at least 300 yards and four touchdowns in all three of his ACC games.
But Winston was right to turn the spotlight back to the defense. For a Florida State team already eminently aware of its quarterback's potential, it was the shutout pitched by the maligned defense that was the day's revelation, and it comes at an ideal time.
A week earlier, Florida State looked dazed against a mundane Boston College power-running game. For just the third time since Jimbo Fisher took over as head coach, the defense allowed 200 rushing yards. After just four games in coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's new defensive scheme, patience was wearing thin.
"Who wouldn't doubt us, based on how we performed in the previous week?" defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel asked. "As a team, as a defense, we knew we had to come out and dominate."
On Saturday, everything clicked.
As impressive as Winston's performance was, the defensive statistics were every bit as staggering.
Maryland entered the game averaging 227 rushing yards. The Terrapins managed just 33 on 25 carries Saturday.
The Terps' offense had topped 500 yards in three of four games this year. They tallied less than half that against Florida State.
Maryland was a woeful 2-of-15 on third down, mustered just nine first downs in the game and was shut out for the first time since 2008.
"We went out there and said, 'We're going to dominate,'" linebacker Telvin Smith said. "We didn't say we want to or we can. We said we were going to, and that's what we went out there and did."
C.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs and Brandon Ross had been among the most productive offensive trios in the ACC this season. Only Ross finished the game healthy, and his final line included three rushes for minus-1 yard.
Brown was sandwiched between Christian Jones and McDaniel on a pass in the second quarter. He was taken for X-rays and didn't return. Diggs was smacked on an incomplete pass near midfield in the third quarter on his final play of the day.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall was displeased with the hit that ended Brown's game, but Florida State chalked it up as part of a punishingly physical approach.
"In practice, you heard pads every day -- even when we just had on shorts and shoulder pads," Smith said. "We were out there hitting. That showed up in the game."
The fallout from the Boston College game stung, but it was also a necessary wake-up call, McDaniel said. The defense assembled in the film room last Monday and relived the carnage, then set about finding solutions.
Fisher said it was clear his team hadn't been prepared for Boston College, but the energy on the practice field was noticeable. That carried over to Saturday's thrashing of the Terps.
"They played with urgency," Fisher said. "They stopped the run, took on blocks and our eye discipline was excellent. And this team was harder to [defend] than [Boston College]."
The key now is maintaining that level of discipline through a two-week wait before heading to No. 3 Clemson for a showdown that figures to determine the ACC's Atlantic Division champion.
If Saturday represented how good Florida State could be when Winston is in a groove and the defense is angry, there is reason for excitement.
"Everybody told us, 'Don't look forward to the Clemson game,'" Winston said. "But the time is here, and we've got to get everything right."