TALLAHASSEE — Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has told folks over and over again that his young defense has big-time promise.
For the second straight game, that defense showed big-time production.
The Seminoles shut down Wake Forest's high-powered, often-befuddling misdirection offense for their first shutout since the 2008 opener against Western Carolina and the first shutout of a Division I-A opponent since Nov. 4, 2006, against Virginia, opening their ACC season with a 31-0 win Saturday before one of the smallest crowds in years at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"It's huge. In today's time, you just don't get shutouts. They just don't happen," Fisher said. "That was a tremendous job."
Consider: The Demon Deacons entered the game averaging 43.7 points, 12th nationally, and had been shut out once in coach Jim Grobe's first decade on the job.
Consider: The Demon Deacons entered the game averaging 430.7 yards of total offense but could muster only 185 on this day, the second consecutive opponent FSU has held below 200 yards. BYU had 191 in last week's loss to the Seminoles.
"A lot of the credit goes not only to the plan they had defensively, but physically they had us overmatched at times," Grobe said.
And at times, the Seminoles (3-1, 1-0), who won their league opener for the first time since 2006, seemingly wanted it a tad more.
Although the offense moved the ball well often, which shouldn't have come as a surprise given Wake Forest had allowed 116 points in the past two games against Duke and Stanford, FSU botched a few scoring opportunities and didn't put the game out of reach until midway through the final quarter.
That's when quarterback Christian Ponder, nursing a bruised triceps in his right (throwing) arm that limited his work during the week, threw a second touchdown to receiver Willie Haulstead for a 24-0 lead.
But Wake Forest (2-2, 1-1) and backup quarterback Ted Stachitas marched methodically toward the end zone and a score on the next series, not that the Seminoles were okay with that.
Perhaps they hadn't forgotten that the Demon Deacons had won the past two times they'd come to Doak Campbell, embarrassing the Seminoles 30-0 in 2006, after which embattled offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden decided to resign, and then 12-3 in 2008 when Ponder threw three interceptions.
Whatever the reason, with defensive coordinator Mark Stoops extolling his players so fervently that he kept bounding onto the field and had to be pulled back to the sideline, the Seminoles stopped flanker Chris Givens on an end around 2 yards shy of the marker on fourth and 4 from the FSU 20 to seal the shutout.
"Our defense has pride," Fisher said. "That's our motto. We're going to play 60 minutes and play every play and try to play hard and try to play clean and do the things we've got to do. Just because you have a lead doesn't mean you take it easy. That's when you have to put your foot on people."
The FSU defense did just that.
"It just shows all the stuff that was talked about during the offseason and all the things the coaches were saying about the defense, how good we were, how much talent we had out there and how much potential we had," redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. "This game you saw that potential."
Fellow sophomore defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel, who had an acrobatic interception (one of two takeaways by the Seminoles to go with six sacks) late in the first half, said the disappointing performance in the 47-17 loss at Oklahoma on Sept. 11 was a watershed moment.
"I really feel we're moving in the right direction as a defense," he said. "Everybody's coming out there doing his technique and assignments and not trying to make extra plays. … Oklahoma showed us if you want respect, you have to come out and you've got to play."
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.