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Defense matures at Florida State

One poor game may have distorted the situation, but Bobby Bowden heard an earful of questions concerning Florida State's defense from Seminoles fans: Why aren't the players tough enough? Why didn't you recruit better? How could this have happened? What happened was the beating Florida State's defense took from Miami on Oct. 6 _ 462 yards of total offense, including 334 yards rushing and more than 100 yards from two different running backs. The Hurricanes had 249 rushing yards by halftime.

That may be more of a tribute to Miami's offensive line and running backs, but it certainly didn't say much for FSU's defensive line and game plan. Bowden absorbed it all in the days following the game, and even he wondered if his team could get good enough to stop anybody.

That was only three weeks ago, and the results since have been encouraging.

In FSU's 20-17 loss to Auburn on Oct. 20, the Seminoles allowed only 267 total yards, including 167 on the ground. Auburn averaged only 3.9 yards per play. And in FSU's 42-3 victory over LSU on Saturday, the Seminoles allowed only 207 total yards, including 141 on the ground. Leading rusher Harvey Williams had 49 yards on LSU's first drive, then managed only 44 the rest of the game.

That marked the first time since 1988 that FSU had held an opponent without a touchdown _ dating back to a 59-0 rout against South Carolina. The 12th-ranked Seminoles (5-2) return to Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., this Saturday for a game with the Gamecocks (4-3) at 12:10 p.m.

A victory would all but assure FSU of its fourth consecutive major bowl bid, possibly from the Fiesta or Cotton bowls. After South Carolina, the Seminoles will be prohibitive favorites against Cincinnati (1-7) and Memphis State (4-3-1) and likely would be 8-2 when bowl bids are extended on Nov. 24.

"Defense is the key," Bowden said. "If they play like (they did last) Saturday, we've got a chance. This game is like the first four games. Don't get upset. I say to them, "Do you want to go to a major bowl? Or do you want to go to a bowl that's not so major?' I leave it in their hands."

There are several reasons for defensive improvement, including the health of some key players, different defensive schemes and simply playing better.

"Our play has improved greatly," said outside linebacker Howard Dinkins. "We're a lot more confident now, especially the younger guys. That just makes for a more well-rounded defense. Plus, the defensive line is playing better, and that gives the linebackers a chance to roam free."

The Seminoles have rotated several players on the defensive line, including tackles Troy Sanders, Carl Simpson and Henry Ostaszewski and nose guards Joe Ostaszewski, John Nance and James Chaney.

Defensive coaches also altered some formations. FSU's base defense is the 3-4, which means three defensive linemen and four linebackers. One outside linebacker is usually a pass-rusher, the other responsible for coverage. But their duties change depending on the situation.

In the scheme used lately, outside linebacker Anthony Moss often lines up in a three-point stance, effectively giving FSU four defensive linemen. His sole duty is to rush, taking away some of the guesswork. And that also causes opposing offensive linemen to block him, giving inside linebackers Marvin Jones and Kirk Carruthers more freedom.

Not coincidentally, Carruthers had his best game of the season against LSU, making 13 tackles (10 solo), including 1{ quarterback sacks.

"We've made some things a little easier," said inside linebackers coach Wally Burnham. "We've simplified some of the calls, and it's made them more aggressive.

"They've come a long way. I think they were embarrassed after the Miami thing. A lot of times it takes being embarrassed, then having some success. It took the kids a long time to catch on. It's real encouraging. I feel good for the kids because they feel good about themselves."

"The biggest thing," said defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, "is I think our kids are playing harder. They're showing more determination and confidence. We're a team that's got to make big plays, and in the first half against Miami, we didn't make any. They are playing hard and learning to play together."