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FSU finds substitute for old-school defense

Bobby Bowden sometimes must close his eyes when his defense is on the field. If he didn't, the Florida State coach might see somebody he doesn't recognize _ playing for his team.

Welcome to Modern Defensive Philosophies, which at FSU means all-out aggressiveness, massive substitutions _ and a nervous coach.

"It drives me crazy," said Bowden, whose expertise is with the offense. "But they know what they're doing. I've kind of grown into it. I really think it's the only way to win nowadays."

This is no Mike Ditka-Buddy Ryan feud about how to play defense. Bowden trusts his defensive coordinator, Mickey Andrews, to manage operations on that side of the ball.

But Bowden admits his "old-school" tendencies nag him. He prefers the 11 best players to see most of the action to build cohesiveness and is amazed at the number of situational substitutions. And he cringes when he sees second- and third-team players in games when it is only the second quarter.

Yet how can he complain?

"It took me awhile to get into it," said Bowden, whose defense leads every statistical category in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "Now that we've been into it and I see it working, I definitely think it's the thing.

"The event that changed a lot of thinking was when the (Chicago) Bears won the Super Bowl (after the 1985 season) and Buddy Ryan was the defensive coordinator.

"That's what a lot of us are doing. They had that 46 defense: Put eight people on the line of scrimmage, come after you and say, "Quarterback, you better not miss, because we're going to get you if you do.' The trend started, Mickey moved into it, and we recruited players who could do that."

The Seminoles may appear less than dominant because of a tendency to give up one or two big pass plays in every game. They are allowing 15.5 points, which is first in the ACC but only 20th in the country. (See chart.)

Yet FSU's offense has put the defense in tough predicaments. The Seminoles have committed 23 turnovers, including 13 interceptions, so field position often has been poor for the defense.

Entering Saturday's game at 16th-ranked Georgia Tech, the sixth-ranked Seminoles (5-1 overall, 5-0 and in first place in the ACC) are leaning on their defense and watching it prosper.

On third down, the Seminoles have allowed opponents a first down only 14 of 93 times (15 percent). When the situation has been third down and less than 5 yards to go, there have been only 8 of 24 conversions.

And on fourth down, the Seminoles have allowed only one first down in 10 tries, and that came by penalty. Last Saturday, they stopped North Carolina on fourth and 1 with only 10 players on the field.

"That was the best defense we ever played against," said North Carolina coach Mack Brown.

"It's pure determination," said FSU strong safety John Davis. "When we line up in our short-yardage or goal-line defense, we take pride. We say, "We're ready to get off the field right now. Let's get these guys.' "

Butkus Award candidate Marvin Jones leads the team in tackles with 69, and outside linebacker Derrick Brooks is second with 48.

But it is more than just desire that gets FSU results. Since Andrews joined Bowden's staff in 1984, his defense has evolved from a "read-and-react" system with limited scheming to what is now an attacking, aggressive style with changes in formation and multiple substitutions.

The Seminoles go two-deep at every position, and several positions see third-teamers get playing time. There are 21 players who are in double figures in tackles for the season. In a typical game, Andrews might use as many as 30 players.

"Our defensive players are on so many specialty teams," Andrews said. "We're not sure a guy can be in good enough shape to give the kind of effort we want doing all of that. You're certainly not going to be at your best at the end of the half or the end of the game."

The style sometimes leaves the Seminoles vulnerable to the big play. FSU's defense has allowed nine touchdowns this season, eight of them passes. Of those, six have been for 20 yards or longer.

Only one touchdown came on the ground, and that was in the final minute of play in the season opener against Duke.

Bowden, despite his fears, believes the Seminoles are doing the right thing.

"I'm from that old school, play the best you've got," Bowden said. "Mickey likes to roll them in and out, in and out. Yet I really like what he is doing."


A look at how the Florida State defense ranks in the ACC and around the country.

ACC Nation

Rushing 105.5 yds 1 13

Pass eff. rating 9.2.7 1 17

Total 292.2 1 20

Scoring 15.5 pts. 1 20

1991 1992

FSU Opp. FSU Opp.

Pts. per game 36.6 15.5 32.2 15.5