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Finally, the game // 'Noles in need of answers

Quick, somebody do something.

Florida is at the door, ringing the bell and, darn it, Florida State's defense isn't quite ready. Somebody work in another game or two before Saturday. Hurry. See what Princeton is doing Tuesday. Check on Tulane for Thursday.

This is important. The biggest date of the year is six days away, and FSU's defense doesn't have a thing to scare.

Oh, the offense is ready. It has been for some time. The 59 it threw up against Maryland on Saturday (a 59-17 victory) was just another day of watching Scott Bentley kick extra points.

But if the look of FSU's offense is old news, the lack of FSU's defense is bad news. Even in the Seminoles' easy victory, they failed to answer concerns that will follow them Saturday into Gainesville.

By now, this defense was supposed to be ready. By now, it was going to be one of those fast, rough defenses that chased runners down at the corner and blanketed receivers downfield. It hasn't happened that way. Even after 10 games, there are questions.

Especially this one: Is FSU's defense good enough to stop Florida's offense?

If it is, the Seminoles have kept it a secret. Maryland's Scott Milanovich threw for 380 yards Saturday, the Terps' receivers having little problem finding open areas in the FSU secondary.

For FSU, this is an old problem. Half of its opponents have totaled 370 yards or more on offense. Against the mighty offenses of Virginia, Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Maryland, the Seminoles have allowed an average of 425 yards.

Now come the Gators with the No. 2 passing offense in the nation. Every time Maryland went to a five-receiver set, you could squint and picture Florida lining up the same way. Every time Maryland completed a 10-yard pass, it was easy to imagine how much longer the pass would have been if the Terps had Florida's team speed.

Quick. Somebody say something.

Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews was standing in the locker room, his back to the wall. He was talking about how his defense had lacked intensity, and how it had lacked aggressiveness. And then he was saying it didn't matter.

"What happened today is going to have no bearing on what happens next week," Andrews said. "Our kids know the difference between Maryland and Florida.

"If we would have shut them out and held them to 100 yards, it wouldn't have meant a thing. And if we had given up 50 and 600 yards, it wouldn't have anything to do with next week, either."

Eventually, however, if FSU is going to stay in the national championship hunt, it has to get more from its defense. Remember how Virginia totaled 498? Remember how Clemson ran for 321? Remember how Maryland threw for 380?

Now think of Florida. As good as FSU's offense is, it is hard to go to Gainesville and face the prospect of having to win on points alone.

"I do think we've improved on defense," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "We were so beat up earlier that we don't have the continuity we usually have by now. Whether we're good enough for all of it (against Florida), I don't know. If we don't play better than we played today, we'll give up a bunch."

Granted, Maryland's offensive style is different from Florida's. But the Gators can get a receiver everywhere the Terps got a receiver, and they get one deeper. They have a better running game.

Quick. Somebody think of something.

Mention the yardage totals to linebacker Todd Rebol, and he frowns and starts to shake his head in mid-sentence. Doesn't matter. Mention the other games, and he holds up his hand like a traffic cop.

"You and I and everyone else knows that doesn't matter," he said. "This is a completely different game. This is a completely different level. Everything happens starting next game. Everything before this is preseason. We have to step up."

And will they?

"I think so," Rebol said. "Our coach is going to find something. He'll find a weakness, and we'll exploit it. We'll find a way to get pressure on (Danny) Wuerffel."

That happened last year, Rebol said. FSU devised a blitz package that Florida had trouble blocking, and the Seminoles won the Sugar Bowl.

This year, however, the FSU defense has not had a player it can count on to make the big third-and-4 play. It lacks the superstar it has had in the past.

Turns out, it has less than a week to develop one. Until then, the battle cry for FSU is simple.

Quick. Somebody be something.

Struggle to defend

Florida State has had five games where the defense gave up at least 370 yards.

Opponent Rush Pass Total

Duke 162 242 404

Clemson 321 107 438

NC State 186 184 370

Virginia 196 302 498

Maryland 46 380 426