Early in Saturday's game against N.C. State, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden sidled up to his offensive assistants and called for the unthinkable.
"You are going to have to score every time you get the ball because I don't think we can stop them," he said.
"That was the feeling you had. That's not a good sign."
With the exception of solid performances against Duke, Alabama-Birmingham and Virginia, that has been the norm this season. FSU allowed 463 yards to Clemson and N.C. State in successive weeks. Through nine games it's surrendering an average of 349 yards, its most since 1984, and an average of 25.9 points, its most since 1983.
"This ain't the Florida State way," sophomore defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.
"It's been a long time since we weren't pretty good defensively by this time of the year," Bowden said.
The low point for the once-proud unit came Saturday when the Wolfpack drove 71 yards on 17 plays and consumed 7 minutes, 43 seconds, leaving the Seminoles 2:04 to try to score a winning touchdown. FSU lost 34-28.
"It makes me feel like crap," junior defensive end Alonzo Jackson said when told of Bowden's plea to his offense. "But it was embarrassing being out there on that field getting marched up and down the field like that."
"I think that was the worst performance a Florida State defense has ever played," cornerback Malcolm Tatum said. "I never thought anything like that could happen."
If N.C. State, Clemson and Wake Forest can amass yards easily, what will Florida do Saturday?
The Gators have the nation's top-rated passer, sophomore Rex Grossman, directing an offense that averages 549.2 yards, tops in the nation, and 45.8 points, second nationally.
"They were embarrassed by the way the game turned out, like all of us were, but we told them we put that to bed, that's behind us," FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "No use fretting and fussing about that. What we have to do is get ourselves ready to play better than we have all year or we'll be embarrassed, well, just multiply that down there."
Some of FSU's struggles were predictable. Graduation claimed seven defensive starters, including Lombardi Award winner Jamal Reynolds and safety Derrick Gibson, both first-round NFL picks, as well as linebackers Brian Allen and Tommy Polley, a starter for the Rams, and cornerback Tay Cody, who has started for the Chargers.
Then Devaughn Darling, projected as a starting linebacker, died in February and starting defensive end Eric Powell was shot in the back in a mid-September robbery attempt and lost for the season.
Many starters and reserves have had injuries. Cornerback Stanford Samuels has been playing all season with injured thumbs. Dockett has been slowed by an Achilles' tendon problem, and tackle Jeff Womble has had ankle and elbow injuries. Jackson has had to overcome a knee sprain and a cut to the bone on his right thumb Saturday and is in a cast.
That all has conspired to compromise the Seminoles' ability to practice intensely with the same 11 day in and day out, a must given the players' inexperience.
"We knew going in what our weaknesses were," Andrews said. "You can't make seniors out of freshmen and sophomores."
Senior safety Chris Hope said some of the younger players have just assumed FSU will dominate as if it were ordained.
"Not to point fingers at anybody, but it just can't be the seniors to lead the team," he said.
"A lot of people are waiting around for someone else to make a play," Samuels said. "I know I've been a victim of some of that. We have to take charge and take responsibility for ourselves."
Lack of maturity and depth doesn't entirely explain the missed tackles and missed assignments that have resulted in big plays.
The problem could be talent.
In the past, the Seminoles have been blessed with playmakers such as Deion Sanders, Derrick Brooks, Sam Cowart, Peter Boulware, Andre Wadsworth, Reynolds and Polley and "Well, that could very well be true," Bowden said. "You don't see first-rounders running around out there defensively, on that line of scrimmage especially."
That hasn't been lost on Florida coach Steve Spurrier.
"Probably what's unusual about FSU this year is their defense is not one of the best in the nation," he said. "They generally are in the top five in about every defensive category. That's probably the biggest difference in their team is their defensive talent is not quite what it's been in the past. But we expect them to play probably like their defensive teams in the past when they come here to The Swamp Saturday night."
If not, it won't be a good sign for FSU.
_ Times staff writer Antonya English contributed to this report.
FSU's defense: 2001 game by game
OPPONENT RUSH PASS TOTAL TDs RESULT
YDS YDS YDS
Duke 32 194 226 1 FSU, 55-13
Alabama-Birmingham 83 149 232 1 FSU, 29-7
North Carolina 69 232 301 5 UNC, 41-9
Wake Forest 265 171 436 3 FSU, 48-24
Miami 142 249 391 5 Miami, 49-27
Virginia 34 167 201 1 FSU, 43-7
Maryland 214 214 428 4 FSU, 51-31
Clemson 186 277 463 3 FSU, 41-27
North Carolina State 187 276 463 4 N.C. St., 34-28
Totals 1,212 1,929 3,141 27