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Defensive resurgence a matter of chemistry

Florida State's defense has coach Bobby Bowden puzzled. But unlike earlier in the season, he isn't agonizingly searching for a seemingly impossible solution.

The oft-criticized defense has rebounded in recent weeks. During the past 2{ games, it is holding opponents to an average of 332 yards and, more importantly, 10.8 points. That's 53 fewer yards and nearly 15 fewer points.


Why worry about it.

"It's the same boys, it's the same coaches, so what did happen?" Bowden said. "Something did. You just wonder what it is. Something made them turn it on. But boy, I tell you what, it couldn't have come at a better time because it's just so important; defense is just so important."

Especially Saturday, as FSU (8-3, 7-0) travels to North Carolina State (9-3, 4-3). The No. 14 Seminoles not only can avenge their first and only home ACC loss, they can win the league title and wrap up a Bowl Championship Series berth.

Despite losing three straight, the Wolfpack is dangerous offensively with standout junior quarterback Philip Rivers. He was nearly flawless in leading the Wolfpack to a 34-28 win last season at Doak Campbell Stadium. The chance of a repeat performance against the Seminoles looked much better 10 quarters ago than it does now.


"This is a different team," cornerback Stanford Samuels said of the defense.

Though some are reticent to say it, the switch from Chris Rix to Adrian McPherson at quarterback has transformed the team's mood, and consequently its performance.

After FSU's third loss, 34-24 to Notre Dame at home, many players criticized Rix for continuing to make the same mistakes as last season. The defensive players were the most vocal. FSU seemed like a team on the verge of fragmentation.

"I think one change like that probably affected the whole team," linebacker Kendyll Pope said. "It was probably a long time coming, but I think that was the turnaround to our season. That's my view. That's why the team chemistry has come together like it has.

"Hats off to Chris. Chris is a great guy. He got in the game (last week) and threw a 52-yard touchdown on his first play. I'm not saying anything bad about him, but the team chemistry has changed since that switch has been made."

It's noticeable on defense.

Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews will tell you how vital enthusiasm is. This group didn't show it much of the season. Now the Seminoles are spirited. They have swarmed to the ball like defenses of old. They are jumping up and down after big plays, and they have made more big plays.

Against Wake Forest, defensive end Alonzo Jackson didn't bite on a reverse and tackled Chris Davis for a 16-yard loss that stymied a drive with FSU clinging to a 24-21 lead early in the fourth.

Samuels returned an interception 82 yards for a touchdown against Georgia Tech and sealed the 21-13 win with an interception in the end zone in the final minute.

"Everybody's playing more aggressively," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.

"It's everybody contributing; it's everybody getting enthused," Pope said. "That's what makes it fun. If you're not having fun playing, you don't need to be out there."

The defense is having a ball.

At least in the past 2{ games.

"It looks like we're flying to the ball better, making some things happen, playing with a little more reckless abandon," Andrews said. "Say it's leadership. Say it's chemistry developing among themselves. As much as anything, it's taking pride and being more determined in their play."

Even Bowden admits it might be more than coincidence that the change in the defense followed the quarterback change.

"The timing looks like it, doesn't it?" he said. "But I wouldn't dare say how much bearing it would have on it."

The turmoil surrounding the quarterback situation prompted a seniors meeting after the Notre Dame game.

"We talked about holding each other accountable for what goes on on the field," Jackson said. "At the beginning of the season, we weren't thinking about each other. Now, we're depending on each other to make plays."

"Everything is clicking, finally," Dockett said. "We're not satisfied. We still have a job to do. The ACC title is on the line. We've lost to some of the top-ranked teams, but we feel if we win this ACC title, we're going to have one more shot to prove to everybody in the nation that we're one of the best teams because we'll be playing a Top 5 team (in a bowl)."

Why or how they got there?

No one would worry about that.

FSU defensive turnaround


Opponent Rush Pass Total Pts

Yds Yds Yds

Iowa State 130 313 443 31

Virginia 62 251 313 19

Maryland 57 241 298 10

Duke 147 239 386 17

Louisville 121 182 303 26

Clemson 107 334 441 31

Miami 115 362 477 28

Notre Dame 116 185 301 34

Wake Forest 213 95 308 21

Totals 1068 2202 3270 217

Averages 126 259 385 25.5


Opponent Rush Pass Total Pts

Wake Forest 24 51 75 0

Georgia Tech 185 211 396 13

North Carolina 129 230 359 14

Totals 338 492 830 27

Averages 135 197 332 10.8