When it comes to defense and the Florida State Seminoles, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Players come and go but FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews never seems to run out of quality players to plug in and fill the gaps. The players may change but what the Seminoles do stays pretty much the same year after year.
Last year Florida State lost six of its best defensive players to the NFL including four that were taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. At most schools, the impact of losing four first rounders would be a defensive collapse the next season but a check of the NCAA statistics shows the Seminoles ranked twelfth in total defense (right behind eleventh ranked Florida) at 269 yards per game.
The game plan never varies for Andrews. First and foremost he wants to take away the running game and make opponents one-dimensional. That’s the same game plan he had when he was Florida’s defensive coordinator in the early ‘80s and it hasn’t changed at all in the many years he’s been at FSU. This season the Seminoles are ranked tenth nationally against the run, allowing only 82 yards per game.
This is a defense that Florida coach Urban Meyer knows very well, dating back to his days when he was an assistant coach at Notre Dame.
“Mickey Andrews defense … we’ve been studying it for years,” said Meyer, whose fourth-ranked Gators (10-1) face Florida State (6-5) in Tallahassee Saturday (12 noon, ABC-TV). “I remember when I was at Notre Dame with Bob Davie we went down there and studied them.”
The Seminoles aren’t going to wow you with a thousand different looks and dozens of blitz packages for every new look. What FSU does isn’t all that complicated.
“It’s very clear what they try to do,” said Meyer. “They try to have edges to the defense. The defensive ends are cocked in — one thing they have is great players — but it’s very succinct what they try to get done.”
Andrews has been running the same system at FSU for more than 20 years. The most important requirement is speed. Florida State almost always has a defense that’s among the fastest in the country. What makes the Seminoles consistently good is that they are typically as physical as they are fast.
Again, the faces change every year but the players are pretty much the same — big, fast and aggressive.
“They recruit to it every year,” said Meyer. “It’s like they reload. Their linebackers are fast and physical. The aggressiveness of the defensive line separates them from a lot of defenses.”
The system is based on very sound principles that don’t change week to week just because each week FSU faces a new look offense. In Mickey Andrews’ way of doing things, he dictates what the offense will do, not the other way around so whether it’s a running team or a passing team; one that runs from a pro set or one that runs the option from a spread, the Seminoles are going to stick with the same thing that’s always worked — stuff the run, force opponents to throw the ball nearly every down and pressure the quarterback off the edge with the defensive ends and blitzes from fast linebackers.
For any team that plays the Seminoles, goal number one is to protect the quarterback. That’s the challenge this week for a Florida offensive line that has made huge strides this season. The Gators have given up 19 sacks, a vast improvement over last year when the Gators gave up 33.
The Gators are playing with four new starters on the offensive line and the only returnee, center Steve Rissler, played guard last year. The situation got complicated back in August when redshirt freshman Ronnie Wilson fractured an ankle, forcing Drew Miller, a part-time starter at guard last year, to move from right tackle where he was looking very good back to guard. Miller has played very well at guard, joining Rissler and left tackle Phil Trautwein as Florida’s three most consistent offensive linemen.
The Gators will need the offensive line to play with great consistency Saturday against the Seminole defense.
“That [offensive line] certainly was our weakest area for quite awhile because I thought we were overmatched in certain games but other times they’ve played very well,” said Meyer. “We need a great effort in this game and I think we’ll get it.”
When Florida’s linemen get to the line of scrimmage, they won’t have to do a lot of guessing what FSU is going to do. Meyer says it’s been the same for years.
“I understood that years ago,” said Meyer. “He [Andrews] ran the same defense darn near every snap. They don’t do a lot but they do it extremely well.”
Even when Andrews changes things up and the Seminoles come at a team with some new wrinkle on defense, it’s generally from the same exact look.
“They do enough changeups where you can’t say that you know what’s coming,” said Meyer. “They do have a base defense. That’s what they run most of the time. Some teams don’t have a base defense and they’re all over the place. They have a base defense.”
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On the injury front, senior wide receiver Dallas Baker, who sprained his MCL on the first offensive play of the game last week against Western Carolina, practiced Wednesday.
“It wasn’t pretty but he did a lot today,” said Meyer, who hopes that Baker continues to show improvement Thursday and Friday. Baker leads the Gators with 49 pass receptions for 788 yards and eight touchdowns. Baker now has 130 career catches, moving ahead of Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony on the all-time Florida list. He needs two catches to tie Richard Trapp for eighth and three to tie Taylor Jacobs in seventh place. Baker has moved ahead of Taylor Jacobs into ninth place all-time in receiving yardage with 2,104. He needs four yards to pass Chris Doering for eighth place.
Meyer said that middle linebacker Brandon Siler (sprained MCL in the Vanderbilt game) was able to go almost the entire practice Wednesday and he’s looking like he will be fit to go for Saturday.
Strong side linebacker Earl Everett, who sprained an ankle against South Carolina, had problems going full speed Thursday but Meyer said that Everett says he will be able to go Saturday. Meyer hopes Everett is improved on Thursday but added, “He’s a good enough player that if we get something [Thursday] we’ll practice him Friday if we have to.”
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With a win over Florida State on Saturday Chris Leak would become the first Florida quarterback since Kerwin Bell (1984, 1986) to win twice in Tallahassee. Leak would also finish with a 3-1 record against FSU, matching Bell’s mark again.
“How many quarterbacks have ever done that?” Meyer asked. “There’s only one to go in that place and win twice. More important, it’s helping your team get that eleventh win so I think it’s a heck of an honor for him to be able to try and do that.”
Leak should be going into the game with a 3-0 record against FSU, but his freshman year the Gators were victims of Jack Childress and his crew of incompetent ACC officials.
“I saw his game when he was a freshman,” said Meyer. “That was against a loaded oaded FSU team right here in the stadium when he threw to Ben Troupe for that touchdown pass and he dove into the end zone. He played his tail off. I think we lost right there at the end but he [Leak] played extremely hard.”
Leak has 10,528 career passing yards, second only to Danny Wuerffel’s 10,875 at Florida. Leak ranks fourth among active NCAA quarterbacks in career yardage and he’s third among active NCAA quarterbacks with 84 career touchdown passes. Wuerffel leads that category at UF with 114.