Florida State looks for more stops from revamped defense
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State `s bid to repeat as national champions last season was doomed in part by a defense that ranked among one of its worst in the school's 68-year football history.
Without a reliable pass rush, opponents averaged four touchdowns and nearly 400 yards a game and the Seminoles gave up 30 points or more five times.
In their last two games of the season (a win over Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game and the semifinal College Football Playoff loss to Oregon) , the Seminoles surrendered 1,104 yards, 58 first downs and 94 points.
A pass rush that had only 17 sacks, the fewest at Florida State since was first year of the program's decade of decline in 2001, allowed opposing quarterbacks to flourish. By comparison, All American Peter Boulware had 19.5 sacks by himself for the 1996 Seminoles.
''We didn't get as much pressure on the quarterback last year as we wanted,'' senior linebacker Terrance Smith conceded. ''This year our goal is to try to affect the quarterbacks as much as we can.''
The 2014 defensive breakdown first showed up in a 56-41 win at North Carolina State, which amassed 520 yards and 29 first downs and still lost.
The Seminoles won 42-31 at Louisville despite allowing 488 yards and then 30-26 at Miami where the Hurricanes finished with 490 yards.
After escaping with a 37-35 win over Georgia Tech to capture the ACC title for a third straight year, the miracles ran out.
Oregon rolled up 634 yards and scored 34 unanswered points to hand Jimbo Fisher a 59-20 shellacking - his worst defeat as a head coach.
Fisher brought in veteran assistant Brad Lawing to coach the defensive ends and help defensive coordinator Charles Kelly find players who will get to the passer.
''He's brought some great ideas in,'' Kelly said about the 58-year-old Lawing, who has coached at five different schools in the ACC, Big Ten and Southeastern Conference since 1989.
''We have to generate a pass rush and that all starts with being able to rush the passer with four guys,'' Kelly said. ''We are going to create a sense of urgency about getting there.''
Kelly, 47, must replace defensive linemen Mario Edwards Jr., and Eddie Goldman, a pair of second round picks in the NFL draft who combined for seven of the sacks last year. Also, cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams were drafted in the second and third round respectively.
''We have got to eliminate big plays, number one,'' Kelly said. ''Everybody talks about third down. Part of that is on first and second down (when) you've got ot get into more of a manageable situation.''
And he's counting on his two veteran linebackers - Smith and fifth-year senior Reggie Northrup - along with junior cornerback Jalen Ramsey to lead the way, especially early in the season when a host of newcomers will be broken in. Ramsey record three sacks last season.
Kelly knows his unit must be improved with the offense replacing several major contributors, including Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Cameron Erving, Nick O'Leary and Karlos Williams. It may be the defense that will have to keep the Seminoles in contention for a while, starting with the Sept. 5 opener against Texas State.
Noting the defensive coordinator's ''sense of urgency,'' it appears to be at the top of the priority list.