On Defense, Safety First MIAMI 22, FLORIDA STATE 14 Playmaking Hurricanes defensive back Sean Taylor wreaked havoc with the Seminoles' game plan

October 19, 2003

On his way out of Doak Campbell Stadium's visiting locker room
late Saturday, Miami free safety Sean Taylor paused in front of
cornerback Al Marshall, who was struggling to dress without using
the third and fourth fingers of his left hand, which had been
bruised and bloodied on a second-quarter tackle. There was the
high five, the hug and then--the admonishment. "Man, what was
that?" Taylor barked to his teammate. Marshall knew what Taylor
was talking about, a fourth-quarter pass Marshall had deflected
but not intercepted, and he smacked his wounded hand on his knee
in frustration. "I know it."

"Our policy," Taylor said later, "is that if your toes are still
wiggling and you've got a couple fingers still wiggling, you've
gotta make the big play."

On a rain-soaked afternoon in Tallahassee, No. 2-ranked Miami's
penchant for the big play carried the Hurricanes over favored
Florida State to their 38th straight regular-season win. From the
opening possession Miami's run-suffocating defensive front dared
Seminoles quarterback Chris Rix to throw on the Hurricanes'
speedy corners and safeties. Rix might as well have tried to
split the raindrops. By the end of the game Miami had
intercepted Rix twice, broken up 10 passes and recovered three
fumbles. "The guys played like they're capable of," said
secondary coach Mark Stoops. "That's something they haven't done
yet this year."

With four returning starters the Miami secondary was expected to
top its exploits of 2002, when it keyed a pass defense that
allowed the fewest yards (119.7 per game) in the nation. Through
five wins this season the Hurricanes were ranked a respectable
23rd in that category, but Stoops said his unit "had yet to play
a complete game." Aware that Miami would be without injured
starting strong safety Maurice Sikes, the Seminoles had a game
plan not many have considered against the Hurricanes. Said Rix,
"We thought we could take advantage of Miami's depleted

The circumstances called for a week of toughening up, above and
beyond the push-ups and extra gassers the DBs impose on each
other in practice. Stoops targeted Taylor, a junior who led the
secondary in tackles (85) and interceptions (four) as an All-Big
East pick last year but who the coach thought hadn't played
consistently. On Thursday the two sat down for a rap session. "We
talked, man to man," said Taylor, "and he told me I was missing
tackles that I didn't miss last year. Florida State was where I
was going to have to step it up."

The 6'3", 230-pound Taylor stepped up, and even leaped over some
Seminoles. The highlight came late in the second quarter, when he
picked off an errant Rix lob and snaked through would-be tacklers
for a 50-yard score. Taylor had another interception as well as
four near misses. When asked what he'd learned from the loss,
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden (who's now 11-17 versus Miami)
said, "You can't hang the ball up for number 26. I haven't seen a
safety that good in a long time."

Before climbing on the team bus, Taylor had a message for future
opponents: "We will not accept teams thinking they can pass for a
ton of yards on us." Nor will he and his teammates accept
anything less than game-breaking plays from one another.
--Kelley King

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS STACKED DEFENSE Taylor (top) and his fellow Canes piled up onSeminoles runners, holding Florida State to 61 yards on theground.