Fla. State starting to find itself on defense

Virginia game latest sign old form is on way back

October 26, 2001|By Josh Robbins | Josh Robbins,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- As the welt above his left eye bulged and darkened into a deeper shade of crimson, cornerback Stanford Samuels basked in the glow of Florida State's convincing 43-7 win over Virginia.

Moments after the game ended, Samuels stood in the visitors' locker room, his smile broadening. He had delivered one of the Seminoles' most memorable hits of the season, a blow that separated a Virginia receiver from the football.

Abdual Howard snatched the ball out of the air and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown to put the game out of reach.

"That's a good war wound," Samuels said, pointing to his face. This season, the play stands out. Though stout at times, the Florida State defense has failed to generate the high-impact turnovers that have been its hallmark since the mid-1980s.

A number of explanations have been offered for Florida State's off-year -- including inexperience and injuries -- but perhaps none makes more sense than the Seminoles' inability to take care of and take away the football.

The 19th-ranked Seminoles (4-2, 3-1 in the ACC) enter their showdown with No. 10 Maryland (7-0, 5-0) tomorrow with a plus-one turnover margin for the season.

Florida State had 11 turnovers and five takeaways in its losses to North Carolina and Miami.

"It's a fact that turnovers can hurt you dearly in a game," FSU quarterback Chris Rix said. "In order to win the rest of our games, we can't have turnovers."

Speaking of Rix, FSU coach Bobby Bowden announced yesterday that the redshirt freshman, who had eight turnovers in the previous two games, will get the start Saturday over Adrian McPherson.

And then there's the matter of creating turnovers. Consider Maryland, which enters the weekend with a plus-15 turnover margin, the second-best total in Division I-A.

"It still always goes right back to the defense," Bowden said. "If you're playing great defense, you've got a chance to win."

While Rix, a redshirt freshman, will try not to give the ball away, his teammates on the defensive side of the ball believe they have turned a corner after forcing five turnovers against Virginia -- two fumbles and three interceptions.

"I think the guys are finally getting the picture that those are the type of things that we need to do to win," Seminoles middle linebacker Bradley Jennings said.

"We've got to cause turnovers and we've got to go knock a team out and put the dagger in them. When they're down, we've got to strangle them."

Jennings was one of just four returning starters on the Florida State defense, and it has taken six games for the unit to get its bearings. In the loss to North Carolina, the defense had 41 missed assignments, a number that ballooned to 44 against Miami.

After both losses, coordinator Mickey Andrews fumed over his unit's tendency to play in an undisciplined fashion. His players got the point. Andrews declined to give out the number of missed assignments against Virginia except to say the unit reduced the number by "more than half."

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