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Quote:FSU Getting Back To Defensive Glory

Published: Sep 22, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - The notion sounded slightly hollow in August when Florida State players were saying their defense might be better than it was a year ago.
A bold claim, considering three starting linebackers (two of whom are in the NFL) and Atlantic Coast Conference defensive Player of the Year Darnell Dockett had departed.

Two games into the 2004 season and it's easy to see what the preseason fuss was about. The Seminoles are giving up 42.5 yards rushing a game (third-best nationally) and 254.0 total (ninth-best) and have shown some of the big-play ability that has been sporadic since the 2000 season.

``There's been a couple of years now that we haven't made as many big plays and now we're trying to be a great defense [again],'' said senior defensive tackle Travis Johnson, whose play has been as symbolic as it has been disruptive.

Johnson has six of FSU's 25 tackles for loss in two games. Last season, he had three tackles for a loss in 13 games. He has played with an apparent emotion that was lacking as recently as last season.

``[If they] don't make mistakes, they've got a chance to be as good as anybody,'' FSU coach Bobby Bowden said of his defense, which exacerbates the frustration he feels when Chris Rix tries to get too creative with the ball on offense.

Bowden is well aware that, for the first time in a while, he might have the type of defense that can win every game, so long as Rix and his offensive teammates don't do anything foolish.

Miami didn't score a touchdown until 30 seconds remained in the season opener, and the winning drive came with FSU's top three cornerbacks - Antonio Cromartie, Bryant McFadden and Leroy Smith - unable to stay on the field because of cramps or minor injuries.

Cromartie earlier had scored FSU's only touchdown on a fumble return, the kind of game-turning play that might have been enough if not for four turnovers on offense.

``It's something we've been missing since Derrick Brooks and [Sam] Cowart and Marvin Jones,' '' Bowden said. ``Guys like Deion Sanders in the secondary and [Andre] Wadsworth, [Peter] Boulware, Reinard Wilson. I think we've [missed] it, too. I think we're getting some of that back.''

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