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Secondary has some concerns

Sometimes the defense looked brilliant last weekend. Then it looked like it did last season, and that's not good.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 30, 2002

TALLAHASSEE -- Two pivotal plays by junior cornerback Stanford Samuels last weekend against Iowa State told you all you need to know about the Florida State pass defense.

In the final seconds of the first half, Samuels botched the call and left an area uncovered. That allowed quarterback Seneca Wallace to find tight end Kyle Knock open for a 29-yard touchdown that put the Cyclones back in the game.

"I had a M.A. (missed assignment); I never have M.A.'s," he said. "I'd rather get beat than have an M.A."

On the other play, this in the waning moments, Samuels fought off a block, raced out of the end zone and just managed to shove Wallace out of bounds at the 1-yard line.

"I thought the play was going the other way and I looked up and Seneca was coming around," Samuels said.

Linebackers Kendyll Pope and Jerel Hudson then played the option perfectly and combined to stop Wallace inches from the goal line as time expired, preserving a 38-31 win.

"If Stanford doesn't make an unbelievable play, then we're not going to line up in goal line," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "Most people overlook that."

One player. Two plays. Different results.

But then the pass defense showed two distinct faces, too.

During the first 29 minutes, FSU not only returned an interception for a touchdown, but it held Wallace and the Cyclones to 55 yards passing and 103 total yards. Thereafter, the FSU defense looked as error-prone as a year ago as the Cyclones amassed 340 yards -- with Wallace completing 17 of 23 passes for 258 yards -- and 24 points.

"I am concerned about it," coach Bobby Bowden said. "Defense will always worry me more because that's where you win big games."

Or lose them.

In case anyone has forgotten, this is a defense that last season allowed an average of 356.4 yards (32nd nationally) and 26.1 points (43rd), its worst showing since the mid 1980s. But that unit fought injuries and inexperience and with eight starters back, the Seminoles promised a return to their dominating form.

"Right now I can sit here and tell you, receivers in this nation are in trouble," Samuels said before the opener. "That comes from being more experienced and becoming more of a football player, more of a Florida State football player. . . . So, stay tuned."

You can bet the Cavaliers did, though coach Al Groh said the Seminoles' problems had more to do with the brilliance of Wallace than with their schemes or talent level.

"We're a long way from being a real good defense; that's not hard to pick out," Andrews said.

Going into the game, Andrews stressed stopping the big play. The Seminoles didn't. In addition to Knock's catch, tailback Hiawatha Rutland zipped virtually untouched up the middle for a 36-yard touchdown and Wallace hit Jamaul Montgomery, who beat safety Claudius Osei, a first-year starter, for a 39-yard touchdown.

Then there was Wallace lofting a perfect pass to Lane Danielsen for a 37-yard gain on third and 11 from the 4 early in the third quarter. The drive eventually led to a field goal but lasted 16 more plays and ate up 10 minutes, 19 seconds.

"It used to be around here if we got people in third and long, you forget about it, you ain't going to convert," Andrews said. "That wasn't the case."

The Cyclones converted 10 of 17 third downs or 58 percent.

Like last fall, injuries haven't helped. Safeties Kyler Hall and Osei have been limited in practice, and defensive tackles Darnell Dockett and Travis Johnson are not 100 percent after offseason surgeries. Numerous players showed lapses in their fundamentals from the lack of work.

"You've got to have reps," Andrews said.

"We had a bunch of missed assignments, but once we get lined up (correctly), we can play with anybody," backup cornerback Leroy Smith said.

Ultimately, what worries Bowden the most is he might be lacking big-play players.

"The thing I don't see on defense, I haven't seen on defense, I haven't seen a Deion Sanders; I haven't seen a Reinard Wilson; I haven't seen a Pete Boulware; I haven't seen a Derrick Brooks. I haven't seen a Daryl Bush; I haven't seen a Terrell Buckley," Bowden said.

At least, not yet.

"Even if we had made a statement, there still would have been questions about this defense, there still would have been questions about the corners, there still would have been questions about the safeties," Samuels said. "We understood it was going to be a 13-week process. This is a wakeup call about the little things."

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