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Rebuilt FSU defense a dominating force
The Seminoles, led by linebacker Buster Davis, never seemed to show fear against the highly ranked 'Canes.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published September 6, 2006
TALLAHASSEE - Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews had been mulling over more questions than a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
Could a young, rebuilt defense somehow be better than last year's group? Could it do so from the gate against Miami in Monday night's opener?
Well, the Seminoles provided some of those answers - answers that left Andrews and the entire staff with quite a payday: a 13-10 win at the Orange Bowl.
FSU held Miami to 134 total yards, 17 in the second half. Five of the Hurricanes' six second-half possessions ended in three offensive plays. FSU forced a punt after Miami intercepted Drew Weatherford and returned it to the FSU 31 late in the second quarter.
"Overall, it was about as good a defensive performance as we've had around here in some time," Andrews said Tuesday.
How good? Factor in that it came away from home and against a nationally ranked opponent, and the only recent comparable showings were the 73 yards FSU allowed at No. 5 North Carolina late in 1997 and the 133 yards allowed to No. 15 Texas A&M to open the 1998 season.
"I didn't know they would play that good," coach Bobby Bowden said. "As I've stated many times, we think we have some talent. It's all potential. We haven't done anything yet."
They have now. Led by senior linebacker Buster Davis (12 tackles, 31/2 for a loss, and two sacks), the Seminoles never looked as though they feared Miami would find a way to beat them as had been the case in so many meetings.
Remember, FSU hadn't won in the Orange Bowl since 1998, and, if you count a loss to the Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl game at Dolphins Stadium, it had lost its past four meetings in this part of the state. In all four, FSU couldn't hold a lead and lost in heartbreaking fashion.
"This defense is not like a defense we've had in a long time," Davis said. "This is a dominant defense because there's so much hunger out there. ... There's a different vibe out there. You see that swagger of the old defenses."
He exudes that, to the point Bowden posed another question to himself in the days leading up to the ballyhooed Labor Day game:
"I wonder if Buster's going to play as good he's talking because he was talking real good, maybe a little bit more than I like," Bowden said. "But he backed it up in the ballgame. ... He was good. He played real well. He had the best game I've seen him have. He was really a force in there for us."
Davis set the tone for his teammates from the outset. He essentially ended Miami's second series when he blitzed up the middle, taking advantage of a hole his front four created, and leveled quarterback Kyle Wright for a 12-yard loss on second down.
"Every herd of cattle I've ever seen had a bell cow. There's always one cow that led them to the watering hole and led them back to barn, and it was the same cow every time," Andrews said. "They didn't take turns leading the herd."
As the most seasoned defensive player, Davis wants to lead.
"The other 10 guys feed off of what I do," he said. "If I'm out there playing lights out, those other 10 guys are going to say, 'Okay. Now it's time for me to make a play.' ... I've got to get the other 10 players to the level I'm playing at, and they did that. I'm so proud of the guys. They showed me something."
Geno Hayes, for one, had eight tackles, 21/2 for a loss. He and Davis were named the ACC's defensive players of the week.
"That kind of game is going to draw the best out of you. How can a Seminole not go down to Miami and not play the best he can?" Andrews said, adding the game tells him where the defense is now, not where it will be Saturday or the week after against Clemson.
More questions? You bet.
"I just asked them a while ago, 'Is that the best you can be? Are you satisfied with what we did?' " Andrews said. "Coach Bowden told them a while ago, 'We were 1-0 this time last year and lost five games.' ... They're proud of what they did. They have a reason to be, but if they're serious about the goals they've set, they're not going to hurt themselves patting themselves on the back with another job to do four days from now."