New coordinator Mark Stoops, who left a similar position with the Arizona Wildcats, has made this team noticeably better of defense, even with the blowout loss he suffered to brother Bob Stoops three weeks ago at Oklahoma.
"Oh, I think it's huge, I mean, in today's time, you just don't get shutouts," Fisher said. "I mean, they just don't happen. I mean, somebody fumbles, kicks the ball, something happens, you score points. And that was a tremendous job, and they're doing a great job of playing team defense."
Making the effort more impressive is that Wake Forest had shown a fairly proficient offense this season. Plus, both teams had to stop play early in the third quarter for a lightning delay. That often leads to a drop-off in intensity. The Seminoles didn't have it.
"Our defense has pride," Fisher said. "That's our motto. We're going to play 60 minutes and play every play and try to play hard and try to play clean and do the things we've got to do. Just because you have a lead doesn't mean you take it easy. That's when you have to put your foot on people."
Now, Florida State (3-1, 1-0 ACC) hits the road for the defining point of its season. The Seminoles travel to Virginia (2-1), which opens its Atlantic Coast Conference play after beating Virginia Military Institute on Saturday. The Cavaliers have one of the ACC's best non-conference performances, losing only 17-14 in a Sept. 11 road trip to USC.
After the Virginia game, the Seminoles travel for their annual showdown against Miami. The Seminoles must earn at least a split of these games to stay in the ACC race and prove their improvement. But they really need to win both to show this program can have a breakthrough season.
They'll need more defensive efforts like the one they displayed against Wake Forest. For the second consecutive week, FSU knocked out the starting quarterback -- a trait the Seminoles used to have during the Derrick Brooks-Marvin Jones-Corey Simon era of the 1990s.
"It just shows all the stuff that was talked about during the offseason and all the things the coaches were saying about the defense, how good we were, how much talent we had out there and how much potential we had," redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. "This game you saw that potential."
Fellow defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel said the team's 47-17 blowout loss at Oklahoma on Sept. 11 was a motivation lesson.
"I really feel we're moving in the right direction as a defense," he said. "Everybody's coming out there doing his technique and assignments and not trying to make extra plays. ... Oklahoma showed us if you want respect, you have to come out and you've got to earn it."
--If there was one downer for the Seminoles, it was their home crowd. The Seminoles announced only 61,647, more than 21,000 under capacity and the smallest crowd in 19 years. And keep in mind, 19 years ago, the Seminoles' Doak Campbell Stadium only held 63,000.
"I wish we'd walk out there and have a packed house and let our kids enjoy the hard work, and let (the fans) see what we're doing," said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, choosing his words carefully, when asked about the disappointment following the Wake Forest game. "But it's tough economic times and we're going to continue to play if there's 83,000 or if there's one."
Do the math and it equates into a mega-million amount of lost revenue for the Seminoles. What has happened? Well, 10 years of mediocrity has hurt, combined with tough economic times in the state of Florida. And FSU's fan base does not have the same passion as rival Florida, or most schools in the SEC, Big 10 or Big 12 conferences. All of those factors are combined to put an embarrassing dent on FSU's revenue stream.
--The Seminoles recorded their first shutout since the 2008 season opener against Western Carolina (62-0). It was FSU's first shutout win against an ACC opponent since a 33-0 win over Virginia in 2006. The irony, of course, is that Wake Forest made history later that same season with a 30-0 win in Tallahassee -- a result so shocking it forced FSU officials to plan the ouster of offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, who had his contract bought out, against Bobby Bowden's wishes.
--The Wake Forest game was delayed 42 minutes by lightning and the threat of a thunderstorm with 12:34 left in the third quarter. Fisher credits the team's experience with bad weather during preseason for handling the break. He playfully chided reporters, reminding them of an August scrimmage when "y'all left to go have dinner," and the team came back out and finished the scrimmage when the thunderstorm subsided.
Said Fisher: "That's why I made (players) sit there for two and a half hours and three hours. Both times, if you remember right, when we had those practices were we stayed I said we went back out and practiced afterwards better than before. Guess what happens? We play better after the lightning delay than before the lightning delay."
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Christian Ponder -- This was easily his best game of the season, although it must be acknowledged that Wake Forest isn't exactly a stonewall defense. But Ponder did look more like the quarterback of past years, completing 24 of 37 passes for a season-high 243 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He was especially sharp after the lightning delay in the third quarter.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Willie Haulstead -- In preseason, the Seminoles' coaches raved about Haulstead's development. Maybe it is starting to emerge on the field. A year ago, he made minimal impact on special teams. He now has a career receiving game to set as a standard. The sophomore had five catches for 44 yards -- career highs -- and his first two collegiate touchdowns. For perspective, he had only five career catches prior to Saturday.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It shows the type of talent and potential we have as a unit. It's something we've been capable of. We had just yet to come out and do it." -- Florida State DE Everett Dawkins on the Seminoles' defense getting its first shutout in three seasons in the 31-0 win against Wake Forest.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Seminoles entire defense. OK, we know how bad this defense looked against Oklahoma. But the past two games, even considering the inferior competition, the Seminoles have looked a little more like their yesteryear predecessors. Getting a shutout is difficult against any opponent. Plus, consider how the Seminoles looked so inept on defense last year against any team. New defensive coordinator Mark Stoops has worked wonders with a group that still lacks physically dominant defensive linemen and is undersized in the secondary.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The passing game. QB Christian Ponder was sacked three times and passed for just 149 yards on 21 attempts. Aside from Bert Reed, the Seminoles are having problems getting any other receiver to make plays. Three other receivers had just one catch apiece and the Seminoles again looked sluggish on offense in the first half.
--No new injuries and maybe an improvement to an existing one. QB Christian Ponder (right elbow) took it easy the first three days of practice last week, before cutting it loose in Thursday's final tune-up. It transferred into better performance in the game. He also knows there is an urgency with this being his senior year and NFL scouts watching.
"It felt a little tight, but I was able to play, and it feels fine now," he said. "It's my senior year, and I've got limited games in a FSU uniform."
--OT Andrew Datko (shoulder) missed his second consecutive game and it's uncertain when he'll return. The Seminoles may want to assure he's healthy for the Miami game Oct. 9. In his absence at left tackle, Henry Orelus made his second start, but was pulled out in the third quarter, after giving up two sacks in the game. Freshman Garrett Faircloth replaced him and played better.
"(Orelus) was having a tough day and there's no sense to keep rubbing it in," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We had to make a change and let him get his bearings on the sidelines and just take a deep breath. The other guy started playing pretty good and we got rolling.
--CB Xavier Rhodes (leg) missed the second half for the second straight week, but his injury is not deemed serious.