In 2014, Florida State's defense really struggled in both phases of the game. They were not able to get a pass rush, recording only 17 sacks the entire year, and ranked 40th in the S&P defensive rankings a year after being a dominant No. 1.
Seven games into this season the Seminoles have turned it around. Florida State has 16 sacks on the season and are currently 20th in the S&P defensive rankings. The Florida State run defense has been particularly stout. They are allowing just 3.73 yards per carry to Power-5 opponents.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher had a lot of praise for they way his defense has played this season and what they have had to overcome.
"They, for the most part, played great," Fisher said. "We've been able to pressure the quarterback. Our young guys are developing on defense. Up front we're playing the run very well right now. Our linebackers with Ro'Derrick, boy, you never know. A guy like Ro'Derrick Hoskins who has jumped in that mix and really developed, especially when you have an injury to Terrance Smith and what's going on. And Sh'Mar Kilby-Lane you start seeing him emerge, and Reggie was there and those guys. But I've been in the secondary with Derwin and all the guys, Jalen. I've been pleased. I think they've done a nice job of playing defense."
The emergence of two true freshmen has really helped the defense evolve this season. Defensive end Josh Sweat and defensive back Derwin James have been able to come in and immediately make an impact. While also providing more depth at critical positions, the two freshmen have also been two of the biggest playmakers on defense. The two have combined for 48 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble.
Coach Fisher has been pleased with their production and progress this season.
"Yeah, he's [Derwin James] played well," Fisher said. "You see it in practice. I've judged it a lot in the game, but those guys are consistent in what they've done. He's done a nice job. He's getting better and better. You see him making plays. He's learning. He makes a few mistakes here and there, but all the freshmen are going to. Him and Josh Sweat, some of those freshmen that jumped out."
"[Josh Sweat] played really good this last week," Fisher said. "Him, and Pugh and those guys, that's a great young group there. A couple times there he tried to do too much, trying to make too many plays. But once he got it, boy, you saw the tip ball and the athleticism. He just keeps evolving into a really good player."
With all the injuries to key players on the defense, defensive coordinator Charles Kelly has done a fantastic job turning the defense around. They've carried the team through the first part of the season, and, with the way the offense has been playing, they will need to continue to do so for the rest of the season.