The unit once again dominated the offense during the Seminoles' half-scrimmage in Doak Campbell Stadium. Attacking from nearly every angle on the field, the Seminoles returned a pair of tipped passes for touchdowns and recorded double-digit sacks.
While the offense barely had enough room to maneuver, Bowden said he saw glimpses of improvement, especially in the rushing game, as the Seminoles continue preparations for their season-opener at North Carolina in nine days.
FSU had rushing 28 yards on 10 attempts, including 11 yards on one bruising carry from tailback Greg Jones. While outmanned and outgunned, the Seminoles' rebuilt offensive line also says it's learning and improving from the scrimmage sessions.
"I thought our offense did make some improvement," Bowden said.
"But our defense did what they are supposed to do. They did like. .. I haven't seen in a couple of years. They scored two touchdowns. Had a lot of sacks. Put pressure on the quarterback. Covered pretty good. I was pleased with what I saw out there. Defensive effort was good. Getting a lot of people to the ball. Playing with a lot of enthusiasm. Having a good time. I haven't seen that in awhile. I am glad to see that.
"And, again, after all of that, I felt like the offense was making some strides. We did a couple of things in there that was better, that surprised me. … we ran the ball better. We ran the ball better. We sure need to do that, so that's encouraging."
Quarterbacks Chris Rix, Fabian Walker and Wyatt Sexton combined to finish 8 of 15 for 143 yards. Rix recorded the most extensive action, finishing 5 of 8 for 110 yards, including a 46-yard strike to Crophonso Thorpe over Antonio Cromartie. Rix, however, also struggled at times and was chased from sideline to sideline. The offense went 1-for-16 from the 10-yard line and during situational drills.
Brodrick Bunkley (43 yards) and Michael Boulware (50 yards) returned tipped passes from Travis Johnson and Darnell Dockett for scores. Walker threw both deflected picks. FSU's lone scrimmage score was a 27-yard field goal from Xavier Beitia.
"The defense is just up on us right now," Rix said.
"But that's good for our team. I am excited about that, about our defense being fired up and making big plays out there. Running some touchdowns back. We just have a few things to iron out on offense. Like coach Jeff Bowden is saying, we are this close. We are very close to hitting those big plays. Everyone has to do their part. We correct those mistakes, we will be ready to roll."
FSU's young offensive line was without guard Eric Broe, who was held out after aggravating his injured knee cap. Also missing time were receivers Chris Davis (ankle) and Dominic Robinson (hamstring) and cornerback Stanford Samuels (groin).
Rix says he remains confident in his young line, which had trouble with the stunts and all-out blitzes.
"To be quite honest for you, I know our defense," Rix said.
"I've been going against it for three years now, so I know what to do in every situation when they bring a perimeter guy or a linebacker. It's just a question of some of the younger guys up front and some of our backs, knowing who to pick up in different pass protections. I am comfortable where I am there, as far as picking up the blitz and knowing who to hit as my hot receiver. It's just a question of some of the younger guys still getting that down and that's totally understandable. It has taken me two years to get that down pat. I am encouraged with how they are doing. They just have a little ways to go and they will be ready."
FSU senior noseguard Jeff Womble says the Seminoles' quality depth is a key difference from past units. FSU returned 10 starters from a unit that ranked fifth in the ACC and 61st nationally last season, allowing 366 yards per game. The Seminoles also return 12 of their top 15 tackles, not to mention an influx of young talent such as Cromartie, Ernie Sims and Chauncey Davis.
"With everybody running to the ball like that, and we're playing fast, it's real hard for the offense to do anything," Womble said and smiled.
"We have the guys. That gives you the opportunity to blitz. Guys can go in there and go four and five plays all out, and you can feel comfortable with the guys coming in behind you. Yeah, you guys are coming and putting the same pressure on the offense we would, they get their four, five plays and you are right back in there. It's just chemistry right now. Everybody is working together. Nobody is getting out of their assignments. Everyone is doing what the coaches have asked."
Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews also is obviously pleased with his unit. But he stressed plenty of work remained. North Carolina returns seven starters from an offensive unit that ranked sixth in the ACC and 67th nationally in total offense (369.1 yards per game). Quarterback Darian Durrant, who despite missing four games with a thumb injury, became the first Tar Heel since Paul Miller in 1971 to lead the ACC in total offense (285.5) last season.
"We feel confident about this group," Andrews said.
"We are not a great defense yet but we have a chance to be. If everybody can stay healthy and if everybody can just keeping working their tails off, then we have a chance. We have 10 starters back. We have some other guys who started and a bunch that played about half the time. We would be very, very disappointed if we weren't playing as good as we are right now.
"I asked them when we got through, ‘Is anybody as good as you can be before next Saturday?' Not a one raised their hand. Well, that's a good sign if they will follow through it. You have to get better mentally, between your years, and the execution of your defense and technique. If we do that. … you know, we will see. We will see."