Renewed Confidence

Okay, it has only been two games. Still, the difference has been noticeable. FSU's cornerbacks have suddenly gone from maligned to magnificent. Even Georgia Tech coach <b>Chan Gailey</b> nods in agreement, pointing to a renewed aggressiveness and revamped scheme. FSU graduate assistant Kirby Smart, who coaches the cornerbacks under defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, admits the group is "playing with a different attitude and a different confidence." Why is that? Click here to find out.

The difference has been noticeable on the field and on film. Florida State's cornerbacks have gone from maligned to magnificent.

"They are playing with a different attitude and a different confidence," said graduate assistant coach Kirby Smart, who works with the cornerbacks under defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews.

"I don't know if that's because of the front, because of the ends, because of the linebackers are blitzing, I really don't know what it is. But they are playing with a little different demeanor, each one of them. They are playing aggressive and making plays when they've been asked to."

FSU cornerbacks are expected to be tested again Saturday, when Atlantic Coast Conference rival Georgia Tech visits Doak Campbell Stadium.

In the 17-3 win over Auburn last Saturday afternoon, true freshman quarterback Reggie Ball had another solid performance. Ball, a two-way threat, finished nine-for-21 for 149 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 26 yards. When the game ended, he was carried off the field by Tech fans.

"He seems to have a hold over the offense, a hold over the players," FSU cornerback Stanford Samuels said.

"He has that intensity and respect. They play for him and he doesn't have to make all the plays. He has a veteran line in front of him, a running back who runs hard and receivers who are well seasoned, so it's going to be a game."

Samuels, of course, enjoyed a breakout game in FSU's 21-13 win over Tech last season, nabbing two interceptions, including a game-saving pick in the end zone with 20 seconds left. He returned his first pick 82 yards for a score in the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7.

Samuels is one of four proven cornerbacks in FSU's secondary, a group that also includes Bryant McFadden, Leroy Smith and Rufus Brown. Sophomore Gerard Ross and true freshman standout Antonio Cromartie also have contributed.

In opening victories over North Carolina and Maryland, FSU's defense allowed just one drive to reach the red zone (20-yard line). UNC had honors but missed a field goal. Smith ended a Maryland drive last Saturday with an interception, returning it 32 yards to the Terps' 7 yard line.

Opponents last season averaged 235.2 passing yards per game with 21 touchdowns. FSU has not allowed a touchdown in two games and UNC and Maryland averaged 173.5 passing yards (8.5 yards per catch).

"The main thing is we are playing at a level that allows coach Andrews to do what he loves to do, and that's play Florida State football," Samuels said. "We've come together. I have my own personal swagger back. The key is we have to keep pushing to make sure we can do this the entire season -- not just two games."

Tech coach Chan Gailey admits he also has noticed a difference in the play of Seminole cornerbacks, pointing to aggressiveness and scheme.

"I think their corners are playing a lot more aggressively than they played last year, taking more chances, and they're able to make things happen," he said.

"I also think they're using a little bit more stunting and blitzing than they did last year. They have played somewhat vanilla last year, in watching their film, and this year they are moving a lot more and stunting a lot more, which creates problems for offenses. Really, the biggest key is the way that they are playing those guys. They are using a few more disguised coverages this year than they did last year. They'll show you one thing and end up in another. So between the disguise and playing more aggressively, that's the biggest changes that I see from last year to this year."

Smart, who picked off 11 passes in his final two seasons at Georgia and is a former team captain, says FSU cornerbacks have worked extremely hard to improve their cover skills. While the group has not allowed a big play thus far, Smart realizes that can change quickly, not to mention the fickle opinion of fans as well.

Tech receiver Jonathan Smith has nine catches for 121 yards in two games. He also has enjoyed success against the Seminoles with nine receptions for 108 yards in two previous games.

"Knock on wood," Smart said and smiled.

"As a coach you are always thinking on your heels when you are coaching the cornerbacks. But they are always playing aggressive and you don't want to take their aggression away. (We are) just hoping and praying we keep not giving up the big play. You don't believe in coaching with caution, 'Don't give up the deep ball, don't give up the deep ball.' And they do. We've been very fortunate this year not to have one. Why this year? I don't really know.

"They are the same guys. They are finishing better, they are making plays, and we are getting more pressure. And a lot of that has to do with the fact we've zone blitzed more -- we are rushing five instead of four -- that fifth guy is making the quarterback get rid of the ball away a little sooner and maybe it's a fact we've played lesser teams. Last year I thought Iowa State was an okay team and we beat Maryland last year pretty good. We can't judge anything for a couple more weeks."

Even so, Smart also believes the group has benefited from facing a young but talented stable of receivers who have played a key role in FSU's offensive success.

"We face every day in practice better receivers than I feel like we are going to face 90 percent of the time in games and each corner is fighting for his own job," Smart said. "He's sitting there with another guy behind him. But we faced good receivers last year in Anquan (Bolind) and Talman (Gardner), plus these guys. So, I can't explain much of last year but Ive been very pleased this year (laughing)."


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