The third-ranked Seminoles (8-1) head into Bowden Bowl V Saturday at Clemson with a defense that's rockin' and rollin' -- the unit leads the ACC in total defense (284.7 ypg), scoring defense (10.8 ppg), and turnovers forced (25). FSU also ranks second nationally in scoring defense and fourth in pass efficiency defense (92.5). Boulware leads the team with 68 tackles and two sacks.
"I will tell you what the key component for it all is that it has been a very focused group on top of being a very talented group," Steele said.
"Each week I go into a meeting and challenge them to improve on anything on the past game that they did not do very well. Much like you would do in the NFL. A very, very adult conversation. This is what you have to do. If you want to be the best in America, these are things you have to improve on and you have to get improved now. You can't wait six weeks. They've all done that. It's really helped."
Steele came to FSU after spending the 1999-2002 seasons at Baylor, replacing Joe Kines as the Seminoles' linebackers coach. It's a message that has been oft-repeated, but Steele points to FSU coach Bobby Bowden and defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews as the primary reasons for wanting to end up in Tally.
"From the onset, the first and primary reason was to work for a man like coach Bowden, his integrity and character," Steele said.
"A lot of things are said and talked about people all across the country and often times it's done by people who don't know what who they are talking about. They are not around them every day. Coach is Bowden is one of those men that he makes every decision based on what's best for the individual. He has a great heart. His faith is strong and he lives that in his days work, both from the staff standpoint and the team standpoint.
"Mickey, he's the best. He's an excellent guy to work with. He has a great mind and he pushes guys to be the best. On top of that, you can't do any of that unless you have players. And you come to Florida State you have players who are good enough to win a national championship and an opportunity to do so. Everything has been that way."
Of course, FSU fans are extremely excited about the Seminoles' future at linebacker.
A.J. Nicholson has filled in nicely for the injured Pope at outside linebacker. Sam McGrew‘s snaps have increased at middle linebacker behind Augustin, while Ernie Sims has opened plenty of eyes -- including Steele's.
"Ernie is, he maybe the best athlete at the position that I've ever coached," Steele said.
"I've never seen a guy who can change direction and explode on things like he can. With Pope being injured, he's had to play more which is good. Ernie is so talented, he's so smart and he loves the game so much that every snap he takes he just gets better and better and better. Every now and then he will make a play and everybody will clap and say, ‘Boy, what a great play.' But really in the scheme of the defense he really wasn't where he was supposed to be. I tell him if you are going to make a mistake, you better make a play."
Steele also has a soft spot for the veterans as well.
Pope, who led the Seminoles with a career-high 131 tackles last season, and Boulware, the brother of former FSU All-American Peter Boulware, are primed to join FSU's all-time top 10 list for total tackles. They are two of 13 Seminoles to record 300 career tackles and are both lessthan 20 tackles away from moving into the top 10.
Steele said he recently joked with Andrews that he spends more time with Seminole linebackers than his own two young children at home.
"We go in meetings together and spend a lot of time together," Steele said.
"I have two children at home. My daughter was going to stay up and wait and see me the other night, and she hadn't seen me in six days. When you spend that much time around these guys you really get to know them. These are guys you enjoy being around. They are committed to excellence. They are good people. They want to be the best at their position. They want to win championships for Florida State. But all that aside, they want to earn a degree and want to be good people. They are fun to be around.
"Plus, because they have taken so many snaps at a championship level, they are like coaching NFL players. You don't have to unscrew their heads and pour stuff into them and hope that it sticks. They are so in tuned to what they are doing, you can just tell them, ‘Hey, we need this done and this is why we need it done.' They give you the thumbs up and nine out of 10 times it's done."