FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews says his unit's acumen is an essential reason why his players have produced in the impressive manner that they have thus far this season.
Play between the ears has helped play between the sidelines.
"We are asking a lot more out of the guys than we have in the past, especially the younger guys," Andrews said.
The Seminoles (4-0) – ranked seventh in the nation in total defense – will have to tap into the brain trust once again when they host quick-change Wake Forest (2-3) Saturday afternoon in Tallahassee.
The Deacons scrapped a four-game experiment with a West Coast-style passing attack and reinstalled Lake City native Cory Randolph at quarterback to run its traditional misdirection ground scheme.
The gamble paid dividends with a 31-27 victory over Clemson last weekend.
In the past – the 20-17 victory that FSU eked out last season included – the Deacs have been successful in using the Seminoles' speed and aggressiveness against them with screens, draws and counters. Since 2001, Wake has piled up an average of 216 rushing yards per contest at FSU's expense.
"It can get real confusing if you don't pay attention to your assignment and stay in your gaps," defensive end Kamerion Wimbley said. "As defensive linemen you don't get to go full speed ahead. You have to slow down sometimes and look at what is going on in front of you."
Something will give – FSU allows 73 yards per contest on the ground (6th in the NCAA, 2nd in the ACC) and Wake churns out 211 (20th in the ACC, best in the ACC).
Compounding things for the Seminoles are injuries at defensive end – Darrell Burston (shoulder) is out; Anthony Kelly (groin) and Willie Jones (arthritic hip) are playing wounded.
Injuries and circumstances could force FSU into its ‘Panther' (three-man front) package, a scheme the Seminoles began tinkering with in spring practice and have used with success this fall.
"We feel like we are going to need it because of the strength of our personnel and our lack of depth up front," Andrews said. "Throw the injuries on top and we might be using it more."
Players credit the scheme, in part, for their eye-opening total of 19 sacks this season. FSU ranks third nationally in that category behind Louisville and Nebraska.
Dropping more defenders into coverage has also helped the secondary get along without injured All-American Antonio Cromartie.
"We haven't had to cover receivers as long or as hard," free safety Pat Watkins said. "Our boys up front have been tremendous this year."
What goes around comes around.
"Dropping more guys has actually made us better up front," Wimbley said. "We can get back there with three most of the time since the DB's have help. There are more guys to beat but there is more time to get back there."
Saturday's contest can be seen on Jefferson-Pilot in some areas and is available on ESPN GamePlan. Kickoff is at noon.
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