"I feel like they (fans) are still going to have the same questions, but it's a totally different defense," reserve defensive end Eric Powell said. Added free safety Kyler Hall" "I am sure they will be saying the same ol' stuff. We just have to go out and play football and show people we can be a good defense."
The Seminoles escaped with their lives Saturday night, beating gritty Iowa State 38-31 in the Eddie Robinson Classic in Kansas City, Mo. FSU led 24-0 and 31-7, only to allow the Cyclones to come within 12 inches of either sending the game into overtime or ending it on a two-point conversion. Even with 12 more regular-season games, the defeat would have certainly spelled disaster for the Seminoles.
The defense, which was supposed to be much improved this season, faltered as the Cyclones netted 443 total yards on offense. Quarterback Seneca Wallace was as good as advertised, making plays with his arm and feet. FSU mistakes, however, didn't help matters. The Cyclones scored their second touchdown on a 29-yard pass play in which their tight end sneaked behind the defensive backs and caught the ball uncovered. The Seminoles' secondary also allowed a 39-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
"There's no doubt that people, in their minds, are still going to think that Florida State's defense is soft," linebacker Kendyll Pope said.
"We are not going to have that respect until we go out on the field and earn it. Obviously, it (victory) wasn't pretty but it was a great test for us. I have never played in a game that went down to the wire like that. We had a lot of missed tackles, missed assignments, mental mistakes – typical first game stuff. We need to get those kinks worked out because a lot of them were the same mistakes we were making last year."
The momentum began to turn Iowa State's way early in the second quarter, after Chris Rix threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin. The Cyclones got a 54-yard kickoff return, then a 36-yard scoring run up the gut by Hiawatha Rutland to get within 24-7. Hall, a first-year starter, accepted the blame as Rutland raced untouched for the score.
"I took a bad angle – that something I have to make sure it doesn't happen again," Hall said. "I think in the second half we were playing not to lose, instead of playing to win. We did have some good things happen, but it seemed like every time we had them in third-and-long they came up with a big play. To be a good defense, we have to stop that. We will learn from this game, get our mistakes corrected in practice, and be a better defense because of it."
In the end, however, the Seminoles made the play that counted – stopping Wallace short of the goal line. His 20-yard scramble left the ball at the 1 with four seconds left. Wallace tried to score on an option keeper down the line on the right, but Pope, with the help of Jerel Hudson and Michael Boulware, burst through and stopped him short.
While questions surely remain, the Seminoles agreed they dodged a bullet.
"He ran an option to the weak side and we kind of had a feeling that was the play they were going to run," Pope said. "It was a big play, fourth quarter. That's the thing here at Florida State. You play four quarters and finish the drill. We did that tonight. It wasn't a pretty victory, but we got that W."
Added defensive tackle Travis Johnson:
"Man, it was hard game. They fought. We might have thought they were going to roll over and die after we whipped them in the first half. That's what we need, to get that killer instinct. We should have just buried them. I think we were prepared. He's a great quarterback. That's what it came down to – who was going to make plays. We made one and I was like, ‘Thank you Jesus.' Now let's get on that plane and get us home."
While the negatives outweighed the positives, cornerback Stanford Samuels also insists the Seminoles made positive strides against the Cyclones. Samuels says the key is building that consistency over the length of the season.
"You could see the improvement in the way we played but we just have to put it all together," Samuels said. "We looked real rusty. Last year we beat Duke (opener)and thought we had something. At least now we know we have to go back and fine tune everything. There where times he (Wallace) had days back there. When we went to the three-man line, they were attacking the middle of the field. Then we had a breakdown, and you would have a big play.
"Yeah, they (fans) have a right to (question defense). But we have 12 more weeks to come out and prove to them.... even if we had made a statement like I was saying, there still would have been questions about the defense. Still would have been questions about the corners. Still would have been questions about the safeites. We understood that coming into it, that it's going to be a 13-week process. We have to prove it over the whole season. This is a wakeup call. The little things hurt us."