Florida State defensive players believe they turned in their best performance of the season in Saturday's 37-10 victory at Maryland. The Seminoles forced six turnovers - punctuated by four interceptions -- and shut out the Terrapins for almost three quarters. Maryland's lone touchdown came after FSU muffed a punt.
"It's about time," linebacker Kendyll Pope said Sunday. Pope had one of the Seminoles' four picks. Cornerback Rufus Brown recorded an interception and forced a fumble in the second quarter. Both plays set up FSU touchdowns. Additionally, reserve cornerback Bryant McFadden earned his first and second career interceptions in the fourth quarter.
"We've played two games and nobody had made the big, big plays," Pope added. "Coach (Bobby) Bowden had singled out the defense and said that someone needed to step up and make the big play. We need to do it as a team, not just one player making the big play but let's all get in and try to make a big play. And that's what happened. We had six turnovers and four interceptions. We also had great pressure by the defensive line. It was a very, very good effort."
In the first half, FSU forced four turnovers; recovering two fumbles and intercepting two Scott McBrien passes. In addition, B.J. Ward, who made his second start of the season at free safety, recorded the second block of the season when he broke through and batted down a Nick Novak field goal attempt in the first quarter.
"I just happened to squeeze through and I ran my feet pretty good and I got my hand on the ball," Ward said Sunday. "We try to make plays every game, it's just a matter of doing your assignments and following through with it. We are a ways from being as good as we can be, but we are making strides every game. We are still young, so it's a matter of getting some games behind us and getting reps. I think we did good (Saturday). We just have to keep doing it."
Of course, the challenge facing FSU this week, with Duke (1-2, 0-0) headed to Tallahassee, is continuing to keep improving. Consecutive Thursday night games at Louisville and against Clemson are followed by a trip to No. 1 Miami and Notre Dame's Oct. 26 visit to Doak Campbell Stadium. The Hurricanes blew past Temple Saturday, while the Irish stung Michigan and appear headed back towards a Top-10 ranking.
"Our goal is to try to get better and better every game," Pope said.
"That (Saturday) was much better. The first game, we played a half. The second game, we played three quarters. We talked all week about a 60-minute ballgame. Even when the subs get in, we can't let up. If we had played just a little bit harder, we could have gotten that goose egg. We got a lot of our objectives on defense. We held them under 300 yards of offense and we held them under 15 points. We can win with that as long as we keep getting turnovers."
FSU certainly accomplished that goals against the Terrapins, who saw a 15-minute stretch in the first half transform a relatively close game into an exhibition with three giveaways. Maryland also finished with 298 total yards. The Seminoles also more than doubled their season sack total with four against the Terps, including a career-first by true freshman linebacker A.J. Nicholson in the fourth quarter, according to the FSU sports information department Monday.
After recording first-half shutouts in each of the past two games, one of the goals against the Blue Devils will be completing the job. FSU hasn't shut out an ACC opponent in four seasons.
"We came together," rover Jerome Carter said Sunday.
"Everybody worked hard. We could have played a little harder. We need to keep practicing hard and get better to let everybody know that the Florida State defense is back. We pretty much back to where we want to be, but we've got to work hard. We're not doing as bad as everybody's talking. Everybody is looking down on us, saying we're the weak link. So we've got to keep working hard and make some big plays and let everybody know that we'll still help."
The Seminoles admit it's important to remain focused if they want to regain the ACC championship. The victory over Maryland was an important step in that process. FSU's game against Duke is just as important.
"It was a nice game for all of us, really," Brown said. "Game by game, we are coming together. Every game we are trying to improve."
"We're not there yet as a defense," he said. "We're trying to minimize the yardage We're trying to get that swagger back. People aren't scared of the tomahawk on the helmet any more, that's what we're trying to get back. I think if we keep playing like we did (Saturday), we'll get better and better as the week's roll on."