Florida State's defense, considered the cornerstone of past great Seminole teams, is once again making a difference. Oft-criticized earlier this season for its inconsistency and penchant for surrendering big plays, the unit played a key role in FSU's 40-14 victory over North Carolina Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"I felt like at times we've looked like the ol' Florida State defense out there," linebacker Kendyll Pope said. "That's the thing we've been trying to do -- cutting down on our mistakes. Instead of one guy making a play a game, we have several people making plays, be it a sack, interception, tackle for losss.
"I think that's been the key to our success on defense."
The Seminoles limited the Tar Heels to a pair of second-half passing touchdowns and 359 total yards. FSU also registered an interception, two fumble recoveries and two sacks as it limited UNC, the Atlantic Coast Conference leader in pass offense (270 yards per game), to 230 passing yards.
"I believe we are jelling," said Seminole defensive end Alonzo Jackson, who was credited with 1.5 sacks.
"We can finally can feed off each other and play off each other. We kind of know where everything fits, when we are going to do this and when (other) players are in the game, we know what they are going to do. We are feeling good about ourselves but we still need to continue to work hard."
Especially in the secondary, which is expected to be tested in remaining regular-season games against North Carolina State and Florida.
UNC struck for two scoring passes of 14 yards, the last coming with 40 seconds remaining the game. Tar Heels quarterback C.J. Stephens completed 16 of 40 passes for 175 yards before being replaced late in the fourth quarter. The Tar Heels' longest pass completion went for just 35 yards.
The Seminoles had allowed only two passing touchdowns in nine quarters over their last three games -- Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and UNC. FSU entered ranked fifth in the ACC in total defense (374.1 yards per game), though it's eighth (246.4) in pass defense.
"We've learned from our mistakes earlier in the season and are starting to put it together as a defense," said cornerback Bryant McFadden, who nabbed his third interception of the season. "We are trying to get that winning aspect back to Florida State and I think we're starting to show what this defense and team can do."
With the victory, the Seminoles clinched at least a share of the ACC title. Overall, FSU has won nine ACC titles, including seven with a perfect 8-0 record. Of course, the Seminoles' defense contributed heavily during that past success.
This year's unit also wants to make its mark after a slow start.
"I am greedy. To be honest with you, I don't want to share anything," Jackson said. "We are fighting to get it (ACC title) outright and we have to go to N.C. State, a team that beat us here last year. A team that kept us from winning the ACC last year. Now we have to go to their place and we are going to have to play well defensively."
ON THE MEND: Tailback Nick Maddox (ankle sprain) and center Antoine Mirambeau (knee sprain) were each held out due to injury. FSU coach Bobby Bowden said the duo could have played, but "it wouldn't have been wise." Freshman Leon Washington started at tailback, while David Castillo started at center.
"I could have played today but the coaches felt it was better that I didn't," Maddox said. "I will take the good with the bad."
DOING OKAY: Xavier Beitia kicked a pair of field goals, including a career-long of 47 yards, but he also missed wide right and had a field goal attempt blocked. Since missing the game-winner at Miami Oct. 12, Beitia is just 5-of-11.
"This game wasn't a good game but I felt like if that kick wouldn't have gotten blocked, I felt it would have gone in," Beitia said. "I get upset when I miss but I get more upset when there is a (mechanical) problem. Today I felt I hit the ball well."