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Getting Better But Not All The Way Back

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

September 2, 2002 TALLAHASSEE - Two months ago, Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews opened up the Goal Line Barbecue restaurant in Tallahassee. The southern-style eatery already is receiving better reviews than Andrews' 2002 defense.

On the heels of last season's dismal defensive effort - FSU ranked no better than 32nd nationally in any category - the Seminoles surrendered 756 yards (564 passing, 192 rushing) and 50 points in their first two games. Those were disconcerting numbers for a unit that returned eight starters.

Particularly troublesome was FSU's penchant for surrendering points after building big leads. Iowa State nearly erased two 24-point first-half deficits with a touchdown on the final play of the first half and 17 more in the second before the Seminoles got a goal-line stop on the final play of the game to preserve a 38-31 win. Though things improved against Virginia, the Cavaliers' 19-point fourth quarter - albeit against reserves - spoiled FSU's bid for its first ACC shutout since 1998.

“For three quarters, I thought we were a lot better,” Andrews said after the Virginia game. “We gave up 14 points in the fourth quarter last week and gave up 19 this week. Add it up. We are supposed to dominate the fourth quarter, and that means no points. If they wanted it to be a 45-minute game, they wouldn't play but three quarters and you wouldn't have a halftime. ... I should have left after the third quarter, went to the restaurant and started serving barbecue.”

Needless to say, watching Virginia backup Matt Schaub throw three fourth-quarter TD passes did nothing for Andrews' appetite. It's still early and there are small signs that FSU has improved, but some of the same problems that haunted last season's defense - particularly the lack of a pass rush - still exist.

After finishing tied with Duke for last in the ACC with 15 sacks last season, the Seminoles had just three through two games. While the Seminoles had to focus on containing elusive quarterbacks Seneca Wallace and Marques Hagans, their inability to crash the pocket put more pressure on a secondary that was not yet up to the task.

Problems: Pass Rush, Coverage

Three-deep at each corner and two-deep at both safety positions, the Seminoles should be more effective against the pass. Unfortunately, the talent FSU has long leaned on - both in the secondary and rushing from the corner - is not what it used to be.

FSU had one interception - defensive end Alonzo Jackson returned a screen pass for a score against Iowa State - against 65 pass attempts in two games. Starting corners Stanford Samuels and Rufus Brown combined for eight of the team's 10 pass breakups, but they were left on islands without much support from the front four and two new starting safeties.

With an open week, Andrews was hopeful that the continued improved health of a number of key regulars would lead to a more consistent effort. Starting interior linemen Darnell Dockett (Achilles) and Jeff Womble (knee) aren't at 100 percent, and most of the secondary is still trying to get its legs back after missing considerable practice time in the 10 days leading up to the Iowa State game. Of the eight defensive backs on the two-deep roster, Brown was the only one to practice every day over the final two weeks of the preseason.

“Maybe with these two weeks,” Andrews said, “we can get old Darnell, (Travis) Johnson and Pig (Womble) back where they are ready to play physically, technique-wise, as well as being in shape.”

Getting a surge from the interior line - much as they did from Corey Simon and Jerry Johnson during the 1999 national championship season - may be the missing ingredient. It might have to be, because as the weeks continue to pass, it's becoming apparent that the Seminoles have no one on the roster whose ability approaches that of former FSU defensive ends Peter Boulware, Reinard Wilson, Greg Spires, Andre Wadsworth and
Jamal Reynolds.

Jackson may provide an emotional lift, but the fifth-year senior has only 11 career sacks. Kevin Emanuel, who was disruptive in the early going against the Cavaliers, is too stiff and not quick enough to consistently generate pressure, although he is good against the run. Sophomore Eric Moore is a promising talent, but so far he hasn't shown the discipline necessary to stay home to defend the run first. Senior Eric Powell, whose recovery from a gunshot wound last season has been stunning, still isn't capable of playing consistent, extended minutes.

With Maryland and Duke next up on the schedule, the Seminoles may have to wait until their Sept. 26 trip to Louisville to get a better gauge for their development. That's not a particularly calming thought, since the Cardinals boast a big-time gun in quarterback Dave Ragone, who has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Not to mention that the nationally televised Thursday night game will be FSU's first real foray into a hostile environment. Even if the Seminoles come around and avoid a potential upset, Clemson and Miami (in the Orange Bowl) pop up next on the schedule.

Samuels, who has been FSU's most consistent defender to date, prefers to look at things more positively.

“We went out there and played Florida State football for three quarters (against Virginia),” said Samuels, who helped lock down Virginia All-American receiver Billy McMullen. “The problem is that last 15 minutes, but it's progress. That's what we're looking for. ... It was beautiful out there, for three quarters. If we can get that for four, it will be beautiful all season.”

Who Will Throw Retirement Party?

It's unlikely that Bowden will shed any tears over Florida State president Sandy D'Alemberte's announcement that he will retire in January. Their publicly cordial relationship has been tainted in recent years by a pair of decisions that did not sit well with the coach, who undoubtedly will outlast his fifth school president.

“I was taken totally by surprise ... but I did think he was getting to the point where he was thinking about retiring,” Bowden said. “It did surprise me, but it's been nice working for him.”

Don't bet on it. The pair's relationship took a wrong turn when D'Alemberte - who championed civil rights as a notable attorney - did not stand behind Peter Warrick in 1999 when he and Laveranues Coles were charged with felony theft for accepting extreme discounts from a local department store clerk. D'Alemberte knew that the felony charges were trumped up by the state attorney's office, but he wouldn't budge from the athletic department's policy that any athlete facing a felony charge would be suspended pending the case's final disposition. Warrick sat out two games before the charges finally were reduced, clearing the path for his return.

A few months later, the two butted heads over the school's nepotism policy, which threatened to thwart Bowden's decision to promote his son, Jeff Bowden, to the offensive coordinator position vacated by Mark Richt. Bowden reportedly was ready to resign his position, and it took a series of back-room meetings, involving FSU athletic director Dave Hart, D'Alemberte and university attorneys, to get through the potential impasse. The promotion went through only after an arrangement was made that Jeff Bowden would report directly to then-assistant head coach Jim Gladden

Bowden has never been one to put himself above the university or its president. He recently served as chairman for a capital fund-raising campaign that has brought millions to the school. And while the coach won't publicly say so, D'Alemberte's resignation should be something of a relief over the final years of Bowden's legendary career.

Those twilight years may be even brighter if FSU opts to replace D'Alemberte with T.K. Wetherell, who played football for the Seminoles, served as Speaker of the House in the Florida legislature and recently resigned as president of Tallahassee Community College. Wetherell was instrumental in FSU getting state financial support for the University Center, which houses Doak Campbell Stadium. One of its wings bears his name.

Another presidential possibility is John Thrasher, who like Wetherell was Speaker of the House. He is an active member of Seminole Boosters Inc. and sits on FSU's board of regents.

Hart might be the man most impacted by the resignation, since D'Alemberte hired him, gave him unconditional control of FSU athletics and had since rewarded him with two lucrative contract extensions that made him one of the most well-compensated ADs in the country.