Seven games into the season, Florida State's defense has matured into the suffocating unit coaches and players were hoping it would become. FSU is on pace for similar sack numbers to last season, allows even fewer passing yards per game and already has as many turnovers as the Seminole defense did in all of 2012.
The secret to those numbers isn't in an opportunistic secondary or an uber-athletic linebacking unit - it's in the Seminoles' hulking defensive line.
FSU's listed starters at defensive line average 295.5 pounds. That size and rotation has allowed Florida State to clog the middle with just three down linemen and bring variability to its blitzes and coverages.
"Defensive tackles and nose guards are the most unselfish people in the world," head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They're taking on double teams, freeing up backers to make plays, not letting guys getting to the second level. Taking on two and three guys."
It's been a gradual progression for Florida State's linemen this season as the emphasis has shifted away from quarterback pressure and more towards gap control. Early in the season linemen were caught out of position and the defense was gouged for big plays, many of them on the ground.
But in the three games since Boston College, FSU's defensive line has cleaned up the mistakes and been downright dominating. Against Maryland, Clemson and NC State, FSU is allowing 3.2 yards per carry. In the first half against the Wolfpack before FSU's first-team defense went to the bench, NC State had 21 rushes for a paltry 39 yards, or 1.9 yards per carry.
"We believe in the coaching we're getting from coach Pruitt," defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "That's the biggest thing is just guys are buying into the system a bit more. We're building off our own success."
They shut down any chance of opposing quarterbacks rushing by collapsing the pocket. And at times, even just three down linemen have been able to get pressure and collapse the pocket.
"Coach the other day said we really don't have to send a rush because those three guys are down there creating havoc on the quarterback," safety Terrence Brooks said.
Redshirt freshman kicker Roberto Aguayo is well aware of the dubious history that comes with kicks in the Miami-FSU series. He even remembers seeing the last of the infamous wide rights in 2004.
"I was 10 years old," Aguayo said. "I always tell this story: I was at my friend's house and I was a big Florida State fan and all his friends were Miami fans. When he missed the kick it broke my heart. I went out crying. Now I'm on the team and I'm that guy. I'm the kicker now. So that's cool."
Aguayo said he's trying to treat Saturday's game like any other, and not think about the history of missed kicks from Florida State. So far this season, he's been perfect. In fact, Aguayo broke the record for consecutive kicks made last week against N.C. State and he's kicked so many extra points already this season that he joked that his leg gets tired.
Aguayo's leg hasn't been tested yet beyond a few chip-shot field goals, but he said he's made an effort to mentally prepare for whenever the big kick comes - even if that's against Miami.
"Every kick is a game-winning kick," Aguayo said. "So that when you get into that position you've done it a million times already."
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