December 16, 2013

Blitz-happy FSU secondary hoping to keep up pressure vs. Auburn




















Clemson's Tajh Boyd is not at the Heisman trophy ceremony this weekend, and Lamarcus Joyner is the reason why.


Florida State's defense has been wildly successful in 2013, and a large portion of FSU's explosive plays have come from defensive backs like Joyner.






Joyner leads the country in sacks by a defensive back with 5.0, and his single-handed destruction of Boyd's confidence is the best example of FSU's effective use of the cornerback blitz.


Boyd had all the hype of a battle-tested senior quarterback with prolific numbers through the first third of the season. He was near the top of the early Heisman watchlists. That all changed in Death Valley on Oct. 19.


Boyd's first pass turned into a fumble, forced by Joyner. Two possessions later, Joyner came rocketing off the edge on a cornerback blitz. Boyd didn't even have time to duck - he went down 18 yards behind the line of scrimmage and Joyner ripped the ball out as well, sparking a defensive touchdown.


Boyd finished the game 17-37 with a paltry 156 yards, and spent much of the final three quarters looking over his shoulder for Joyner coming off the edge.


Boyd wasn't the only quarterback left in shambles by pressure from FSU's defensive backfield. The Seminoles' defensive line has specialized in clogging the line of scrimmage, meaning when speedy defensive backs fly in on blitzes, the combination of speed and power is too much for blockers.


The first experiment came against Pittsbugh in the season opener. Joyner's blitzes off the edge resulted in two sacks that game, and opened eyes to the potential of FSU's defense. On Joyner's sack of Boyd a few weeks later, he came off the line so fast no blocker had a chance to touch him.


"Lamarcus can do some crazy things out there on that field," fellow safety Terrence Brooks said. The thing I like about it too is that everybody can do those same exact things. To me it just matters what scheme we're planning for that week and what's going to be open."


Backing up Brooks' point, FSU has broadened its defensive back blitzes beyond just Joyner. Nate Andrews and Terrence Brooks have both been able to work in on pressure situations as well, and against Duke on Saturday in the ACC championship game, P.J. Williams got his first quarterback hurry on a blitz, and Andrews had a sack as well.


In fact, eight of FSU's 22 sacks this season (24 percent) have come from defensive backs, and 22 of FSU's 91 tackles for loss have come from defensive backs as well (also 24 percent). The versatility of FSU's defensive backs has been touted before, but it's worth pointing out that four different FSU defensive backs have sacks this season, even though Joyner's five leads the way.


"We can also bring guys form anywhere and put them in his position and put him in our position," Brooks said. "But having him produce at that position is good, glad he's getting the recognition he deserves."


That type of disruptive blitzing will likely come in handy against FSU's opponent in the national title game. Auburn leads the country in rushing offense, averaging 335.69 yards per game. The Tigers have a stable of running backs but just as importantly, an offensive line that has rarely been caught out of position this season.


"They do some really nice things over there," Brooks said. "They've got some really dynamic playmakers, and it should be a good matchup."







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