Challenged and short-handed, FSU defensive line responds with huge effort
Their week started with a rare public challenge from their head coach.
It ended with them chasing North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell from one end of Bobby Bowden Field to the other, sacking him four times, hitting him countless others and helping force him to throw incompletions on each of his final three passes.
In between, there were key players sidelined, a rejuvenated effort this week in practice, the surprising return of one player who "opted out" during preseason camp, and a starter ejected in the first half for targeting.
But in the end, after failing to make much of an impact in the first four games of the 2020 season, it was Florida State's defensive line that deserved as much credit as any group on Saturday night for helping the Seminoles pull off a stunning, 31-28 upset of No. 5 North Carolina.
"I thought the defense responded incredibly," said FSU head coach Mike Norvell, who said more than once last week that the Seminoles needed to get more production from their "forcing unit" up front. "We were down. I mean, the number of guys that were not available tonight -- and some guys that got banged up during the course of the game -- that was heart. What you saw on that field was guys who just made the choice and gave it all. ...
"I know there's been a lot of talk about what we haven't done up until this point of the season. But tonight, we needed them to show up big, and boy did they ever."
It was apparent from the beginning what Florida State's defensive game plan was going to be against fifth-ranked Carolina. The Seminoles were going to do their best to slow down the Tar Heels' high-powered running game, and any time Howell dropped back to pass, they were going to bring tremendous pressure.
That was an area where Adam Fuller's defense had been sorely lacking during the first four games of the season. Coming into Saturday, FSU had recorded just three sacks all year, and opponents frequently had ample time to throw the ball -- they were completing nearly 70 percent of their passes against the 'Noles.
But this was an inspired effort.
FSU recorded more sacks in this one game than it had in the first four games combined, and it was the defensive line doing most of the damage. Senior defensive end Janarius Robinson was credited with two sacks, and defensive tackle Cory Durden was credited with one-half sack.
"I would say it started in practice," junior defensive end Joshua Kaindoh said. "We came back after Notre Dame, and we just made up in our mind that we were gonna practice harder. And I felt like it carried over to the game."
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