Florida State landed three transfer defensive ends in the offseason for a reason. Well, a few reasons.
Jermaine Johnson (Georgia), Keir Thomas (South Carolina) and Marcus Cushnie (Alabama A&M) bring production, experience and leadership. While the focus is on addressing the pass rush, it’s also about bolstering a run game that was among the nation’s worst in 2020.
“I said from the day that we got here that needs to be the front porch of our defense,” defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said of the front four. “Whether it’s due to recruiting, due to development, whether it’s due to scheme, that’s been a major push this offseason. It’s been impactful here early in preseason, and we’re going to lean on them to be make an impact all over the football field on Sunday night.”
One of the Seminoles’ biggest tests comes right out of the gate on Sunday against No. 9 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish ran for 353 yards in a 42-26 win over FSU last October, averaging 8.4 yards per carry as Kyren Williams (19 carries for 185 yards, 2 TDs) and Chris Tyree (11 carries for 103 yards, 1 TD) led the ground attack.
Notre Dame had three offensive linemen — Aaron Banks, Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey — selected in the NFL draft but the Fighting Irish remain formidable up front with center Jarrett Patterson, tackle Josh Lugg as well as Marshall transfer and AP All-American guard Cain Madden. All three are seniors or grad students, and Madden even visited Florida State before making the decision to land at Notre Dame in June.
“The running game can be different and I think it can be extremely effective and efficient,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “You start with personnel. Think we’re getting much more comfortable with the personnel up front on the offensive line. We lost some really good players, but I think we’re getting to the point where we’re feeling more comfortable with how that group is working together. I think we’ve been very careful not to do too much, but yet have a great library of answers to what defenses may do. That efficiency, in terms of selection of plays, have been repped and repped and repped. I think the maturity of the backs in particular the two veterans, and when I say veterans, I use that word loosely. They are still young in Kyren and Chris. Then C’Bo is is an outstanding back that just is in a crowded room. But he has demanded carries by his play.”
Said FSU coach Mike Norvell: “They know what they’re trying to accomplish when it comes to the run game and it starts up front. And then when you have great tight ends and running backs that run with a true purpose. It’s a challenging spot.”
It’s an especially challenging spot for Florida State, which was 97th against the run last fall and allowed 199 rushing yards per game. The Seminoles coaches pursued help with the likes of Johnson, Thomas and Cushnie to help a pass rush that generated just nine sacks in nine games. But it was also done to elevate the talent and bring in veterans who would teach and motivate younger players.
Norvell has praised sophomore defensive tackle Dennis Briggs for his work ethic and cited him as “one of the most consistent performers we had in fall camp.” Briggs as well as Robert Cooper and Fabien Lovett, in his second year at Florida State after transferring from Mississippi State, will anchor the interior of the line.
“He’s quick, he’s powerful,” defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins said of Briggs. “He’s developing into a very good run-stopper and a pass rusher.”
Videos from Thursday
In the videos below, Mike Norvell talks about Thursday’s practice and preparations for the Notre Dame game.
Camren McDonald discusses the confidence he has in the second year in the Mike Norvell-Kenny Dillingham offense.
Jashaun Corbin also describes how the run game has developed in the preseason camp. The Osceola will write more from Thursday’s interviews later in the afternoon.
Bowden banners added at Doak
A new banner of Bobby Bowden and a quote was added at Doak Campbell Stadium in recent days.
McKenzie Milton had moments where his accuracy was off. But he also showed his creativity and skill as a passer, adjusting his arm angles to throw around incoming defensive linemen to try to deliver passes. … Battles in 11-on-11s were competitive but it was clear the offense was often out of rhythm with bad snaps, some drops, passes that were off the mark or a few pre-snap penalties … FSU spent a considerable portion of practice working on special teams.