Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has done an excellent job in his first year leading a defense. He coached defensive backs for several seasons with Nick Saban at Alabama, and his overall scheme is similar to what the Crimson Tide uses. One aspect of the Seminoles defense that has really stood out is its ability to rush the passer from several positions. Just as Alabama managed three sacks of Nick Marshall on just 19 drop backs, Florida State's blitz packages could have a big impact on the Auburn passing game. But while Marshall was sacked by linebackers in the the Iron Bowl, a defensive back is the sack leader for the 'Noles.
Lamarcus Joyner played safety last year. He made 27 solo tackles and broke up five passes. He also returned 18 kickoffs for 424 yards. After last season, Joyner made the move from safety to cornerback, even though he would be learning a new position as a senior. The move may have been for Florida State to increase depth, get its best players on the field or entice Joyner to come back for his senior season. Or maybe Joyner wanted to show off some versatility before heading to the NFL.
Regardless, he has made the most of his last year as a Seminole. He has 43 solo tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. But perhaps the biggest contribution is his team-leading five sacks.
The Clemson Tigers should have just climbed back up the hill and hopped right back on the buses after the "most exciting 25 seconds in college football," and Joyner was a major reason why. On Clemson's first offensive snap, Stanton Seckinger ran a curl route between two defenders and a caught an easy pass from Tajh Boyd. Joyner had been in position over Seckinger, but he widened when a back motioned into the flat. Once the pass was thrown inside, he quickly recovered. He was able to force a fumble, and Clemson's first drive ended with only one play.
Throughout the rest of the first quarter, Florida State played a lot of 4-2 nickel against Clemson. Joyner usually covered the slot receiver and, for the most part, he did his job against the pass. And when runs came his way, he fought blocks well enough to prevent the runner from outflanking the rest of the defense.
In addition to his basic cornerback responsibilities, Joyner blitzed several times in the first quarter, as well. This was one tactic Florida State used to combat Clemson's pace. Boyd had just hit Sammie Watkins for an 18-yard pass, and the Tigers quickly went to the line to run another play. The Seminoles defense looked a little out of sorts in the secondary, but Joyner and Terrence Brooks were ready to blitz from the strong side. Boyd faked the give to the running back and began to roll to his left, probably expecting a vanilla defense because of the hurry up. Meanwhile, the right tackle and fullback both tried to slow Brooks, but they failed to even touch Joyner. He used his speed to reach the quarterback and forced another fumble.
Though this blitz led to a big play for Florida State, there was some risk involved. Absolutely no one was covering the Clemson slot receiver. He ran a bubble route, but the play call was to the other side. Florida State wasn't as fortunate on the next drive when Clemson finally strung some plays together and reached Seminoles 3-yard line. On second and goal, Joyner blitzed again from an outside linebacker position. The two receivers to his outside were being covered man to man. At the snap, Boyd saw Joyner blitz. The slot receiver ran into the flat which opened up the slant route for Watkins. Boyd fired the ball into the end zone and made Florida State pay for that blitz.
The 'Noles jumped on Syracuse early, too, as they scored three touchdowns on their first three drives. On Syracuse's third attempt to answer, Florida State brought controlled pressure against Terrel Hunt. He's not a Marshall or a Johnny Manziel, but he is a quarterback with some mobility.
Florida State sent five pass rushers against six blockers, but the attack angle of the defensive tackle and end caused the right guard and right tackle to open up a huge hole for linebacker Terrance Smith. He forced Hunt to move up in the pocket, which would normally be fine, but Joyner blitzed from the far right and was just getting in position to make a play. He and Eddie Goldman brought Hunt down for a 4-yard loss.
On the very next play, the Seminoles showed seven potential blitzers. Two defenders backed away at the snap to drop into coverage, but five pass rushers still came at Hunt. Joyner found himself walled off by running back Jerome Smith, who is 4 inches taller and almost 30 pounds heavier. So instead of wildly plowing into his blocker, he stood back, avoided as much contact as he could, and used his quickness to reach the quarterback when he tried to escape the pocket.
Lamarcus Joyner embodies the aggressiveness of this Seminole defense. More often than not, he has to cover a receiver down field, but when the coaches need a big play, he is ready. Whether it's a quick pass rush to surprise an up tempo offense or a blitz with quarterback containment, Joyner is able to deliver. But Florida State is taking some risks downfield with those calls, and if Auburn can find the open man quickly, the Tigers may be the ones with the big play.