FSU's defensive improvement makes Adam Fuller first assistant coach to break the rock

Curt Weiler
Tallahassee Democrat
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Florida State defensive coordinator Adam Fuller got a rare honor after the Seminoles' win Saturday.

He became just the second coach -- and the first assistant coach -- to break the rock after an FSU win, something the Seminoles have now down eight times in head coach Mike Norvell's tenure.

In one fell swoop, with his players around him waiting expectantly, Fuller drove the sledgehammer down into the rock. It may have been a moment of catharsis for him, getting this honor based off his defense's performance in Saturday's 26-23 win over Boston College.

The same defense that had him firmly on the hot seat mere weeks ago earned him the honor of putting the postgame exclamation point on FSU's fifth win in the last seven games.

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"Coach Fuller is phenomenal. I tell people that all the time," FSU defensive end Keir Thomas said Saturday.

"He puts us in a position to make plays. You'll see times where it's coverage beaten. It's always something we did wrong. Coach Fuller, hats off to him."

The midseason turnaround from the FSU defense has been something to behold. Four games into the Seminoles' season, the defense was 106th nationally in points per game allowed (31.8), 99th in yards per pass attempt allowed (7.9) and 103rd in third down conversion percentage allowed (44.93%).

With the improvements made over the last seven games, FSU's defense is now 72nd nationally in points per game (26.7), 40th in yards per pass attempt (7.0) and 73rd in third down conversion percentage allowed (39.41%).

With two sacks Saturday vs. Boston College, FSU defensive end Keir Thomas keyed one of the defense's best performances of the season.

The slow start put FSU's defense way behind from the jump and made it so these rankings would not be able to climb too high. But it's been enough that FSU's defense (44th) is now ahead of the offense (58th) in ESPN's SP+ rankings. Four weeks into the season, FSU's defense was 83rd in SP+.

Making those strides even more impressive, they happened against the tougher portion of FSU's schedule.

Saturday's game may have been the best all-around performance by the FSU defense this season. BC's offense entered Saturday averaging 7.3 yards per play in games Phil Jurkovec started at quarterback. The Seminoles held BC to 2.7 yards per play in the first half and 4.2 yards per play in the game.

"We wanted to be physical from the beginning of the game to the end of the game so (the quarterback) wouldn't feel comfortable," FSU linebacker Kalen DeLoach said.

"That's our job as a defense, to make the quarterback feel as uncomfortable as possible. I felt we did that today with the way we contained him, things like that and rallied to him."

FSU held Jurkovec to a 41.7% completion percentage, the first time he's been below 50% in 15 career starts at Boston College. A big part of this was the pressure FSU's defensive line put on Jurkovec.

He was sacked four times (two of those from Thomas) and hurried countless more. FSU was credited with seven quarterback hurries (five of them from Thomas) but it had to feel like 20 to Jurkovec, with how frequently he was running for his life, extending plays and throwing up passes milliseconds before he was brought down.

"It was a great job. He still found a way to make a couple of plays there, but it was something that we spent a lot of time on this week, making sure we can try to make him uncomfortable," FSU head coach Mike Norvell said.

FSU had four sacks of BC quarterback Phil Jurkovec and seven more quarterback hurries.

"He’s a talented quarterback and can make all the throws, you can see with legs being able to extend plays. But I thought the effort of the defensive front, how they rallied, how they swarmed, it was special. Even the times he was able to extend plays with his legs, our guys were giving tremendous effort…We knew we had to disrupt him if we wanted a chance to put ourselves in position to win it."

The pair of new FSU defensive ends in Georgia transfer Jermaine Johnson II and South Carolina transfer Thomas have played a major role in the revitalization of the Seminoles' defensive line.

A year after FSU's defensive line had just three sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss, Johnson and Thomas have combined for 17.5 sacks, 29 tackles for loss and 22 quarterback hurries this season.

These two paired with South Carolina defensive back transfer Jammie Robinson are reasons to point to why the transfer portal has FSU's defense where it is now. But the development should also be pointed out for its role in the defense's growth.

The development of guys like DeLoach, safety Akeem Dent -- who had the game-clinching interception Saturday -- and defensive linemen like Malcolm Ray and Derrick McLendon give one hope that the success of this defense may stretch beyond Johnson and Thomas' brief FSU tenures.

"It was the defense that caused our defensive coordinator to break the rock. We feel like we did what we needed to do for him to break the rock," DeLoach said.

"Nobody is going to call out their coach and tell them to break out the rock. You've got to earn that. I feel like, as players, we did what we needed to do as a defense."

Reach Curt Weiler at cweiler@tallahassee.com or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.

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