Florida State and Auburn will square off in the BCS National Championship Game in a little less than a month. In the long build-up to the game, we are going to hear plenty about Florida State's dynamic offense. Led by Heisman favorite Jameis Winston, the Seminoles have the No.6-ranked offense in the FBS (529.4 yards per game). They have one of the best offensive lines in the nation, three talented running backs and a bevy of pass-catching studs on the outside. However, while it didn't quite get the same attention, the Noles' defense might be even better than the offense.
Florida State's defense has allowed the fewest points in the country (10.7 points per game) and has produced the highest total of interceptions (25). To be a dominant unit, you need to have impact players at all three levels of your defense: defensive line, linebacker and secondary. The Noles check all three of those boxes. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, linebacker Telvin Smith and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner are among the best players in college football at their respective positions.
Here are my mini scouting reports on these key players:
DT Timmy Jernigan
(54 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks)
Jernigan isn't a physically imposing defensive tackle (he's listed at 6-foot-2, 292 pounds), but he is a nightmare matchup for interior offensive linemen. Against the run, he has exceptionally quick and powerful hands, and that allows him to consistently stack and shed blocks at the point of attack. He plays with outstanding leverage and awareness when he's double-teamed, and I love his effort to pursue the ball from the back side. As a pass rusher, he has violent hands and a sneaky burst. He generated a lot of pressure in the games I studied.
LB Telvin Smith
(75 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 3 INTs)
Smith is a tall, lean linebacker (6-3, 218) with outstanding instincts, agility and toughness. The Noles spend a lot of time in a 4-2-5 nickel defense, with Smith manning one of the two inside linebacker spots. Against the run, Smith is very quick to key/read/flow/fill for tackles. He excels at sorting through the trash (clutter of bodies) to locate the football, and he is a very reliable tackler. In coverage, he has the speed and athleticism to cover running backs/tight ends and his instincts are phenomenal when he's a zone defender. He gets his hands on a lot of footballs.
CB Lamarcus Joyner
(64 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 2 INTs)
Joyner is an undersized cornerback (5-8, 187) with rare football intelligence and competitiveness. He is a more than capable player on the outside, but he is at his best when he slides inside to play the nickel spot. He has the fluidity and quickness to mirror slot receivers, and he is an explosive blitzer coming off the edge. As a zone defender, he is very quick to read patterns and jump throwing lanes for picks and pass breakups. I love his nastiness as a run defender. He takes smart angles, runs his feet on contact and rarely falls off the ball carrier. To go along with the impressive statistics above, he has also forced three fumbles during his senior campaign.