Deep defensive front allows for frequent rotation as No. 3 Florida State emulates championship model

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Expectations were extremely high for defensive end Jared Verse at Florida State, yet the preseason All-American has just two tackles and two quarterback hurries in two games.

Verse has drawn double teams and attention, but a veteran Seminoles’ defensive front has demonstrated it is more than a one-man show. No. 3 Florida State had four sacks in the season-opening win over LSU and tacked on two more last week against Southern Miss, which scored just three points in the first half against the first-team defense.

“We’re going to be the best in the nation,” defensive tackle Fabien Lovett said. “It won’t be no ifs, ands or buts about it. We’re just focused on the best we can be each day, every rep.”

Coach Mike Norvell and his staff have made an emphasis of accumulating defensive line talent in an effort to minimize how many reps the Seminoles will log each game. Verse arrived from FCS school Albany in 2022, while defensive tackle Braden Fiske (Western Michigan) and defensive end Gilber Edmond (South Carolina) arrived through the transfer portal this offseason.

“Every play that they play, we want at an elite level, chasing the ball, everything that we’re doing, physicality,” Norvell said. “And when you have good players, you can do that. I did an offseason study, looking at the past three or four national champions and there’s only one defensive lineman on those teams that played over 50% of the snaps defensively. But you saw a lot of guys around 30-45%. It shows depth, it shows quality.”

Norvell paused briefly and underscored another key point: “There’s a lot of first-round draft picks that came from that.”

Verse was projected to be a first-rounder in the 2023 draft by some analysts but chose to return because he felt he could improve as a run-stopper, learn from a second season of Power Five football and help continue the program’s ascent. While the sack numbers aren’t there yet this fall, defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said, “I thought his game against Southern Miss was actually even a cleaner game than it was against LSU.”

As Florida State (2-0) opens ACC play at Boston College (1-1) on Saturday — and with a showdown at Clemson looming on Sept. 23 — the Seminoles have shown off a veteran, deep front and are 15th in the FBS in third-down conversion defense (allowing just 6 of 23 conversions).

One unexpected source of pressure on opposing quarterbacks is defensive tackle Dennis Briggs, who has a sack in each game. Briggs had just four sacks in his prior five seasons at Florida State. Another defensive tackle who has impressed is Joshua Farmer, who had a sack in his first start against LSU. All of this is happening without Darrell Jackson, a transfer who had his waiver to play this fall declined by the NCAA in August.

Behind an aggressive front, Florida State’s defense halted LSU on all three of its fourth-down attempts and held the Tigers to 3 of 10 on third-down attempts. On Saturday, Southern Miss didn’t convert any of its five third-down attempts in the first half.

“I thought we were dominant,” Fuller said. “There were a lot of three-and-outs in there.”

A dominant and rested line is one of the reasons why. And the Seminoles feel they are just getting started.

“We’re not perfect,” Lovett said. “We’re not where we want to be. But we’re working to get there.”


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