Florida State's 2009 defensive statistics were staggering. And not in a good way.
Bjoern Werner leads the country in sacks.
In all of FBS football, here's how the Seminoles ranked:
-No. 77 in passing defense.
-No. 108 in rushing defense.
-No. 94 in scoring defense.
-No. 108 in total defense.
To put it kindly, Florida State had some, shall we say, defensive issues. To put it a little more bluntly, they stunk.
To say the least, the team's defensive reputation took a hit that fall. For a program that in its heyday featured some of college football's most imposing and immovable defenses, these numbers were difficult to stomach. Somehow, the Seminoles salvaged a winning record, finishing 7-6 after beating West Virginia in the Gator Bowl, but legendary head coach Bobby Bowden was pushed aside so coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher could take control of the program in 2010.
Now in his third season as the boss, Fisher has overseen a dramatic defensive makeover in Tallahassee.
FSU's defense has improved greatly since Fisher took over in 2010.
In 2010, Florida State jumped 66 spots in the NCAA's total defense category. A year later, it ranked fourth.
This week, the unbeaten Seminoles (3-0) enter Saturday's game in Tallahassee, Fla., against Clemson (3-0) ranked No. 1 nationally in total defense (allowing 103.33 yards per game), rushing defense, passing defense and scoring defense.
While it's true Florida State's schedule (which thus far has included two FCS teams and Wake Forest), has been among the weakest of all teams in the power conferences, it's still hard to not be impressed by the Seminoles' early season dominance.
-Florida State is allowing a mere 1.19 yards per rush.
-Junior defensive end Bjoern Werner leads the country in sacks (6.5).
-The Seminoles have recorded 26 tackles for loss, though its starters have been pulled early in three blowouts.
-Florida State has held opponents to an 11.3 percent (5-for-44) third-down conversion rate. Wake Forest, which already has beaten North Carolina, went 1-for-16 on third downs.
Mario Edwards was the top overall recruit in the class of 2012.
-The Seminoles are allowing 1.0 points per game.
Why has Florida State improved so dramatically on defense under Fisher?
"The bottom line is the talent level had slipped at the end of the Bobby Bowden era," said 247Sports national analyst Gerry Hamilton. "What FSU has done I believe is recruit better athletes on the defensive line. You look at guys like Werner and Timmy Jernigan … you can name guy after guy they've recruited there that have upgraded the talent level on the defensive line."
Werner, a junior end, is now 19th on the all-time Florida State career list in tackles for loss (26.0) after adding 2.5 and a sack last week against Wake Forest. The other starter at end, senior Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, has 3.5 sacks of his own. At defensive tackle, any one of a handful of guys is capable of starting, though seniors Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud at last check were with the first team.
"The guys that put their hands in the dirt change the game," Fisher said.
Right now, there isn't just quality up front at Florida State; there is quantity, too. The Seminoles have 10 to 12 players in the rotation on the defensive line, which allows the starters to play fewer snaps and thus help them conserve energy for the fourth quarter.
Florida State has so much depth on the defensive line that prior to the Week-1 season-ending injury to standout end Brandon Jenkins, the Seminoles were likely to slap redshirts on Mario Edwards, the No. 1 overall recruit for the Class of 2012 in the 247Sports rankings, and Chris Casher, who checked in at No. 49.
"I think it says unbelievable things about the depth that before the injury [to Jenkins] they were going to redshirt these guys," Hamilton said. "Mario Edwards is a different player; his position is in question. Does he end up at defensive tackle in the long term. I believe so. But still, there's something there. To even think about redshirting Edwards and Casher -- guys that talented -- tells you about FSU's depth up front. There's not many programs that have that ability to redshirt guys that talented right now, save Alabama and LSU."
Florida State finished in the top five of the AP Poll for 14 straight years from 1987 through 2000. The Seminole teams of that era had defensive linemen such as Peter Boulware, Corey Simon, Andre Wadsworth and Reinard Wilson taken in the first round. The program's 1993 national title squad was No. 6 in total defense and No. 1 in scoring defense. The 1999 national championship squad was 10th in scoring defense.
During the seasons from 1996-2000, Florida State had a top-10 defense four of the five seasons.
Florida State also produced its share of NFL defensive linemen from 2001-2010, but the Seminoles ranked in the top-10 for total defense only once the entire period. For some programs, that still wouldn't be bad. For Florida State, it was a noticeable drop. Even worse, as the defensive numbers dropped so did the win totals.
Florida State went a ridiculous 109-13-1 from 1990-99, giving it college football's best winning percentage for the decade. During the 10 seasons that followed, it wasn't among the top-10 winningest programs.
The low point clearly came in 2009. Before that season, however, Florida State signed Jenkins, a dominant pass rusher that was key in helping turn things around. Werner was signed a year later.
This past February, the Seminoles not only inked Edwards and Casher, but five-star defensive tackle Eddie Goldman -- each players with enormous upsides and talents around which defenses can be built.
Time will tell if Florida State's defense -- and in particular -- its defensive line are truly back to where they once were. But right now, the Seminoles have given fans a reason to believe it's possible.
"That’s what separates Southern football from everywhere else in the country – defensive linemen," Fisher said. "Everybody’s got them and they have more than one. They rotate. You very rarely see offenses from the south lead the country in offense because they are playing against so many people on defense. Southern football is different because of the appreciation of defense and the ability to get defensive linemen and corners."
TRENDING UPWARD: RECENT FSU DEFENSES
Total defense: No. 4 (275.00)
Scoring defense: No. 4 (15.08)
Total defense: No. 42 (353.71)
Scoring defense: No. 20 (19.64)
Total defense: No. 108 (434.62)
Scoring defense: No. 94 (30.00)