NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The Florida State defense is afraid of no one — and that includes Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston.
Not even their own quarterback, the Heisman Trophy winner, causes the Noles defense to shrink with fear, and that’s a frightening prospect for Auburn as the teams prepare for Monday night’s showdown in the BCS National Championship Game.
“Come on, man,” senior linebacker Telvin Smith responded when asked whether he thought FSU’s defense could contain Winston if their star quarterback played for the other team. “I mean, he’s a great player. But in a game against us? Against this defense? Shutout!”
Smith laughed, an indication that he was having fun with the question.
But in Auburn’s case, the Seminoles defense is no laughing matter. While Winston was grabbing headlines, the FSU defense was quietly going about its task and doing a bang-up job.
The Noles led the nation in scoring defense. They were first against the pass and — pay attention, Auburn — 14th against the run.
Auburn led the nation in rushing, and it’s hardly any secret that the Tigers will try to determine if FSU’s defense can withstand a withering ground attack that churned out 335 yards per game on average when the No. 1 and No. 2 teams meet in the Rose Bowl.
“They’ve been really stubborn about it,” said Florida State’s first-year defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt. “Everybody knows they’re going to run the football, and you’ve got to be able to stop them.”
Pruitt knows a thing or two about Auburn and the Southeastern Conference. He spent the previous six seasons working under Alabama coach Nick Saban as director of player development and as a defensive backs coach. When Mark Stoops left for the Kentucky head coaching job, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher hired Pruitt away from the Crimson Tide to serve as his defensive coordinator.
Though new at the job, Pruitt is hardly a tenderfoot when it comes to big games. Counting his time at Alabama, this will be his fourth national championship game in the past five years.
“I think we can draw on our past experiences, knowing what we need to do, what not to do,” Pruitt said. “But at the end of the day, this is going to be a new game. It’s going to be about who plays the best for those 60 minutes on [Monday].”
How FSU stacks up against Auburn’s running game could determine the outcome of the 16th — and final — BCS championship game.
Although most feel the Seminoles hold a decided edge over an Auburn defense that ranked 88th nationally by surrendering more than 420 yards per game on average, it’s the flip side of the equation that creates doubt for undefeated Florida State.
The Noles have not faced a rushing attack anywhere close to Auburn’s caliber.
Boston College, which ranked 20th nationally in rushing yardage, racked up 210 yards on the ground when it faced Florida State in September, causing the Seminoles their one and only scare of the season.
“They run the ball, and they don’t break,” Seminoles cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said of Auburn. “They do what they do well.”
Echoed Smith: “Those guys are going to come out, and they’re going to play and play and play until you break. We’ve just got to go out and make sure we don’t break.”
Still, while the Seminoles respect Auburn, they don’t fear the Tigers.
Why, a few say they don’t even fear an opponent that has Winston as its quarterback.
“It’s a good thing to be able to say that knowing that we won’t have to,” Joyner said of a mythical matchup between Winston and the Noles defense. “And there are some things that you just want to leave that way. Let’s just say that would be a national championship game if it was our defense versus our offense.”