For FSU D, loss of Stoops is far from doom

Florida State’s defense began life without former coordinator Mark Stoops one day early.

In preparation for the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech on Dec. 1, defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot was in charge of the game plan and called most of the plays because of his knowledge and familiarity with the Jackets’ spread option, according to FSU coach Jimbo Fisher.

Florida State’s defense was once again the difference down the stretch, and the Noles held off Georgia Tech for a 21-15 win and the school’s first ACC title since 2005. One day later, Stoops left to become the head coach at Kentucky and he took Eliot with him as his defensive coordinator. The Seminoles were left to prepare for Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl without their top two defensive assistants, but those within the program say it has been a smooth transition during bowl practices. Eliot came back to campus to help coach the defense, and Fisher hired two new assistants, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri.

“It’s been very easy,” Fisher said. “D.J. has been back running the defense and doing everything. … He’s been back here, the staffs are in place, they’ve been intact and we’ve announced Sal Sunseri was hired as defensive ends coach. He’s been out there with us, so we feel very comfortable with where we’re going.”

FSU safety Karlos Williams said Eliot was a tremendous help in the game plan for Northern Illinois, and that he and Stoops have traded text messages a few times. Williams said that instead of lamenting Stoops’ departure, the Seminoles have celebrated the hire with him.

“We were very proud of him,” Williams said, “very happy he’s moving on, getting that head coaching job he’s been working so hard to get. He’s still been talking to a couple of us, keeping in contact, making sure things are getting handled the way they’re supposed to be getting handled down here. Overall we’re just happy for him.”

Under Stoops, FSU’s defense was one of the best in the nation. This year, FSU was No. 5 in the country in rushing defense, No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 2 in total defense and No. 3 in pass defense. The Seminoles’ main priority will be containing Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, who leads the nation in total yards (4,733) and ranks third in yards per game (364.08).

Williams said the defense has already been prepared to handle a quarterback like Lynch.

“We’ve played quarterbacks like him already this season, the quarterback from Virginia Tech [Logan Thomas], Tajh Boyd, [Stephen] Morris from Miami,” Williams said. “A lot of quarterbacks we’ve played this year can run around, move, scramble in the pocket and throw the ball in the run. It’s just another one of those games. We’re going to have to lock in, be prepared to play the zone read, option read and the pass and the run. It’s going to be a challenge, of course. But like we always do, we lock in and play good football.”

They have to do it one more time, this time without Stoops.