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Defense fuels USF victory

Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder led a 77-yard drive to set up first and goal on USF’s 3-yard line early in the second quarter Saturday as the Seminoles looked in position to break a scoreless deadlock.

However, USF’s defense stopped the Seminoles on three straight downs, setting up a big decision for FSU coach Bobby Bowden: try the field goal or go for it on fourth and goal from the 2-yard line.

His choice would eventually help set USF’s defensive tone for the entire game.

Ponder broke the huddle, snapped the ball and handed it off to FSU running back Ty Jones, who was driven back by USF linebackers Sabbath Joseph and Sam Barrington before he could reach the end zone.

“That told the score right there – that they meant business,” Bowden said. “Gosh, what … first and three on the three and didn’t get in … I just didn’t know you could beat us like that.”

Barrington and Joseph leaped up and sprinted toward the sideline in celebration with the rest of the defense. It was merely one of many impressive defensive plays in Saturday’s 17-7 upset over No. 18 FSU at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee.

“That was great,” said senior defensive end George Selvie. “We went out there and they had four players right there on the 2-yard line, but our defensive front came off, our linebackers filled the hole, we stopped the run and they didn’t get anything out of it.”

The Bulls also stopped FSU on a third and short in the third quarter, and the Seminoles’ last play on offense was a sack by USF defensive end Craig Marshall on fourth and three to seal the victory.

Just a week earlier, FSU had 512 yards total offense and 54 points in a pounding of then-No. 7 BYU.

On Saturday, Ponder was sacked five times, the Seminoles were held to 19 yards rushing and USF recovered four fumbles. FSU was 2-for-12 on third-down conversions and 0-for-2 on fourth-down tries.

“We played fast. We played with that demeanor,” said USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey. “They were not going to be defeated.”

The Bulls laid a number of big hits, including one on the first play of the Seminoles’ third drive of the game.

FSU running back Tavares Pressley shot through the right side of the line and USF safety Jon Lejiste met him nine yards from the line of scrimmage, flipping Pressley in the air and jarring the ball loose. USF senior Nate Allen recovered for the Bulls’ first turnover of the game.

“We had some big hits out there,” Tresey said. “Jon Lejiste, Nate Allen, we delivered some big hits. We’ve been waiting for that. I’ve been waiting for that, been talking about that for weeks. We are so pleased as a defensive staff with the effort.”

With a sack in the second quarter, Selvie increased his career total to 27.5, which ties for the NCAA active career sack leader with Arizona State’s Dexter Davis.

After the game, though, he would only talk about the team and the implications a win over Florida State has on the football program.

“It’s Florida State. It’s in-state,” Selvie said. “We came up here and beat them in this stadium … They have so much prestige. It’s just great to come up here being the underdog and beat this team and change part of the ‘Big Three.’ We’ve got a chance now to make it a ‘Big Four.'”