Finally got around to rewatching the game so here's my thoughts on our defense. We used our base 4-3 probably 75% of the time. The other 25% was nickel. There was no reason for us to use anything else. You can count on one hand the number of times we blitzed. We had no reason to. In other words, Muschamp did not tip his hand.
The worst internet meme to come out of this game is that our defensive line played poorly. Anyone making this argument deserves to die alone. Our defensive line was fantastic. Let's first take a look at what FAU did with their protection. They rolled the pocket. They used slide protection. They used two tight end sets. They kept one and sometimes two backs in to block. They had at least three holds that weren't called. And they had a quarterback who gets rid of the ball at all costs. The defensive line still got pressure. Orakpo, Melton, Miller, Houston and Lewis all generated pressure, but the Rusty Smith was not going to take a sack.
Let me give you a couple of examples. Henry Melton caused Rusty Smith's only interception. It was his pressure that caused Smith to throw it off his back foot (he threw off his back foot more than once) while trying to throw it out of the endzone. The Statesman says Melton hit his arm, but I couldn't tell from the replay.
On Brandon Foster's pass interference call, we rushed four. FAU kept two tight ends and a back in to protect, and Aaron Lewis still got pressure.
The most gratifying thing to me is that we stopped screens and reverses. That is a sign of a well-coached defense. It's about players reading their keys and carrying out their assignments. FAU ran 1 reverse and 4 screens:
1) FAU ran a reverse on the first play of the game. Brian Orakpo doesn't chase flow and stays home. He stuffs an attempted cut block by Smith, turns the play inside and makes the tackle for no gain.
2) Seventh play of the initial FAU drive. They try a wide receiver screen to the left side, and Blake Gideon makes an outstanding play. He got by three blockers and then nailed Jamari Grant.
3) FAU's last possession before the half. They try a RB screen on first down, and Jared Norton makes the tackle for a three yard loss.
4) FAU started the drive from their own 2 with 11.14 left in the 3rd. They try a slip screen to the receiver on 2nd and 10, and Norton again sniffs it out and makes a great play for no gain.
5) FAU started the drive with 8:24 left in the game. They once again try a slip screen to the receiver, and this time Eddie Jones makes a great play from his defensive end spot. Three yard loss.
We made four bad plays that led to to probably at least a third of FAU's total yards, but we didn't make any bad plays after the half. Missed open field tackles by Earl Thomas and Curtis Brown led to a lot of yards after the catch, we failed to cover the fullback (most likely Bobino's man) on FAU's first drive and Thomas gave up a post pattern for a touchdown. The FAU receivers also made a couple of great catches, but other than that we shut them down. How much so? After they cut the lead to 28-10, they managed only 45 yards the rest of the game. Five of their subsequent drives resulted in negative yardage.
Some individual players deserve kudos.
Earl Thomas is the definition of upside. While he might have given up a touchdown catch and missed an open field tackle, he also forced a fumble, tipped a pass that was intercepted and blocked a punt. That's why the argument was made last year that the younger players should get some snaps in the secondary and at linebacker. The younger guys make plays.
Aaron Lewis had a great game rushing the quarterback from the defensive tackle spot. He becomes even more important now that Houston will be sitting out the next game.
Jared Norton made two great plays on screens and was all over the field. He's lighter and quicker this year, and there is no reason he should not be starting.
Henry Melton played great. He's quick, athletic and he hustles. Watch the play he made on FAU's second play of the second half. He cuts inside the tackle, stuff the fullback in the backfield while keeping his outside arm free and stuffs the runner for a 3 yard loss. Houston got credit for the tackle, but Melton made the play.
But this was a team effort, and it bodes very well for the rest of the season.