COLLEGE PARK - If Florida State University quarterback Chris Weinke wins the Heisman Trophy, he should take the entire defense out to dinner. Weinke already has a great supporting cast on offense, but it's his defense that sets him apart from the rest of college football's elite players.
It all sounds a little strange, but it has to do with percentages, numbers and field position. Florida State's defense has been one of the most dominant in college football during the last decade, which allows the Seminoles' offensive players to roll up impressive numbers.
Second-ranked Florida State beat up on Maryland, 59-7, last night at Byrd Stadium, and Weinke was 11 of 15 for 234 yards and three touchdowns before he left the field with a sprained foot early in the third quarter.
Nine of the team's 31 first-half points were set up by the defense, and Maryland's offense was held to 105 yards of total offense in the first two quarters, 74 of those on a touchdown run from fading (or is that faded?) Heisman hopeful LaMont Jordan.
But Jordan doesn't have Weinke's supporting cast, and Maryland certainly doesn't have Florida State's defense. The Seminoles have been ranked among the nation's top 10 in total defense in six of the last nine years, including a No. 1 national ranking in 1998.
"Sometimes your best offense is a good defense," said Weinke. "Looking back on last week, our defense was unbelieveable. They just kept giving us the ball in good field position, and then pitched a shutout. Our defense always plays well, they keep us in ball games.
"As many times as they are three and out, three and out, it gives us a chance to find our offensive rhythm. It gives us a chance to figure out what the other team's defense is doing. I give the defense a lot of credit for giving us the ball so many times, especially when we're struggling. This is similar to last year."
The Seminoles are ranked second nationally in rush defense (39.8 yards per game) and eighth in scoring defense (9.50 points per game). They also have allowed only 24 of 70 third-down conversions, which means Florida State is getting the ball a lot.
And Weinke is throwing and completing a lot of passes. Heisman stuff.
"They put a lot of pressure on people," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' head of college scouting who was at the game last night. "When they take the ball away, that creates a lot of scoring opportunities. They also have a lot of talent on offense. When they go four wides [four receivers], they're just not putting bodies out there. All of those guys can play."
They makes more plays on defense. According to Savage, seven players from Florida State's defense might be drafted, including defensive ends David Warren, Roland Seymour, Jamal Reynolds, linebackers Tommy Polley, Brian Allen and defensive backs Tay Cody, Derrick Gibson and Clevan Thomas.
It was Reynolds who sacked Maryland quarterback Calvin McCall for a safety and a 12-0 lead with 14 minutes and 15 seconds left in the second quarter. Then following the kickoff, Weinke went deep down the right side line to split end Robert Morton for a 58-yard touchdown reception.
Within 20 seconds, the defense had helped Florida State gain nine points. So far this season, the Seminoles have run 311 offensive plays to 284 to the opposition. But one must also take into account that the Seminoles have outscored the opposition, 149-38, which means the second- and third-stringers are playing in the second half, which cuts down on the total of offensive plays.
Weinke was out of the game last night after Florida State scored on its opening drive of the second half for a 38-7 lead with 13:42 remaining in the quarter in the third quarter.
For Weinke, it was basically another night at the office. He has great, athletic receivers in Anquan Boldin, Marvin Minnis and Robert Morgan as well as running back Travis Minor, a receiving threat out of the backfield. There are times when Weinke just lobs up the ball and they go get it - like the 2-yard touchdown pass on a fade route to Atrews Bell with two seconds remaining in the half, or the 34-yard touchdown pass he threw to Bell that was way behind him in the third quarter.
But Weinke also has mastered head coach Bobby Bowden's offense. Confident and poised in the no-huddle attack, he slashed Maryland up early in the game with short passes over the middle. By the second quarter, he was completing passes all over the field including two of 33 yards.
"I think Chris Weinke is equal to the billing he gets," said Terps coach Ron Vanderlinden of Weinke, who had completed 87 of 139 passes for 1,244 yards before last night's game with only three picks. "I think he is a terrific player that understands their offense well and has plenty of poise. As a third-year starter, he has seen every blitz and every defense imaginable, and the offensive line protects him well."
Savage said Weinke probably would have been drafted in the fifth or sixth round last season but could go as high as the third this year. He has done everything the scouts have asked of him, including dropping 20 pounds to 229.
"He's big, he's got a strong arm and a good release," said Savage. "He has lost weight and moves around. He'll never be a big-time scrambler, but that's fine. I don't see him as a first-round draft pick, because there won't be a lot of teams willing to take a 28-year-old quarterback in the first round and groom him to be a starter at age 31. But he is smart and mature. He is ready-made to be a backup."
But that's down the road. There's a possible date with the Heisman, and Weinke should thank his defense.