When the Florida State Seminoles takes on the Auburn Tigers in the BCS National Championship Game, the big story will be the offensive stars. However, there are a number of defensive players who will have a huge role in the highly anticipated battle.
Even casual football fans know about Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, as well as finalist Tre Mason. Nick Marshall will also receive plenty of praise, along with the Seminoles' trio of talented receivers.
Still, this game will come down to which team can stop the other's prolific offensive attack. These defensive players will be key in this regard.
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
There might not be a more intimidating force in the country than Timmy Jernigan. The 6'2", 292-pound defensive tackle has been a nightmare for opposing players this season as the anchor on the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation.
He leads Florida State with 10.5 tackles for loss while adding 4.5 sacks, but he usually makes an even bigger impact than just on the stat sheet. His ability to penetrate into the backfield often breaks up plays before they start and causes opponents to make mistakes.
Additionally, he usually forces the offense to account for him with multiple blockers, something that he takes pride in, via the Associated Press (h/t Boston Herald): "I feel like it's almost disrespectful if you don't double team me every play. I feel like that's saying something if you feel like you don't have to double team me."
The attention leads to big plays for teammates, which will help Florida State stop creative plays like Auburn's read-option.
Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State
Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall only averaged 17.7 pass attempts per game this season as he mostly utilized his athleticism in the run game. However, he has shown the ability to catch defenses off guard and beat them through the air for big plays.
It will be up to Lamarcus Joyner to help stop this from happening.
The senior was named a first-team AP All-American thanks to his impressive versatility on defense. He is excellent in coverage and finished with six pass defenses and two interceptions. However, he also surprises teams in blitzes and totaled 64 tackles and a team-leading five sacks this season.
Both of these skills will be needed against Auburn. He must be able to get into the backfield to stop the tandem of Marshall and Mason, but he also cannot cheat and get beaten deep.
This has been a tough assignment for most defensive backs facing the Tigers this season, but Joyner has as good of a chance as anyone of getting it done.
Chris Davis, CB, Auburn
Chris Davis became a household name thanks to his incredible 109-yard missed-field-goal return to win the game against Alabama. That play will stand as the most memorable moment of the year, as well as one of the biggest in college football history.
However, it is important to note that he has been a huge part of Auburn's success throughout the entire season.
The cornerback led Auburn with 69 tackles this season and was among the best in the country with 14 pass breakups. Of course, his return skill was also useful as he finished second in FBS with an average of 20.1 yards per punt return.
Davis does not have great size and might struggle against the bigger receivers on the Seminoles. However, he proved in the SEC Championship against Missouri's receiving corps that he can still make plays against bigger opponents.
Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
If Auburn has any chance of slowing down Florida State's offense, it will need a strong game out of Dee Ford. The senior is by far the team's best pass-rusher, finishing the year with 8.5 sacks and an incredible 17 quarterback hits.
He had impressive performances against some of the better offensive lines in the country, totaling two sacks each against Texas A&M and Ole Miss. He has a lot of explosiveness off the line and has proven the ability to be quite a hassle for opposing tackles.
Winston has had a relatively easy time in the pocket this season, as he often has had plenty of time to find his targets down the field without being rushed. Of course, Heather Dinich of ESPN also pointed out that the freshman quarterback did a good job when rushed:
That is one of the things Winston excells at. He completes the ball when under pressure/getting hit. #FSUvsUF— ESPN ACC (@ESPN_ACC) November 30, 2013
Still, Ford must put this theory to the test and force Winston to make quick decisions. Otherwise, the Seminoles will be able to move the ball down the field all day long against this unit.
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