TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State defensive backs are young, talented and confident.
"I think we're one of the best secondaries in the country," senior Lamarcus Joyner said.
The numbers back up the Joyner's claim. The Seminoles are No. 2 in the FBS in yards passing allowed and No. 5 in pass efficiency defense.
Florida State has been getting it done with freshmen and sophomores playing huge roles.
After losing starting free safety Tyler Hunter for the season, converted freshman cornerback Jalen Ramsey stepped into replace him. Sophomore P.J. Williams has taken over the starting cornerback position opposite Joyner. Freshman Nate Andrews will start at strong safety Saturday with Terrence Brooks out after suffering a concussion last week.
"It's with the recruiting coach Jimbo Fisher has been doing out here," Joyner, explaining Florida State's depth. "We recruit guys that are going to roll in and fill those shoes and we've been pretty successful with that."
The shoes Joyner, a likely early round draft pick in the spring, was talking about were those of Xavier Rhodes, the No. 25 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The youngsters, however, have stepped in for upper classmen on the current roster.
Florida State (8-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) plays at Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4) on Saturday and no one is concerned about the injuries in the secondary.
Ramsey starting the season as the No. 2 cornerback wasn't a total shock considering he was a five-star recruit out of Tennessee. He was the first Florida State freshman to start at cornerback since Deion Sanders. The seamless transition to safety was more of a surprise. He has an interception, a sack, a forced fumble and his 34 tackles are the sixth-most on the roster.
Williams was in line for a bigger role after playing 14 games in 2012, but was originally beat out by Ramsey. His two interceptions and four pass breakups are tied for a team-high.
Andrews was not as highly ranked as Ramsey, but will start Saturday. He was already playing a significant role in the dime package and also has two interceptions. Redshirt sophomore Keelin Smith slides in at strong safety when Andrews plays corner.
Sophomore Ronald Darby, the 2012 ACC defensive rookie of the year, has started the last four games with Joyner lined up at nickleback. Junior Nick Waisome has played eight games, but hasn't started after making 14 in 2012.
"They come into a secondary where there's a lot of experience ... those guys are doing so good you had to give them an opportunity to get them in there," Fisher said. "They've really created further depth in scenarios with the different packages that we can play and the multiplicity of things we can do back there.
"They have the right attitude, they're very mature."
That depth allowed Karlos Williams to move from safety to running back and form a three-headed monster with Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. The depth has kept Florida State a national championship contender without Hunter.
Pass-first teams have been shut-down by the Seminoles as run-based offenses from Boston College and Miami have hung around the longest. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was a Heisman Trophy candidate before the loss to Florida State He completed just 17-of-34 passes with two interceptions and one touchdown against the Seminoles.
Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt asked the receivers which defensive backs impressed the most before the season. Ramsey and Andrews were singled out, Kelvin Benjamin said.
"Their awareness and ability and to locate the football when it's in the air and stuff like that," Benjamin said about the secondary. "They've got a lot of different coverages that they do. That's why quarterbacks throw picks because you know it's a lot of stuff they scheme. Basically just their awareness of the football and knowing how to go up there and get it."