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What we learned on defense from Florida State's win over Wake Forest

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Some defensive observations from the Seminoles' road win in Winston-Salem.

DeMarcus Walker
DeMarcus Walker
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

After a bye week and with the Miami Hurricanes on the horizon, the FSU defense looked to be in full look-ahead mode Saturday, failing to impress in a 24-16 victory over the Wake Forest Deamon Deacons.

Intensity. Urgency. I thought you should see those words here, because you certainly didn't see those traits on the field from the FSU defense this week. On a rather drab day in North Carolina, Florida State's defense seemed to imitate the weather in this one. The Seminoles played with very little verve, and the Wake Forest offense was more than happy to facilitate their slumber.

The Deacons worked almost exclusively underneath, similar to how Boston College game-planned its passing attack a couple of weeks ago. Wake Forest did pass more than the Eagles, though, working the flats on modest stop routes that were successful in front of 'Nole DBs steadily playing just a bit too far off.

No one was exempt in the Florida State secondary; All-American cornerback Jalen Ramsey saw numerous balls caught right in front of him. Backup Wake Forest quarterback Kendall Hinton deserves credit, as he made the easy throws look, well, easy, but FSU defensive backs registered just a lone pass break-up all day, which Trey Marshall notched while also leading the 'Noles in tackles, with 11, though he still tends to get lost in coverage at times. And, to be fair, Tyler Hunter did a very nice job holding onto the end-zone interception that sealed things.

FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher spoke to the need to close quicker on short passes after the game: "We had guys on them, we just weren't squeezing down on them enough."

On the ground, the read option gave the Seminoles some issues, as the front struggled to fill gaps as well as it has in the past. While the defensive line seemed to take a step back, or maybe laterally, it certainly took very few toward Hinton when he dropped back. DeMarcus Walker had a nice game, accounting for a sack and a half and a forced fumble just before halftime, but freshman Josh Sweat, who seemed primed for a breakout game, had just a pair of tackles, neither for loss.

The 'Noles obviously need badly to dial up the pressure on the opponent's quarterback. FSU came away with just two sacks and seven hurries on 43 Demon Deacon passing attempts. Reggie Northrup had a nice night hitting the QB, providing four of those hurries and 10 tackles, including one blow that sent Hinton to the locker room for a spell.

And Florida State has shown an intriguing third-down wrinkle that yields positive results: freshman specimen Derwin James consistently creates havoc when lined up as a pass rusher. He's often compared to a young Ramsey, and his ability to rush the quarterback is incredibly similar to that of Ramsey's. The Seminoles even brought Ramsey off one edge and James off the other, a downright frightening prospect for opponents. Sure, your coverage takes a hint absent Ramsey, but how much time is an opposing quarterback ever really going to have with those two coming off the edge?

That promising wrinkle aside, Fisher wants more pressure from the defensive front: "We had no rush. The only pressure we got was off the blitz. We gotta get that fixed."

Yet all too often, FSU remained rather vanilla in its scheme, content to allow Wake Forest to limit possessions and shorten the game, while also controlling the clock and tiring out the Florida State defense, which looked gassed early on. The Deacons had the ball for 35:56 compared to just 24:04 for the Seminoles. How? Wake piled up 27 first downs, essentially by staying on schedule while out-rushing (142-127) and out-passing FSU (215-202).

Some of the conservative scheming may have been personnel related: the 'Noles had a tough injury day, losing linebacker Terrance Smith, who'd been exceptional early in the season, and safety Nate Andrews shortly thereafter, both of whom missed the rest of the contest. The largely untested Lorenzo Phillips and Keelin Smith got some burn in their stead, but neither played well enough to remain on the field for long. Phillips looked consistently confused by the read-option and was regularly out of place while failing to make a tackle, and Smith saw a couple of balls hauled in right in front of him.

But Fisher wouldn't accept injuries as an excuse: "Next guy up. That's life. That's ball."

All things considered, if this defense looked, through the first three games, like it would be the unquestioned bright spot of this year's FSU squad, that notion is now very arguable. This is a unit badly in need of a spark, an edge-- perhaps some heightened motivation. Enter the aforementioned Hurricanes.