Florida State took on Chattanooga for the final home game of the season. It was another strong showing by the defense, only allowing 13 points the whole game, their second fewest given up all season.
Noticeable from the very first drive by Chattanooga, Florida State had trouble pressuring the line of scrimmage and making tackles. Chattanooga is known as a rush-heavy team, and the 'Noles have had success in the past against teams such as Louisville and Miami. Before stopping them to a field goal, FSU kept giving up plays that went for three to five yards, allowing the Mocs to slowly drive down the field. To keep a running team off the board, it is imperative to stop them behind the line which is something Florida State did not do, only recording two tackles for losses in the first three quarters, after averaging 5.6 coming into the game. Chattanooga was able to gain more yardage on some plays due to missed tackles from the 'Noles. In total, FSU gave up 10 plays of at least 10 yards in the first three quarters while stopping UTC behind the line of scrimmage only twice.
Despite the lack of successful tackles, freshman safety Derwin James impressed once again with his first quarter performance. The Florida native had four tackles including three solo tackles and a tackle for loss on Chattanooga's first drive of the game --- more than the rest of the team combined. He finished the game with 10 tackles and seven solo tackles before leaving in the middle of the third quarter due to the large lead.
James was one of the main contributors of stopping Chattanooga early, something every other team has been unable to do. Coming into the game against FSU, the Mocs scored 180 of their 286 points (63%) in the first half and an astounding 111 (39%) points in Florida State's weakest quarter, the second. With the help of James and zero defensive penalties, Chattanooga was held to six points, three in each quarter. It was also obvious the 'Noles were playing with a chip on their shoulder in that first half. Besides those two 9+ play drives that led to the two UTC field goals, the Mocs were only able to run 14 plays in four other first half drives. At halftime, FSU had only allowed 58 rushing yards against a team that came in averaging 238.7 rushing yards per game.
Coming out of halftime, the 'Noles held a 24-6 lead and kicked the ball off the to UTC. The Mocs had a chance to drive down the field and cut the lead to as little as 10, but Florida State had other plans. From the very first play from scrimmage, senior Lamarcus Brutus intercepted a pass, and set the offense up in great field position in the red zone, leading to a touchdown. When asked about the transition from the senior day celebrations to the game, Brutus said, "It's great to get recognized for stuff like that, but when it's time to go, it's time to go."
On the very next offensive play from Chattanooga, Tyler Hunter forced a fumble, once again handing the offense the ball deep in UTC territory, and once again leading to a touchdown. In all, after kicking the ball off to the Mocs in the second half with a 24-6 lead, the lead increased to 38-6, putting the game out of reach in just three minutes and 15 seconds thanks to the turnovers.
The momentum created by the defense is something we have seen all season as they have picked up the offense. In games such as USF, Clemson, Wake Forest and Boston College, the struggling offense was always picked up by the defense, making stops and putting the offense in position to win those games, which they did. The 'Noles have still yet to give up more than 24 points in a game this season.
In total, Chattanooga was held to 114 rushing yards through three quarters before the FSU's defensive starters were pulled. They also did a nice job limiting long drives as the Mocs only had five first downs in the first three quarters, compared to their season average of 13.7. The opponent tried to catch FSU off guard with their flurry of running backs, as seven players had at least two rushes. The play recognition was once again a strong point for Florida State, as none of those seven rushers had more than 36 yards on the ground. In fact, as a team, they averaged 4.2 yards per carry and 4.4 yards per play after averaging 5.1 and 6.0 coming into the game.
Overall, it was an outstanding showing by both the starters and reserves as 31 different players participated on defense against Chattanooga, and for some, their last time on senior day. The starters were very happy with so many players getting the opportunity to play as senior DT Nile Lawrence-Stample said, "It was awesome. Keith Bryant and them, it was awesome because I hadn't really been able to see them play all season so it was a good feeling."
The Noles next opponent, the Florida Gators, have scored 48 points over their last four games, and were only able to muster 20 points in overtime against a 2-9 FAU team. Kickoff from Gainesville is set for 7:30 on Saturday.