Entering this year's Sunshine Showdown with the Florida Gators, it seemed clear that this would be a defensive slugfest that would come down to who could make the defensive stops when their backs were up against the wall. For one quarter, that looked to be precisely how this game would work out but midway through the second quarter, one team was unable to continue making stops. By halftime, it was 10-0 Florida State and by game's end, a safety that Jimbo Fisher attributed to an offensive line miscommunication was Florida's sole scoring as the Seminole defense kept the UF offense off the board for the entirety of the game in FSU's dominant 27-2 win over the Gators to finish their regular season on a high note.
The Seminole defense faced 79 offensive plays from the Gators and allowed a mere 262 yards, the second-fewest they have given up this season. That equates to 3.31 yards per play for the Gator offense, their lowest ypp total of the season by nearly an entire yard. It is also the fewest yards per play that Florida State has allowed this season, fewer than Texas State (4.0), Boston College (3.36), and even FCS opponent Chattanooga (4.40).
FSU succeeded in getting Florida behind schedule on offense as the Gators' average third-down distance to go was 6.3 yards. This helped the Seminoles limit UF to conversions on 5 of their 17 third downs (29.4%). In fact, all four of Florida State's sacks came on third downs. A large part of their third-down success can be attributed to bringing extra pass rushers in those situations, often in the form of Derwin James, who continues to impress more and more each week.
James finished against Florida with nine tackles (four solo) as well as a half-sack, which moves his season tally to 77 total tackles, good for second on the team, and 43 solo tackles, which leads the team. James showed once again how he can have an impact all over the field, making plays in the backfield, on the line of scrimmage, and in the secondary. In a season of highlight-reel plays by James, he may have had his most impressive on Saturday when he rushed off the edge and obliterated a Florida offensive tackle who outweighs him by almost a hundred pounds, pancaking him straight back on his way into the backfield.
When asked about James after the game, Jimbo Fisher stated that he is the most well-rounded freshman safety that he has ever coached.
Although they were unable to force any turnovers, that is not to say that Florida State didn't create turnover opportunities. The Seminoles had six pass break-ups on Saturday, matching their season high set against NC State. Three of those PBUs came at the line of scrimmage from defensive linemen with two more coming from Reggie Northrup. The Seminoles regularly put themselves into positions which could have presented fortuitous turnovers but never got the ball to bounce, or fall, their way.
Through the week of prep for the Gators, a good deal of emphasis was placed on limiting Florida QB Treon Harris' mobility and forcing him to beat them through the air. Harris finished the game with -5 rushing yards on 11 carries and proved to be incapable of stringing together first downs while having to rely on his passing. He looked uncomfortable in the pocket all evening, regularly missed open receivers, and seemed out of his element all game, often using his legs simply to flee from a collapsing pocket as opposed to making a positive play.
Jimbo Fisher was quick to praise the defense in his post game press conference and proceeded to do so throughout the presser, saying "Our defense was awesome. The leverage on the ball, the pressure on the quarterback, and controlling the line of scrimmage. They had a shutout today."
After allowing only two points to UF, Florida State finishes the regular season having allowed 189 points over 12 games (15.75 points per game, 6th in the FBS) and is the only team in the country that did not allow 25 points in any regular season game this season.
The scariest thing about this Florida State defense? They return as many as six starters to next year's team, with the return of Trey Marshall from injury and Matthew Thomas from suspension not counting towards the aforementioned returning starters. Inconceivably, this defense has the potential to be even better in 2016.