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FSU football’s defensive struggles limiting ‘Nole offense?

Fisher’s specific explanation reveals a broader theme.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Florida State
Charles Kelly, flanked by Trey Marshall and Demarcus Christmas
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida State defense isn’t stopping many drives of late. Well, unless you count preventing what could have been an important one for the Seminoles’ offense against North Carolina, per Jimbo Fisher.

Down 21-7 with 1:07 remaining in the first half, Matthew Thomas caused a critical UNC fumble that FSU recovered on its own seven yard line. With a timeout still remaining in what looked for all the world to be a game that would — and did — finish with a pretty high score, did Fisher open up his offense composed of bluechip recruits to test the shabby Tar Heel defense, perhaps in hopes of at least getting into position for a field goal?

Nope. Dalvin Cook got three carries around one downfield shot to Travis Rudolph, and Florida State limped into halftime with that timeout in its pocket.

Sure, ‘Nole placekicker Ricky Aguayo had missed two field goals and had another blocked in the first half. But was that really the Seminole Fisher didn’t trust? It doesn’t sound like it.

I asked Fisher about the approach to that final “drive,” and he responded as follows:

What if you go three and out and they've got two time outs? You throw three incompletions and punt it from there, where do they get the ball? About midfield? Two timeouts with 40 seconds. It was 21-7, right? If they score, the game goes 28-7. They had the ball coming out in the second half, could have been 35-7, game would have been over right there.

We got out of the half, it was 21-7 right there and it's a two-possession game, and when you're backed up, the odds of scoring from less than a minute for a 90-yard drive are about 10%. So you don't want to blow the game right there. And if you pop a run, hand it to Dalvin, and if he pops a run out at the 25 or 30, then you go into the no-huddle. If they do that and they have two timeouts and we're punting, they could have put the game away right there.

If this isn’t a thinly veiled indictment of the porous Florida State defense, I don’t what is. This is essentially Fisher admitting that he felt obliged to let off the gas just so that Charles Kelly’s unit wouldn’t get a chance to dig an even deeper hole. Fisher doesn’t even bother adding on hypothetical North Carolina field goals; his doomsday scenario progresses in multiples of sevens, and for good reason. Half of UNC’s possessions ended in touchdowns on Saturday. And the last one didn’t need to.

Yes, points mean relatively less when more are scored. But when you lose by two and declined a chance at three due to your defense, the latter has ceased to be a blemish solely unto itself, but rather a blight that even the offensive gameplay must consider.