In a new and extremely promising trend, the Florida State defense once again did exactly what it was supposed to against an inferior offense in the Seminoles’ dominant 31-13 win over Florida on Saturday.
Sure, that Florida offense is nothing to write home about, but the Gators have some electric playmakers at the skill positions and they were nullified for nearly the entire 60 minutes of Saturday’s game.
Florida State held the Gators to an immaculate 3.2 yards per play. Take out UF’s opening drive, which was scripted, and the final garbage-time drive and that number drops off to 1.65 yards per play.
Let that sink in. Over Florida’s middle 13 drives, the Gators averaged just a shade over 1.5 yards per play.
What can this be attributed to, you ask? Solid play at every level of the defense.
The Florida State defensive line controlled the pace of the game, affecting Florida’s quarterback, Austin Appleby, on nearly every dropback. The Seminoles finished the win with six sacks, all of which came from the DL. DeMarcus Walker led the way with a pair of sacks, moving his season total to 15, to go along with a pair of fumble recoveries, and his efforts were aided by 1.5-sack performances from Brian Burns and Josh Sweat and another sack from defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi.
For as large an impact as the FSU defensive front had on Florida’s passing game, the Seminoles’ run defense may have been even better. UF running back Jordan Scarlett, who has emerged as the Gators’ best option in the backfield after not starting the year as the starter, was held to 3.8 yards per carry. Florida’s rushing offense, which entered Tallahassee averaging 150 yards per game, was held to 58 yards on the ground, their second lowest rushing output of the season.
Jumping over to the FSU secondary, that unit played with as much physicality as it has all season long. Marquez White played his best game of the season, notching two pass break-ups to along with his incredibly mixed outing of solid coverage skills, physicality, and outright passion which carried over to the rest of the defense.
After the game, Jimbo Fisher could not say enough about this senior class, the first group in Florida State history to finish their careers going 8-0 against Florida and Miami. He spoke highly of their leadership abilities and how their total lack of quit after a slow start to the season trickled down to the rest of the team, a trait that was most heavily on display in Saturday’s victory.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this performance was that the defense shined brightest when it was facing adversity. After allowing the Gators to march down the field and inside the 10-yard line in five plays on their opening drive, the Florida State D hunkered down, putting together an impressive goal-line stand and taking advantage of UF’s aggressive playcalling to go for it on fourth down to keep Florida off the board.
Furthermore, when the FSU defense was tested deep in its own territory after a poor interception by quarterback Deondre Francois, the Seminoles rose to the test, holding Florida to three yards on the ensuing three plays and holding the Gators to a field goal after they took over at the FSU 27-yard line.
All of this leads to the fact that it has been 10 quarters since Florida has scored an offensive touchdown against FSU. Finally, and in my opinion most impressively of all, FSU held Florida without a third-down conversion in 12 attempts, the first time a Florida State team has done that since 2004.
The significant drop-off in the level of opposing offenses makes it very difficult to measure how much improvement this year’s FSU team has seen on defense. However, that ability to shut down inferior opponents in recent weeks on the way to runaway victories has played a large role in the Seminoles’ late-season run at another New Years Six bowl. With that NY6 bid on the line Saturday, the FSU defense put together possibly its most complete performance of the season.