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Defensive observations from FSU’s win over Wake Forest

The Seminole defense crushed Wake Forest.

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Florida State
Oct 20, 2018; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles defensive end Brian Burns (99) pressures Wake Forest Demon Deacons quarterback Jamie Newman (12) at Doak Campbell Stadium during the third quarter. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Beil
Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

You can’t win if you can’t score.

Florida State’s defense epitomized that cliche on Saturday, holding Wake Forest to 3.5 yards per play on an exhausting 104 plays, paving the way to a 38-17 win. But it didn’t start out that way.

In what has become their own cliche this season, the defense once again started slow. Wake Forest raced out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on an incredible 41 plays for 190 yards, most of them in FSU territory. The Demon Deacon offense racked up 13 first downs while the defense looked lethargic, taking poor angles and giving poor effort tackling. Wake Forest’s touchdown on their third drive was their first touchdown in Tallahassee since 2006, and early on this game looked like it would be giving FSU fans an uncomfortable bout with déjà vu. Defensive back Kyle Myers bobbled an interception that landed in his lap but was somehow instead caught by Wake Forest for a first down. It had all the makings of one of those days.

Even in the first quarter though, it wasn’t all bad news. Defensive end Brian Burns and tackle Cory Durden were both excellent, doing their best to disrupt and pressure Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman. On Wake Forest’s fourth drive Burns sacked Hartman on a questionable 4th-and-8 conversion attempt from the Florida State 30-yard line. That proved to be a turning point in the game.

FSU defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett adjusted, the defense came alive, and for that drive in the first quarter and the next ten Demon Deacon drives deep into the fourth quarter, the Seminoles would hold Wake Forest scoreless. Here’s the eleven straight drives of stops:

Turnover on downs.

Punt.

Interception.

Punt.

Punt.

Punt.

Turnover on downs.

Punt.

Punt.

Punt.

Punt.

By the time Wake Forest finally scored again with five minutes left in regulation Florida State had scored 38 unanswered points and the game had long moved into garbage time.

By halftime Wake Forest was averaging just 3.7 yards per play on a whopping 66 plays. The Seminole defense forced five 3-and-outs on the day, including an interception by Stanford Samuels III off an Asante Samuel, Jr. deflection on a third down in the second quarter. Samuels III returned it to the Wake Forest nine-yard line, setting up FSU’s second touchdown of the day and a lead the Seminoles wouldn’t relinquish. Florida State’s defense played tight but clean in coverage, holding Hartman to just 5 yards per attempt and racking up eight pass-breakups on the day, led by Samuel, Jr. and Jaiden Woodbey who each recorded two.

Every time it looked like Wake Forest was driving there was Brian Burns and Cory Durden, leading a ferocious pass rush. Burns was un-blockable, recording his second sack of Hartman in the third quarter, his seventh total in just five ACC games this season. Hartman would leave the game after that play. They weren’t alone in their efforts - linebacker Emmett Rice looked explosive as he works his way back from injury, recording a sack on a blitz. Defensive end Joshua Kaindoh also recorded two sacks before being ejected in the fourth quarter for targeting. Defensive tackle Marvin Wilson also had a good day, blowing up a fourth-down conversion attempt in the third that was cleaned up by Dontavious Jackson and Samuels III. Linebacker Zaquandre White had a career day recording six tackles, pushing his career total to eight.

Defensive end Janarius Robinson, who lost his family home to Hurricane Michael last week, also got in on the sack party and set new career marks. Robinson sacked Wake Forest’s backup quarterback Jamie Newman for a six-yard loss in the third quarter that was officially recorded as a tackle for loss. Robinson, who had eleven total tackles on the season coming into Saturday’s contest and had never recorded more than two tackles in a game, finished with six tackles (three solo) and a QB-hurry.

In total, FSU recorded five sacks and nine tackles for loss. Before Wake Forest’s 12-play 75-yard garbage-time drive made the score 38-17, FSU had been holding Wake Forest to just 3.02 yards per play on 87 plays. The Demon Deacons averaged 4.8 yards per play this season coming into this game, and the 3.5ypp Florida State allowed on Saturday is the second-lowest mark for Wake Forest this season, behind the 3.19ypp they averaged against the Clemson Tigers last week.

The Seminole defense will look to carry some of this confidence and momentum into next week’s showdown against their Atlantic-division rival Tigers.