Florida State’s 19 points given up in a 26-19 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday marked the fewest amount of points given up by the Seminoles through three games.
Although that gives the notion the the unit played pretty well, it still allowed a total of 367 total yards on 5.3 yards per play, both season highs against an offense that ranked 63rd in the nation in yards per play. For comparison, FSU’s previous two opponents, NC State (58) and Alabama (16), both ranked higher heading into Saturday.
Of Wake’s 69 total plays run vs. FSU, 14 of them went for 10+ yards. Of those 14 play, eight were for more than 20 yards. The defense has still shown its susceptible in giving up chunk plays, and the unit’s leader, Derwin James, struggled for the second consecutive week.
The redshirt sophomore defensive back missed a tackle on Saturday that gave the Demon Deacons a first down inside the red zone and made just four tackles on the day— one which almost got him ejected for targeting, but the call was overturned. All season, James has not played the level that most know he is capable of. The Haines City, Fla. native knows that too, saying that he could have done more after each of the first two games of the season.
The patches of weakness could be as a result to his season-ending injury last year. The defensive back missed the final 11 games of the 2016 due to a meniscus tear after a breakout freshman season that landed him as an All-American honorable mention. Since his return against Alabama, the 2017 preseason All-American has had moments where he shined, but just as many missed opportunities. Even against NC State, James got juked out on a run, being the last man to beat before the end zone.
Despite his play, James still carries the undeniable leadership qualities that will continue to help the rest of the defense. He still has the potential, and at least eight games left, to get back on track and live up to those Heisman finalist expectations many had for him in the preseason.
One member of the defense that stepped up was Kyle Meyers. The sophomore had Florida State’s first interception of the season and added its second forced fumble of the game on Saturday. Heading into that game at Wake, FSU was the only team in the FBS yet to force a turnover. Even more impactful were the spots of the turnovers. The interception was made at the Wake 26 yard line, setting up FSU’s struggling offense in great scoring position. The forced fumble which led to the Seminoles’ lone fumble recovery, was made 56 yards into a Wake Forest drive that had it 22 yards away from potentially taking the lead.
Wake Forest QB John Wolford threw for a season high 271 yards. A season high despite Wake playing lower tier competition such as Presbyterian College, Utah State and App State earlier in the season. However, it was the first time this season he did not throw for a touchdown and the interception by Meyers was Wolford’s first thrown of the season.
On the ground however, Wake could get nothing going. Its 96 rushing yards were 120 yards below the Demon Deacons’ season average while the 2.8 yards per rush well below its season average of 4.41. Against designed QB runs, FSU kept Wake’s leading rusher, Wolford, to 3.3 yards per carry.
On the defensive line, Brian Burns got into the Wake backfield many times and pressured Wolford, giving enough time for another ’Nole to sack him. Derrick Nnadi also had a great game and continues to put together a standout senior season. He added seven tackles, two for loss, and forced a fumble that was recovered by the Demon Deacons.
Linebacker Matthew Thomas showed that his injury suffered last weekend that caused him to miss the second half was not as severe as thought. He made a team high 10 tackles with two sacks while playing the entire game.
Fellow linebacker Ro’Derrick Hoskins missed Saturday’s game due to an injury that was not previously announced. Dontavious Jackson, who had not gotten a snap in the team’s first two games and played in replacement for Hoskins, played great even though the stat sheet only says three tackles. He was there when needed and tackled well. In a spot where it was crucial for Jackson to do his job filling in at starter, that’s what the sophomore did.
FSU’s 10 tackles for loss tied last week’s season high vs. NC State.
After allowed 12 points and 5.3 yards per play in the first half, FSU rebounded and gave up a season low seven points in the second half.
Where Florida State continues to dominate on defense is third downs. Heading into the matchup, FSU’s opponents were 22.5% on third down with Wake managing just four in 14 attempts. Although good on third down, opponents are 4-5 on fourth down attempts.
In the end, it was a modest showing by FSU’s defense that played a pivotal part in the team’s first win of the season.