Despite Florida State’s lackluster 17 points put on the scoreboard while gaining 425 total yards, the Seminoles were able to find their way to a victory with the defense stepping up in a key situation.
It all started in the first half with the ‘Noles keeping Duke out of the end zone. It marked the second straight game that FSU did not allow a first half touchdown. Even though it was a slim 7-3 lead at the break, it was a lead nevertheless, and that was the important part. An offense with the lead has a big mental advantage as it doesn’t get flustered or feel rushed playing from behind. That rings especially true for an offense run by a true freshman as FSU’s is.
The Florida State secondary didn’t play lights out by any means. However it did show signs of life against Duke. Coming into the game, Duke’s passing offense wasn’t near the top of the NCAA leaderboard, but starting quarterback Daniel Jones ranked a respectable 66th in the country in terms of passing yards per game. The ‘Noles limited Jones to 5.8 yards per attempt.
If you take out a busted coverage play which led to a 57-yard completion, that number drops to 4.2 yards per attempt on 22-35 passing. After the game, Matthew Thomas said there was a miscommunication between him and Nate Andrews, both seniors, regarding coverage. Again, nothing sensational against a middle of the pack passing offense, but respectable nevertheless.
For another game, Florida State’s second half defense didn’t play as well as it did in the first half, although it still played well enough to get job done. At the half, FSU was holding Duke to 4.5 yards per play. However, in the third quarter, when Duke’s lone touchdown was scored, that number jumped to 7.3.
In the fourth quarter, Duke’s Jones attempted 17 passes as is to be expected in a late comeback bid. FSU gave up 4.4 yards per play, which seems adequate until you look at the yards per attempt given up in the final drive of the game—7.63. With the game on the line in that last desperation drive from Duke, the Blue Devils were able to rush 55 yards down the field on the first six plays of the drive (9.16 YPP) before FSU forced three incompletions at the FSU 30. Six of Duke’s 20 fourth quarter plays went for 10+ yards.
On the topic of pass defense, FSU’s pass rush deserves a lot more credit than it got on the stat sheet. While FSU was only able to muster one sack late in the fourth quarter, there were three big pass deflections at the line of scrimmage. Demarcus Christmas was credited with two of them and Brian Burns had the third. Ermon Lane was also credited with a break up on the final play.
There’s also the lackluster performance by preseason All-American Tarvarus McFadden. Coming off a Miami game in which he didn’t play particularly well in coverage, the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. native played off the ball a lot, especially in the run game. There was a specific instance in which Duke was able to pick up a big third down late in the game after the running back whizzed right past McFadden who was within tackling distance.
The Florida State defense still has it’s obvious flaws. That being said, those flaws are becoming less frequent by the week.