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FSU vs. Duke defensive film review glimpse: How battles are lost before the snap

Because who doesn’t love a good preview?

Florida State v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Florida State defense held Duke to its second lowest point total of the season. Points conceded can be misleading, though, as we know Duke was able to find some success at times in the run game and through the air. The FSU defense allowed 5.08 yards per play against Duke. That’s the most YPP Duke has gained in 4 ACC games.

Duke has a well-coached offense, but they’re not very talented. With the quality of talent on FSU’s defense, you would expect them to assert their will and hold the Duke offense in check. The ’Noles were able to do this for the most part by limiting Duke’s explosive plays, but we still saw many of the same issues that have plagued this team in previous games (and seasons) with this defensive coaching staff.

FSU was dealing with injuries at linebacker and safety with Jacob Pugh and Trey Marshall missing the game. We look forward to breaking that down and informing Florida State fans how Duke decided to attack FSU on a play-by-play basis later in the week. However, in the meantime, here’s a look at a specific play from early in the game that again has us questioning FSU’s tactics in coverage on critical downs.

FSU puts 7 defenders on the line of scrimmage and ends up rushing 4, while dropping into a single-high match zone coverage. It's an odd rush strategy as Stanford Samuels and Matthew Thomas come from the field edge, while Josh Sweat and Derrick Nnadi rush wide from the boundary. There is no middle rush, and Brian Burns is dropped into coverage. Curiously, Tarvarus McFadden is aligned 10 yards off the receiver to the top despite it being 3rd and 5. Daniel Jones (Duke’s QB) catches the snap and delivers a quick throw in rhythm on a hitch to the receiver at the first down marker. McFadden is too far off to defend the throw and then he whiffs on the tackle after he breaks on the ball. Fortunately, Derwin James is running inside out and makes the tackle, but not before an easy 3rd-down conversion for the Blue Devils.

This is an apt example of how FSU is, at times, defeated before the ball is even snapped. Positioning and alignment — like we saw with McFadden’s ill-fated corner blitz vs. Miami — can go a long way in determining the success of a unit, on either side of the ball.