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Florida State's defense declines further when the game is on the line

FSU’s defense hasn’t been as good when its crunch time.

Florida State v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Florida State’s defense has been a topic of concern throughout the season, and nothing is more evident of that when it’s crunch time.

Over the past three games, FSU’s defense has been tested on a final, last desperation drive by the opposing offense which has trailed by no more than seven points each time.

With the opponent trailing, pinned deep in their own territory down by one score and with less than two minutes remaining in the game, the defense should be anticipating that a rapid fire of passing plays are going to be called. Despite anticipating those passing plays being called, or any plays in general, FSU still hasn’t been able to defend them as well as they had been up to that point in the game.

Against Wake Forest, Florida State surrendered 46 yards on eight players before batting down a last desperation hail mary attempt. The 5.75 yards per play allowed were .49 yards more than what the defense allowed up to that final drive. However, looking at the last two games, that difference soars.

Against Miami, Florida State’s defense had allowed 4.09 yards per play heading into its final drive. On that game clinching touchdown drive by the Hurricanes, they rumbled 75 yards up the field in nine plays, an average of 8.33 yards per play. Of those nine plays, five went for double-digit yards. If you take into account the prior drive by Miami, it’s second to last of the game late in the fourth quarter with FSU up by one score, another 75-yard touchdown drive, FSU’s defense allowed 10 yards per play compared to its 3.22 yards per play allowed the entire game before those two drives.

When looking at pass defense in those final two drives against Miami, FSU allowed 10.72 yards per attempt through the air compared to just 4.12 yards per attempt before that point.

And that takes us to Duke. The Blue Devils, down by seven with 1:32 left in the game, drove 55 yards down the field in nine plays, good for 6.1 yards per play before FSU swatted down yet, another potential game tying Hail Mary attempt. Up to that point, Duke was gaining just 4.9 yards per play.

Combining the last drive vs. Wake Forest and Duke, and the last two drives vs. Miami, when Florida State was defending a one score lead late in the fourth quarter, the ’Noles gave up 7.84 yards per play. Looking at the yards per play given up to those final drives in the three games combined, the FSU defense had only allowed an average of 4.46 yards per play. That’s a difference of 3.38 yards per play given up and 56.8% more yards per play given up by the Florida State defense when the game is on the line.

While in these final drives, opponents will tend to pass the ball more to get downfield quicker as they are battling the clock to tie the game or take the lead. However, the Florida State defense should be anticipating these passing plays and a difference of 3.38 yards per play is a larger than negligible deviation. If the defense plays as its supposed to, these late, last desperation drives should be a moot point.