It’s easy to look at a 31-28 final and conclude that the defense was largely at fault. But in this contest, it’s also rather inaccurate.
Let’s start by discussing what the Florida State defense had to do to beat a Louisville offense ranked eighth, nationally, per the S&P+. Namely, three things: limit explosive plays, make Lamar Jackson display accuracy while limiting him to mostly underneath routes, and keep him in the pocket.
The Florida State defense got off to a terrible start, as those who did show up for this one probably wished they’d have either stayed in bed or kept tailgating. The Cards hit on four chunk plays (passes of 15+ yards, runs of 10+) in the first quarter, including two rushes on the first drive. That first Louisville drive featured numerous mental mistakes by the ’Noles, as FSU struggled with assignments. On more than one play, FSU had two defenders on one guy and nobody on another. That’s a problem from the jump, but it’s exacerbated when the player left unaccounted for is the Heisman Trophy winner. But the defense really settled in, allowing just one chunk play in the second quarter.
Nine of UL’s 12 chunk plays were via the rush, and you know Jackson is gonna get his. But 293 yards as a team was just too much to allow. That said, there were some obvious holds missed on the Cardinals, who were not whistled for a single offensive hold all game (and some were blatant).
Limiting Jackson to Underneath Routes
But FSU did do a nice job defending against the big pass play from Louisville, allowing just three of 15+ yards. That’s largely due to the Seminole D forcing Jackson into underneath throws, particularly by timing up some effective blitzes, something away from which Florida State had gotten of late. But it brought different players to get the ball out of Jackson’s hands quicker this time. After allowing 9 completions out of 14 attempts for 104 yards in the first half, The ’Noles didn’t concede a single reception in the third quarter— then again, UL didn’t need to pass, picking up two scores in the quarter entirely via the rush.
It’s also worth noting that on Louisville’s second-quarter TD pass from Jackson to Seth Dawkins, FSU’s Kyle Meyers had great coverage. At 2-4, it’s easy to want people to blame for everything that goes wrong— but in the case of that long-ball completion, it was simply a great throw and catch. That’s not on Meyers.
Keeping Jackson in the Pocket
FSU gave up too much on the ground, and most of that, predictably, came to Jackson, who was the game’s leading rusher with 23 totes for 178 yards, a 7.7 YPC average. It sounds worse than it was, though, as the Seminoles were able to largely make Louisville one dimensional, thanks to permitting just 156 passing yards. The defense’s biggest play came in the UL backfield, when Joshua Kaindoh lit up Jackson and caused a fumble that Matthew Thomas picked up and ran back for a score to give the ’Noles their lone lead.
All Things Considered
Overall, the Florida State defense did not play badly in this one. It wasn’t great, but it’s also not to blame for this loss. It did enough, including getting that turnover that it converted into points itself. And while it’s easy to blame the D for once again not getting a key stop on the opposing team’s final drive, this one was really lost early, and by the offense.
During a four-drive stretch spanning the first and second quarters, the FSU defense held Louisville to drives that ended as follows: punt, turnover on downs, punt, and then the fumble returned for a TD. What did the offense do to capitalize? It punted three straight times before the defense took things into its own hands.
As we’ve discussed with regard to pace-of-play, the best way to protect a defense is with points from the offense. It’s far from a morale-booster to keep trotting your defense out there to face one of the nation’s most electric playmakers when your offense isn’t doing its part. It makes defenders think that they have to do it all, and that can lead to discipline breakdowns and eye violations. It can also crush the spirit of a unit.
Individually, there were some nice efforts wasted in the loss. Demarcus Christmas continues to shine as perhaps the best player on the defense this year. And Josh Sweat looked good again, too, notching nine tackles, including two for loss and a sack. On the other hand, Adonis Thomas got the start at linebacker and was often in the wrong place. True Freshman Leonard Warner got some time as well, but he also looked a touch loss.