It sounds a lot like how we began discussing the Florida State defense this season: in the end, it was simply too much to ask. And just like you wouldn’t have thought yielding 24 points to Alabama reflected a commendable defensive effort, you’d seriously doubt that conceding 31 to Clemson would have would have done the same. Then again, after that game, you probably wouldn’t have thought FSU would be 3-6 right now. But here we are.
So let’s get right to it: this loss was not on the Florida State defense. The Seminole D showed up to play, and it was evident from the onset, when it forced a three-and-out. The offense really lost this game on both sides of the ball for the ’Noles, even if that was the only three-and-out FSU forced all day.
The ineptitude of Jimbo Fisher’s offense early on repeatedly gave Clemson the ball in great field position, as Florida State faced an uphill battle with Clemson starting with an average field position of its own 36, including four times in FSU territory. This was a classic bend-but-don’t break performance for the Seminoles, who only allowed Clemson to gain 4.6 yards per play. They did so by running downhill and attacking the ball, often forcing it back inside to their help and amassing nine tackles for loss.
It started up front for FSU, which was led by a possessed Derrick Nnadi. Clemson simply had no answer for No. 91. Behind him, the good version of Matthew Thomas showed up for FSU and posted a game-high 11 tackles. Thomas was the poster child for a Florida State defense that flew around and looked like it was actually having fun playing football again.
Derwin James and Hamsah Nasirildeen each totaled nine tackles as well, pursuing well from their safety spots. But the real head-turner was Brian Burns. Burns was just getting warmed up when he tallied his first sack of the season (a real referendum on how poorly FSU has rushed the passer this season). Later, in the second quarter, he corralled Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant by keeping contain inside the five yard-line, and a play later, forced a fumble when the Tigers were looking to score. When CU again had a first-and-goal within the FSU five before halftime, he forced another fumble, which three Seminole kicked around before Clemson recovered for a field goal.
It was a huge play that should have gone for a scoop and score; if any one of the trio of Seminole defenders can pick up the ball, the other two are there to serve as an ideal convoy. But you can’t ask much more of Burns.
And the defensive effectiveness continued into the second half. The only chance FSU had for a 17-point comeback was to hold Clemson while the offense found its way, and that’s exactly what happened, forcing the Tigers into four punts to begin the half and then causing another fumble that gave the offense the ball in Clemson territory down just 17-14. But the offense again stumbled, as James Blackman was picked off on the next play. The defense played valiantly but just did not have anything left, and the Tigers scored two straight TDs to ice the win.
Prior to the game, Fisher citing defensive lapses over offensive foibles was discussed as his reason that FSU was 3-5. Well now the ’Noles are 3-6, and the most recent loss is most certainly not on the defense.