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Defensive observations from FSU’s win over Syracuse

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Florida State held Syracuse to 4.9 yards per play.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

On November 4th, Florida State collected its first home win of the season.

It wasn’t easy, but the Seminoles defeated Syracuse 27-24 after the Orange missed a game-tying field goal as the clock struck zero.

As expected, Syracuse ran its up-tempo offense the entire game, trying to get Florida State off balance. Dino Babers’ squad ran an impressive 95 total plays for 463 yards, but only averaged 4.9 yards per play.

Quarterback Eric Dungey accounted for the majority of Syracuse’s offense on the day, throwing for 278 yards and rushing for another 109. The junior left the game early due to an ankle injury, but showed impressive toughness by coming back into the game and nearly leading his team to a victory.

Part of the reason Dungey was so critical to Syracuse’s success was because the Orange had trouble getting the ground game going. Outside of Dungey’s rushing yards, ’Cuse rushed for 40 yards on 18 carries (2.2 yards per carry).

This speaks to the effort by Florida State’s defensive line. Derrick Nnadi and company were able to control the line of scrimmage in this game. Florida State racked up six tackles for loss, three sacks, and nine quarterback hurries in this game and they were able to consistently get into the backfield and force Dungey to scramble.

With Syracuse running an up-tempo spread offense, Florida State was forced to play a lot of 4-1-6 (or dime) packages. True freshmen safeties Hamsah Nasirildeen and Cyrus Fagan saw a lot of playing time in this game, with the former getting his first career start. The pair were actually the two deep safeties in the game as Syracuse drove down to attempt a game-tying field goal. It’s unclear whether this speaks to the level of trust that the coaching staff has in the pair, or if the lack of depth at safety caused this move.

Derwin James finally forced his first turnover of the season, catching an interception in the first quarter. It seems like James leads the nation in “almost turnovers,” as he nearly intercepted another pass later in the game. Florida State will need him to create more big plays like this if they want to become bowl eligible.

Speaking of the passing game, Syracuse’s main offensive attack was through the air. Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillp combined for 24 total catches and 250 receiving yards on the day, and the senior pair were consistently able to get open for Dungey.

One alarming trend from this game was Syracuse’ ability to convert in third and long situations.

In situations where you’d expect Florida State’s superior athletes to either get pressure on the quarterback or provide good coverage on receivers, Syracuse was able to gain an advantage and convert on third downs.

As unfortunate as it sounds, the Seminoles’ defense once again gave up big drives late in the game.

With the game winding down, Syracuse went on a 14 play, 75-yard drive to cut the score to 27-24, then drove on a 10 play, 57-yard drive to attempt the tying field goal.

Of course, this should not come as a surprise to those who have watched Florida State play defense this season. The ’Noles gave up back-to-back 75-yard touchdown drives to Miami, while Duke and Wake Forest were both in position to tie the game at the buzzer.

To be fair, Florida State’s defense had a fairly efficient day overall. Syracuse had 16 total drives, but only five of those were long drives of 76, 72, 46, 75, and 57-yards (the last of which was a missed field goal). The other 11 drives that Syracuse ran in this game accounted for 137 yards, or around 12-yards per drive.

Next week, Florida State travels to Death Valley to face Clemson, who just beat NC State 38-31 to take control of the Atlantic division. At one point, we thought this game might decide the fate of the ACC as a whole, but now it’s just another game the Seminoles have to survive to keep bowl hopes alive.