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Defensive observations from Florida State’s loss at Miami

The Seminole defense gave FSU a real shot in this one.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

After FSU’s season-opening loss to Virginia Tech, I wrote our defensive observations piece. In it, I spoke about how the defense played well and was let down by offensive turnovers and special teams miscues. Well. Here we are again.

The Florida State defense played quite well in this game, and right from the beginning. Forcing Miami punts on the first two Hurricane possessions was key to keeping the crowd out of the game and allowing the Seminoles to get on the board first. A big part of Florida State’s defensive success, especially early, was the position they had to defend on the field. In the first half, UM started three of its seven drives from its own 25 yard line— and that was the best starting field position they had all half.

Miami was determined to establish the run early, keeping it on the ground for 15 of its first 21 offensive plays. The Seminoles were certainly up to the task throughout the game against the run, allowing just 2.2 yards per rush, 3.3 when you adjust for sacks. Leading the way was a stout defensive-line performance for the garnet and gold, spearheaded by Marvin Wilson. He’s getting better every game, and was a monster in this one, accounting for 6 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and a pair of sacks. Demarcus Christmas (4 tackles, 1.5 TFL) also played well, as did Fred Jones, with a trio of tackles, two for loss, a sack, and a QB hurry. On the edge, defensive end Brian Burns terrorized UM quarterback N’Kosi Perry, registering four tackles, three of them for loss, a couple of sacks and forced fumbles, a QB hurry, and a pass breakup.

Safety Hamsah Nasirildeen entered the game as FSU’s leading tackler by more than 10 tackles, and he widened that gap against the Hurricanes, with a team-high 7 and .5 for loss. He came downhill nicely in this one, really screaming to the ball. Freshman corner A.J. Lytton got some burn when Levonta Taylor cramped up, but he didn't fair as well in the ’Nole secondary, getting victimized twice on slant patterns after early outside moves flipped his hips. The second of these was for Miami’s first touchdown, on a fourth down in the red zone. Florida State entered this game as one of just four FBS teams in the country not to have allowed a single fourth-down conversion, but UM converted on three of four, two of which were TD passes (the other saw Asante Samuel, Jr. bested on a fade). Cornerback Kyle Meyers had a tough night as well, getting flagged for three pass interference penalties.

The aforementioned field-position advantage flipped entirely in the second half, when the ’Canes began four drives within FSU territory, due to turnovers and Florida State allowing an average of more than 20 yards per punt return. It’s just too much to ask of your defense to come up big, time and again, with its back to its own end zone. Two of Miami’s three second-half TDs came on drives that began on or inside the Seminoles’ 20 yard line. At this point, it was clear that the FSU defense was just being tasked with too much, as the offense could no longer block UM up front.

The final numbers show just how well the defense played. The ’Noles allowed only 3.9 yards per play, 4.1 when you factor in Miami taking a knee (remember, anything under 4 is very good). The Seminoles had 5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and conceded just 5-18 third-down attempts.

But for all that numbers can help to illuminate about a game, simply looking at the scoreboard and seeing 28 Miami points is not an accurate reflection off just how well the defense really played for FSU.