Florida State’s defense struggled over the most brutal part of the schedule in the past few weeks. The ‘Noles entered the game hoping to turn their fortunes around and keep the bowl streak alive.
In the earlygoings, the defense was flying to the ball, especially some of the young players in the secondary. Asante Samuel Jr. and Stanford Samuels III played particularly well in run support and FSU needed the extra help against the Eagles, who were known to be run heavy with star back AJ Dillon.
The secondary was rewarded for their early work with an interception by safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, who returned for FSU this week after injuring his knee against NC State and playing limited minutes against Notre Dame.
Unfortunately, the Seminoles would throw an interception of their own, leaving the defense defending a short field. BC opted for a heavy dose of AJ Dillon, a theme that would remain consistent throughout the day. Despite his ability to run through contact, the D-line came up big when needed. Marvin Wilson provided pressure up the middle and Brian Burns would come away with a QB hit before a missed Eagles field goal.
By the end of first quarter BC was 0-5 on third down conversions, which is impressive considering Dillon’s ability to push for extra yards.
Boston College also attempted multiple gadget plays in the first half, but the defense stayed disciplined and stuck to their assignments, rendering these one offs unsuccessful. That discipline would be key later in the game.
The ‘Noles would bring out the turnover backpack one more time for a pick by Stanford Samuels III, and that would be the last takeaway the defense would force on the day.
It was at this time that Marvin Wilson went down with what appeared to be an ankle injury. Fortunately, he would return in the second half.
By halftime BC was averaging just 3.8 yards per play on 39 total plays. The FSU defense also limited a potent rushing attack to just 2.9 yards per rush heading into the half. However, the ‘Noles were unable to record any TFL’s to this point. Having not recorded any against Notre Dame last week, they had gone six quarters of football without making a stop in the backfield.
At the start of the third quarter, FSU’s struggles defending the pass began when CB AJ Westbrook got sucked in out of position and beat over the top.
The defensive line would pick up the slack as the first Demarcus Christmas sighting of the day saw him smother an AJ Dillon run. On the next play, Brian Burns would promptly record FSU’s first TFL in a game and a half, swallowing up Dillon in the backfield.
For much of the second half the defense continued to be strong against the run, and less so against the pass.
The defense took the field with Florida State’s first lead of the game and unfortunately fell apart in coverage. Eagles successfully threw the ball three straight times, completing each on great throws from Anthony Brown, including a 26-yard touchdown.
Their next time out, Brian Burns would get in the backfield and record his 24th career sack. This brought up a third-and-18, but Boston College would covert against soft zone coverage.
The Eagles kept the drive alive again after a blatant hold on Asante Samuel Jr. was flagged and then picked up for no apparent reason. I’ll be honest, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen a holding flag picked up, and Willie Taggart gave the officials an earful because of it.
On fourth down, Hamsah Nasirildeen was unable to stick with the Eagles’ tight end, giving the Eagles a fresh set of downs and AJ Dillon would trot in for the score, extending the lead to 21-13.
FSU had to settle for a field goal, closing the deficit to 21-16. The defense would need to come up with a stop as time wound down.
The game, and bowl streak, boiled down to a fourth-and-one. Many plays were made on the day, but the most important moment for the defense was keeping their discipline not jumping offside when Boston College tried to make them jump. If the Eagles converted, it would have been ballgame. Instead, Boston College was forced to take a delay of game penalty and punt.
The offense took the lead in the last minute and while there was time on the clock for Boston College, they were without timeouts and the defense was a handful of plays away from securing the win.
Over the next four plays the defense gave up just two yards and sealed the win over the 20th ranked Eagles.
Without a doubt, the defense was the driving force in this win, holding BC to 4.9 yards per play. And while the Eagles were successful through the air in the second half, it was a different story on the ground.
A glance at AJ Dillon’s stats lend the appearance that the defense was trampled in the run game, but reality was quite the opposite. The unit allowed just 2.6 yards per rush on 49 total attempts (2.9 per attempt when adjusted for sacks). Dillon himself averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.
Dontavious Jackson led the defensive effort, tallying 14 total tackles (six solo), a sack, and a TFL.
They made their fair share of mistakes throughout the game, but most importantly, the effort was there, and they were rewarded for it.