It’s not typically a good sign when a defensive back leads your team in tackles for a game. And it’s decidedly brow-raising when a DB leads a squad in tackles across an entire season. So. what does it say when your top two tacklers are both safeties— for both a game and the season?
Because that was the case for Florida State both on Saturday in a 47-28 loss to North Carolina State, and across the entirety of the 2018 season that is now nine games old. Hamsah Nasirildeen led the Seminoles in tackles with 15 against the Wolfpack, and has a team-high 72 this year. Second in both aspects is fellow safety A.J. Westbrook, who had 10 tackles in Raleigh and 48 this season.
One of the reasons this duo had to make so many stops was NC State’s offensive domination of the ’Noles up front. NCSU came in simply masterful at protecting quarterback Ryan Finley, and that continued today, as FSU didn’t muster a single sack and registered just a lone QB hurry on the stats sheet. The secondary, which saw Asante Samuels, Jr. and Stanford Samuels start at the cornerback spots instead of Levonta Taylor and Kyle Meyers, wasn't any better, allowing 21 of Finley’s 27 passes to result in receptions, three for touchdowns without an interception and only one pass breakup. Florida State’s DBs continue to underwhelm, but to be fair, they didn’t exactly get the benefit of many calls. Several phantom pass interference calls helped extend Wolfpack drives (the Seminoles were flagged 16 times, North Carolina State 4 times). Still, this secondary continues to look lost trying to defend fades and back-shoulder throws.
But Finley is an exceptional QB, and you had to know he was going to get his. FSU needed to get a lead and make NC State one dimensional so that it could really come after Finley, and neither of those things happened after NCSU took its first possession 75 yards for a touchdown while averaging 7.2 yards per rush. Their offensive line handled the Seminoles all game, and while Florida State’s Marvin Wilson, Cory Durden, and Brian Burns flashed once again (Wilson and Durden combined for 10 tackles, while Demarcus Christmas and Fred Jones combined for just one), the edge was often not set and run fits were missed time and again as linebackers looked to be guessing. That is, when the NCSU OL wasn’t able to climb to them, which occurred regularly. This NC State team came in averaging just 128 rushing yards per game, and finished today with a season-high 177.
Allowing just 4-13 third-down conversions sounds goods, but the ’Noles forced just a pair of punts. The aforementioned penalties and (once again) inept special teams play by FSU saw NCSU finish with an average starting field position of its own 42 yard line. Outside of that pair of punts and a kneel down to finish each half, the Wolfpack scored on every other one of its possessions. Nine times. And that would have been 10 had NC State connected on a wide-open double-pass early on. But in the end, it didn’t wind up mattering. So at least FSU didn't lose another game this year because of a double-pass.