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Defensive observations from Florida State’s blowout loss to Syracuse

’Nole defense held out as long as possible.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Syracuse
Sep 15, 2018; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange running back Moe Neal (21) runs with the ball against the Florida State Seminoles during the second quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State’s defense flipped the script - after starting slowly versus Virginia Tech and Samford, before stiffening and shutting them down, they played well out of the gate against Syracuse before fading late.

Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey appeared to be playing hurt from the opening snap, and FSU forced a three-and-out on the Orange’s first drive. Undisciplined play led to penalties, extending Syracuse’s second drive, including a personal foul by Stanford Samuels III. The drive eventually lasted fourteen plays, but had to settle for 3 after a big third-and-goal stop by linebacker Dontavious Jackson.

On Syracuse’s third drive defensive back Kyle Meyers seemingly forced a fumble which was recovered by defensive end Brian Burns, but the ruling was inexplicably reversed to an incompletion by the ACC officiating crew. That didn’t stop Burns from recording a sack on the very next play, and the drive ended with a missed 46-yard field goal by Syracuse kicker Andre Szmyt.

The defense followed that up with another three-and-out, but got lucky as true freshman Asante Samuel Jr. got burned by Syracuse receiver Jamal Custis, who dropped a sure touchdown. In all, Syracuse ran 28 plays in the first quarter, putting them on pace for 112.

On their fifth drive of the afternoon Syracuse went for it on fourth-and-one from the FSU 45 yard-line. Dungey kept it and tried to gain the yard on the perimeter, but Samuel Jr. redeemed himself with a great tackle, forcing a turnover on downs.

Later in the second quarter, Dungey was hit hard and replaced by backup Tommy DeVito. Another FSU personal foul penalty, this time from Cyrus Fagan, extended another Syracuse drive after a stop on third-and-fourteen and gave the Orange a first down on FSU’s sixteen-yard line. DeVito’s first pass connected with Custis and gave Syracuse a first-and-goal at Florida State’s one-yard line. Syracuse head coach Dino Babers decided to run it three times in a row, but Harlon Barnett’s defense was up to the task, led by Jackson and Jaiden Woodbey, made big plays in tackling running back Dontae Strickland short of the end zone, forcing another field goal.

At halftime, Syracuse had gained 172 yards on 45 plays, just 3.82 yards per play, and had converted just two of their eleven third downs. The Orange averaged 5.7 yards per attempt and just 2.8 yards per carry. The Seminoles forced 3 three-and-outs. Syracuse had just six points despite an average starting field position at their own 37 yard line.

However, it was just a matter of time before the dam would break.

In the second half DeVito remained at QB, as Dungey didn’t come out of the locker room. FSU forced another stop.

But on Syracuse’s ninth drive of the day the defense started to show cracks as the Florida State offense couldn’t stay on the field. A nine-play, 64-yard drive ended in touchdown on a 3-yard DeVito run. By Syracuse’s next drive, the defense was completely gassed, and a missed tackle by Jackson helped spring a four-play, 57-yard drive that ended in another Syracuse touchdown. The Orange had run 67 plays at that point and were up 20-0. If it was a game of attrition, FSU’s defense was fighting a war it couldn’t win.

The rest of the game was more of the same, but it was arguably garbage time. At the end of the third quarter the Orange were up 23-0. The defense was forced to constantly defend short fields on little rest, as Syracuse ran play after play, while Florida State’s offense punted time and again. Before their last drive to run out the clock, Syracuse had gained just 423 yards on 85 plays (4.97 YPP).

FSU’s defense played fast, aggressive, and tackled well (early). They committed too many penalties, but they looked comfortable and sure of what they were being asked to execute, all the while developing depth. They just didn’t get any help.