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FSU wastes fine defensive effort in loss to Wake Forest

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This L is not on the D.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State fell to 3-4 (2-3) on Saturday night, dropping a 22-20 road contest against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 6-1 (2-1), the Seminoles’ first defeat to the Deacs since 2011. There’s plenty of blame to go around in what was an entirely winnable game for the ’Noles— but their defense was assuredly not the problem.

That certainly didn’t seem likely early, as the Demon Deacons began by authoring drives of nine, eight, and 12 plays on their first three possessions before FSU could force a punt. All three of those drives, and four of Wake’s first five, reached the red zone, but they all ended in field goals, a credit to Florida State.

How did the Demon Deacons move so efficiently early, to the tune of 7.4 YPP on their first couple drives? That would be future All-America receiver Sage Surratt. Surratt had the biggest play in each of Wake’s first five drives, amassing 150 yards on just five catches through that opening stretch.

How? FSU played a lot of man coverage, allowing some chunk plays— which was not a bad strategy, because eventually, the Seminoles did start getting off the field by rolling over coverage on Surratt and playing well in the trenches. In Wake’s final 11 drives, they only had one possession over six plays, and five three-and-outs. On the night, Florida State allowed just 6-19 third-down conversion to a Deacs team that came in converting over 52% of its chances, a top-10 national rank.

It was encouraging to see that done with three true freshmen (Brendan Gant, Jaleel McRae, and Akeem Dent) contributing substantially. And Emmett Rice provided a game and career-high 14 tackles. Dent was second on the team, with nine stops; his role was crucial after Hamsah Nasrildeen was ejected for targeting on the game’s first possession.

Across the Deacs’ final nine drives, FSU allowed just 10 points, and their 424 total yards were a season low. Wake Forest averaged 5.4 yards per play, nearly a yard below the goal set for the Florida State defense (6.25) on the Nolecast. That is more than acceptable from the Seminole D— as was allowing a scant 2.9 yards per rush.

Still, in a second half drenched by rain, Florida State wasn’t able to come up with a single turnover, and for the second straight game, failed to register a sack. But holding Wake Forest to a single touchdown, at home, should have been enough. Deacon kicker Nick Sciba defied college football logic by making all six of his kicks. This result may have been different if FSU kicker Ricky Aguayo could have made just one. So blame him, or the offense, or the staff’s poor clock management late— but don’t blame the defense.