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Defensive observations from FSU’s home loss to Miami

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Even on a night when they weren’t as good as they needed to be, they still got hung out to dry.

Miami at Florida State Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The defensive story of this game is that FSU’s offense averaged 2.8 yards per play. Or, it would be if Florida State’s defense had done what they needed to do. Before a 56-yard touchdown throw from Jarren Williams made it 24-10 Miami early in the 4th quarter, the Florida State defense had held Miami to 4.8 yards per play. After the play it was 5.8. Miami walked away with an easy 27-10 win.

Against one of the worst passing down offenses in the country — Miami averaged 8.8 yards to go on third downs and converted them just 27.1 percent of the time, last in the ACC — the Seminole defense held Miami to two of twelve on third downs before garbage time. Unfortunately, the two conversions were both big plays that led to points.

And that was the key to the defensive game plan — limit Miami’s explosive plays and FSU would be fine.

But the consequences of the offense’s ineptitude were real and demoralizing. Starting in the second quarter and bleeding deep into the second half, the Hurricanes’ starting field position was marked at midfield or in FSU territory on a stretch of five of six drives, including four straight at one point. With the ‘Canes leaning so much for so long, the dam was eventually going to break.

But all of that is not to say that the defense was good or that they are without fault in this loss, and that’s where the real story of the defense in this game is buried. They had to make Miami be methodical and consistent and drive the length of the field. But the ‘Canes hit enough explosive plays to put the game out of reach. On a third and seven on Miami’s second drive Williams hit Deejay Dallas for a 42-yard screen play. One play later Williams hit Jeff Thomas up the seam on a 39-yard touchdown throw over freshman Renardo Green. After the Hurricanes took over in the second quarter following a failed fourth and one conversion attempt by FSU, Williams hit Mike Harley for 34 yards past freshman Akeem Dent. That set up 1st and goal on FSU’s six-yard line, and Dallas punched it in on the very next play. In all, Miami scored ten points just off short fields in the first half alone.

FSU went after Williams with a variety of blitzes, but when they didn’t get home the basic coverage behind it was exploited. Williams finished with over 300 yards passing on 37 attempts — over an 8 yards per attempt clip. Williams frequently took advantage of poor or soft coverage, including on a 4th and 10 conversion deep in FSU territory.

Safety Hamsah Nasirildeen was again very good, being active in both the run and pass game and even recovered a fumble on a strip sack forced by Amari Gainer. Asante Samuel Jr. was also very good in coverage, and would have come down with an interception in the end zone if Jeff Thomas hadn’t committed a smart offensive pass interference penalty. But Stanford Samuels III struggled in coverage, as did Levonta Taylor.

It wasn’t all bad, for whatever that’s worth. The ’Noles were able to contain the Hurricanes’ run game, limiting Dallas to 61 yards rushing on 18 carries. But ’Noles fans will find little solace in those numbers.

FSU had a prime opportunity to take control of its destiny and virtually become bowl eligible by beating Miami, not to mention beating a main rival. Instead they were sloppy, undisciplined, and uninspiring. Willie Taggart is now 0-2 vs the Hurricanes, and FSU has dropped three in a row in the series. Florida State will now face Boston College in a must-win game if FSU is to make a bowl game this season.