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Defensive observations from FSU’s big road win vs. Boston College

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It wasn’t always pretty, but the final result looks pretty good.

Florida State v Boston College Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

Never a doubt, right? Florida State took care of business today, heading up to Beantown and winning 38-31 in an emotionally charged environment vs. Boston College on Red Bandana day in Chestnut Hill. The Seminoles’ big plays on offense will dominate the highlights, but the defense did enough to get the result FSU needed.

But it didn’t look like that’d be the case early on. In 40-degree New England weather, the ’Noles — especially several secondary players — didn’t look too interested in playing physical football. Anyone can stick his shoulder in there; that’s the easy part. Wrapping and taking a guy to the turf is what can really smart in chilly temps.

And that approach just doesn’t work against a running back like AJ Dillon, who came into the game as the No. 2 rusher in the FBS. The Eagles opened with a 14-play drive that required just a pair of throws, the second of which put BC up 7-0 because of a busted FSU coverage.

Boston College backed that up with an 11-play drive. As we’ve discussed throughout the season, long, extended drives are anathema to Florida State’s game plan. So allowing 25 plays through the first quarter is particularly troubling. Missing star defender Marvin Wilson certainly didn’t help, as BC made no secret about what it had planned, lining up in 12 and 13 personnel and challenging the ’Noles up front.

FSU could have gone down double-figures early had BC not missed a field goal to finish that drive. But that’s why forcing college kickers to beat you can be a pretty solid strategy. Boston College missed another FG before halftime, but the concern for Florida State was apparent, as the Seminole D struggled to get off the field, allowing 7-10 first-half third-down conversions.

The third quarter was the ’Nole defense’s best, as it allowed just 3.1 yards per carry and shutout the Eagles. The DBs looked to warmup and played tougher— but Hamsah Nasirildeen came off the bus hot. Nasirildeen eclipsed the career-high of 17 tackles he set two weeks ago against Syracuse, leading all players with 22 tackles in this one.

But forcing punts remained an issue for FSU throughout, as the defensive calls on third down appeared to have regressed to early season form. Time and again, the Seminoles sat back in a soft zone and let BC pickup first-down yardage. Overall, Bosotn College converted on 14-20 third down chances (70%). The Eagles came in hitting on just 41.73% of their third-down tries.

Boston College added a late TD drive when the Seminoles scored instead of just taking a knee to bleed the clock late, so that skews some of the final numbers a bit. But prior to that last drive, BC was averaging 4.9 YPP— after coming in averaging 6.3319.

And yes, Dillon wound up going for 165 rushing yards, but it took him 40 attempts to get there, and 4.1 YPC isn’t a bad defensive effort against a player the caliber of Dillon, whom FSU never let into the end zone. Excluding sack yardage, BC averaged 4.6 yards per rush, exactly a yard below its season average coming in.

Still, five drives of 11-or-more plays is a lot to allow, and that’s how you wind up defending 93 plays across the course of a game. But Wilson wasn’t the only player missing for the ’Noles. With Dontavious Jackson out due to injury, Emmett Rice made some plays, registering the game’s only sack, breaking up a pass, and forcing a fumble. Cedric Wood also acquitted himself nicely in Wilson’s stead, with eight stops, and Asante Samuel Jr. produced some splash plays, too.

The defense wasn’t great, but it was good enough, as it continued its seemingly season-long challenge of losing another starter each week (Wilson, Jackson— take your pick). BC came in with the nation’s No. 25 SP+ offense, but excluding a big loss to Clemson, this was Boston College’s lowest scoring total since September. And again, that final TD didn’t need to happen.