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What went right, what went wrong on defense for FSU in a dominant victory over Syracuse

Three things I liked, one thing I didn’t from Adam Fuller’s crew Saturday afternoon

Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

Dino Babers post-game said Garett Shrader dealt with food poisoning pre-game.

Eating grass all day did not help.

From minute 1 to minute 60, the Florida State defense played fast, aggressively, and bullied Syracuse all afternoon. Shyheim Brown and Kalen DeLoach set the tone with a sack on the game's first play, and the Seminoles never looked back. Even during the response drives by the Orange, Florida State continued to get stops on third down and forced field goals, not touchdowns. Even the issues that plagued them the last few games, explosive QB runs and poor discipline, did not rear its ugly head.

The Seminoles produced their most complete performance on this side of the ball and displayed the ceiling of this group.

Last week, I wrote two positives and two negatives, but with such a commanding victory, I saw three positives and one negative from Saturday’s game against Syracuse.

Positive No. 1: Communication

With so much returning talent, all the talk going into the season was on the experience that FSU boasts on the defensive side of the ball. The one player that left, Jammie Robinson, made sure all players were in the right spots at the right time. Even with 10 out of 11 players returning, his impact has been felt to start the year.

Florida State did not communicate well during the first five games of the year. Missed assignments, poor alignments, and players not receiving the audible became commonplace. In the words of Shyheim Brown,” It was an elite level of communication” on Saturday afternoon.

Syracuse through the kitchen sink at the ‘Noles. They ran the triple option, the wildcat, and a receiver pass to try and get Adam Fuller’s crew back on their heels. The Seminoles never looked out of sync and took the odd looks in stride. Florida State did a brilliant job passing off Syracuse pass catchers, switching their alignment, and filling in run gaps due to a receiver in White motioning across the formation. The best example of communication was on the Syracuse crossing routes. Florida State played man coverage most of the day, and the play to beat this play is running crossers across the field. Before the play and sometimes during, the Seminole linebackers and secondary players called out how they wanted to defend the play, resulting in the Shrader completing nine passes on the day.

The other example of stellar communication was on Syracuse run plays. Dino Barbers had his team run many pre-snap motions to try and get Florida State to become misaligned in their gaps. However, Shyheim Brown and the entire Seminole secondary did a great job plugging holes from the gaps left over by the motioning defender. The result, Syracuse averaged 3.4 yards per rush. I asked Mike Norvell post-game about the eye discipline and conveying information.

“I thought our guys did an outstanding job. Really did a good job of trying to keep everything in front, force them to have to earn it.”

When Florida State talks about trying to get better from game to game, the communication fixes put their words into action.

Positive No. 2: Stopping the run

I once heard a quote from a defensive tackle from the New England Patriots saying his motto was “stop the run to have some fun.” The Seminoles must feel the same way.

In a press conference earlier this year, Adam Fuller said that his goal for the defense throughout the year was to become better at defending rushing attacks. While not perfect on the day, Florida State put on its most complete performance in the run game to date. The Orange were utterly dominated across the line of scrimmage, and Florida State exhibited all the run principles that they are taught. Florida State defensive tackles constantly stood up the Syracuse offensive linemen and did not let them create a push. Multiple times, Seminole defenders would place one arm extended on the offensive lineman, and the other would be wrapped around LeQuint Allen. The lack of push from the Syracuse offensive line prevented them from getting to the second level. Florida State linebackers sprinted downhill and filled the run lanes that the defensive tackles created for them. DJ Lundy and Kalen DeLoach combined for 11 tackles on the day and could be seen living in the Orange backfield. Syracuse finished the day averaging 3.4 yards a rush and only scampered for over 20 yards twice.

Florida State produced success with traditional running backs and running games to start the year, but the QB run game created different storylines. All week, the Seminole players and coaches mentioned how talented of a runner Garrett Shrader can be and the concerted effort it will be to slow him down. He finished the day for -10 rushing yards on seven carries. Mike Norvell's post-game adored the way his defense fought to slow down the Syracuse Quarterback.

“I was proud of our defense, how they responded were able to execute the plan we had in place. I thought our safeties came up and did a good job in our run fits.”

It was not a perfect day by any means, as the Seminoles gave up another 100-yard rushing day but fought the entire day and made Syracuse earn every blade of grass.

Positive No. 3: The Response

A couple of weeks ago, Patrick Payton mentioned a simple fact about whatever team they play: "The other team is on scholarship, too.” He referenced this when a question was asked on why the Seminoles seem to give up points at the worst times.

In fact, Syracuse has 85 scholarship players on their roster and were always going to move the ball in some way or another. Today, the defense hung its hat on their response even when Syracuse did create positive momentum.

Florida State just went up 10-0 and was looking to run away from their competition. Suddenly, Syracuse ripped off its longest play at that point in the game and looked to be marching down the field. Everyone in the crowd thought at once, “Here we go again.” But this time, the outcome changed. Florida State punched back and forced an incompletion after another 3rd down blitz call, making the Orange kick for 3. Response. Later in that quarter, Joshua Farmer made the play of the game, ripping Shrader down and the ball out, creating the first turnover of the day. The Florida State offense took the field at the opposing 9-yard line and came away with 0 points. Instead of losing focus from their work being squandered, the defense played their ensuing drive with the most energy of the afternoon. Adam Fuller called a blitz on all three plays, resulting in a Shyheim Brown sack and Syracuse kicking from their own one-yard-line. Response. Mike Norvell knows that not everything comes to perfection on the football field, but he was proud of how his defense battled.

“They absolutely responded throughout the course of today. It was really just play the next play. Nobody wants to give up a play. Nobody wants something bad to happen. But you go to the next play, trust your technique, your fundamentals.”

They focused for sixty minutes and responded whenever their number was called.

Negative No. 1:

Florida State won this game by 38 points and did not give up a touchdown, so naturally, I need to write something negative. Florida State has been consistently susceptible to running quarterbacks and explosive plays throughout the year. While they quickly handled the former, the ladder still looked like a problem. Syracuse finished the day with seven plays recorded as big(a pass over 15 yards and a run over 10). Five of Garett Shrader’s completions today ended up becoming explosive plays. Of course, this is nitpicking, as holding an above-average power five quarterback to 9 completed passes should be celebrated in its own right. However, this does seem to be a feature, not a bug, of the Seminole roster. Teams are excellently taking advantage of any mistake the Seminoles might make on the defense side of the ball. When the Florida State defense is in the right coverage at the right time, which seems to be most of the time, not many teams will consistently move the ball. However, those little lapses of concentration always seem to bite them at the worst moments.